Essays
Literature

The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London’s Dirty Book Trade

The Secret History of Holywell Street: Home to Victorian London’s Dirty Book Trade

Victorian sexuality is often considered synonymous with prudishness, conjuring images of covered-up piano legs and dark ankle-length skirts. Historian Matthew Green uncovers a quite different scene in the sordid story of Holywell St, 19th-century London's epicentre of erotica and smut. more

Frankenstein, the Baroness, and the Climate Refugees of 1816

Frankenstein, the Baroness, and the Climate Refugees of 1816

It is two hundred years since "The Year Without a Summer", when a sun-obscuring ash cloud — ejected from one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recorded history — caused temperatures to plummet the world over. Gillen D’Arcy Wood looks at the humanitarian crisis triggered by the unusual weather, and how it offers an alternative lens through which to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, a book begun in its midst. more

Picturing Don Quixote

Picturing Don Quixote

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes, author of one of the best-loved and most frequently illustrated books in the history of literature — Don Quixote. Rachel Schmidt explores how the varying approaches to illustrating the tale have reflected and impacted its reading through the centuries. more

Robert Greene, the First Bohemian

Robert Greene, the First Bohemian

Known for his debauched lifestyle, his flirtations with criminality, and the sheer volume of his output, the Elizabethan writer Robert Greene was a fascinating figure. Ed Simon explores the literary merits and bohemian traits of the man who penned the earliest known (and far from flattering) reference to Shakespeare as a playwright. more

Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City (1880)

Bad Air: Pollution, Sin, and Science Fiction in William Delisle Hay’s The Doom of the Great City (1880)

Deadly fogs, moralistic diatribes, debunked medical theory — Brett Beasley explores a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse. more

The Nightwalker and the Nocturnal Picaresque

The Nightwalker and the Nocturnal Picaresque

The introduction of street lighting to 17th-century London saw an explosion of nocturnal activity in the capital, most of it centring around the selling of sex. Matthew Beaumont explores how some writers, with the intention of condemning these nefarious goings-on, took to the city's streets after dark, and in the process gave birth to a peculiar new literary genre. more

The Empathetic Camera: Frank Norris and the Invention of Film Editing

The Empathetic Camera: Frank Norris and the Invention of Film Editing

At the heart of American author Frank Norris' gritty turn-of-the-century fiction lies an essential engagement with the everyday shock and violence of modernity. Henry Giardina explores how this focus, combined with his unique approach to storytelling, helped to pave the way for a truly filmic style. more

The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire

The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire

From that famed night of ghost-stories in a Lake Geneva villa in 1816, as well as Frankenstein's monster, there arose that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction - the vampire - a creation of Lord Byron's personal physician John Polidori. Andrew McConnell Stott explores how a fractious relationship between Polidori and his poet employer lies behind the tale, with Byron himself providing a model for the blood-sucking aristocratic figure of the legend we are familiar with today. more

Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth

Ghostwriter and Ghost: The Strange Case of Pearl Curran & Patience Worth

In early 20th-century St. Louis, Pearl Curran claimed to have conjured a long-dead New England puritan named Patience Worth through a Ouija board. Although mostly unknown today, the resulting books, poems, and plays that Worth "dictated" to Curran earned great praise at the time. Ed Simon investigates the curious and nearly forgotten literary fruits of a “ghost” and her ghostwriter. more

Moonblight and Six Feet of Romance: Dan Carter Beard’s Foray into Fiction

Moonblight and Six Feet of Romance: Dan Carter Beard’s Foray into Fiction

An esoteric disease which reveals things in their true light; three pairs of disembodied feet galavanting about the countryside - Abigail Walthausen explores the brief but strange literary career of Daniel Carter Beard, illustrator for Mark Twain and a founding father of the Boy Scouts of America. more

Inside the Empty House: Sherlock Holmes, For King and Country

Inside the Empty House: Sherlock Holmes, For King and Country

As a new series of BBC’s Sherlock revives the great detective after his apparent death, Andrew Glazzard investigates the domestic and imperial subterfuge beneath the surface of Sherlock Holmes’s 1903 return to Baker Street in Conan Doyle’s ‘The Empty House’. more

Encounter at the Crossroads of Europe - the Fellowship of Zweig and Verhaeren

Encounter at the Crossroads of Europe - the Fellowship of Zweig and Verhaeren

Stefan Zweig, whose works passed into the public domain this year in many countries around the world, was one of the most famous writers of the 1920s and 30s. Will Stone explores the importance of the Austrian's early friendship with the oft overlooked Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren. more

Lost in Translation: Proust and Scott Moncrieff

Lost in Translation: Proust and Scott Moncrieff

Scott Moncrieff's English translation of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu is widely hailed as a masterpiece in its own right. His rendering of the title as Remembrance of Things Past is not, however, considered a high point. William C. Carter explores the two men's correspondence on this somewhat sticky issue and how the Shakespearean title missed the mark regarding Proust's theory of memory. more

Elizabeth Bisland’s Race Around the World

Elizabeth Bisland’s Race Around the World

Matthew Goodman explores the life and writings of Elizabeth Bisland, an American journalist propelled into the limelight when she set out in 1889 - head-to-head with fellow journalist Nellie Bly - on a journey to beat Phileas Fogg's fictitious 80-day circumnavigation of the globe. more

A Dangerous Man in the Pantheon

A Dangerous Man in the Pantheon

This October marks 300 years since the birth of French Enlightenment thinker Denis Diderot. Although perhaps best known for co-founding the Encylopédie, Philipp Blom argues for the importance of Diderot's philosophical writings and how they offer a pertinent alternative to the Enlightenment cult of reason spearheaded by his better remembered contemporaries Voltaire and Rousseau. more

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

Lucian’s Trips to the Moon

With his Vera Historia, the 2nd century satirist Lucian of Samosata wrote the first detailed account of a trip to the moon in the Western tradition and, some argue, also one of the earliest science fiction narratives. Aaron Parrett explores how Lucian used this lunar vantage point to take a satirical look back at the philosophers of Earth and their ideas of "truth". more

Mother Goose’s French Birth (1697) and British Afterlife (1729)

Mother Goose’s French Birth (1697) and British Afterlife (1729)

Christine Jones explores the early English translations of Charles Perrault's 1697 collection of fairy tales and how a change in running order was key to them becoming the stories for children which we know today. more

Still Booking on De Quincey’s Mail-Coach

Still Booking on De Quincey’s Mail-Coach

Robin Jarvis looks at Thomas de Quincey's essay "The English Mail-Coach, or the Glory of Motion" and how its meditation on technology and society is just as relevant today as when first published in 1849. more

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

The Curious World of Isaac D’Israeli

Marvin Spevack introduces the Curiosities of Literature, the epic cornucopia of essays on all things literary by Isaac D'Israeli: a scholar, man of letters and father of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. more

Simple Songs: Virginia Woolf and Music

Simple Songs: Virginia Woolf and Music

Last year saw the works of Virginia Woolf enter the public domain in many countries around the world. To celebrate Emma Sutton looks at Woolf's short story "A Simple Melody" and the influence which music had upon the writer who once wrote that music was "nearest to truth". more

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm

To mark the 200th year since the Brothers Grimm first published their Kinder-und Hausmärchen, Jack Zipes explores the importance of this neglected first edition and what it tells us about the motives and passions of the two folklorist brothers. more

The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

The Strangely Troubled Life of Digby Mackworth Dolben

In 1911 the soon-to-be poet laureate Robert Bridges published the poems of Digby Mackworth Dolben, a school friend who had drowned to death at the age of 19 almost half a century earlier. Carl Miller looks at Bridges' lengthy introduction in which he tells of the short and tragic life of the boy with whom fellow poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was reportedly besotted. more

The Implacability of Things

The Implacability of Things

Jonathan Lamb explores the genre of 'it-narratives' - stories told from the point of view of an object, often as it travels in circulation through human hands. more

Conan Doyle’s Olympic Crusade

Conan Doyle’s Olympic Crusade

When an exhausted Dorando Pietri was helped across the finishing line in the 1908 Olympics marathon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was there to write about it for the Daily Mail. Peter Lovesey explores how the drama and excitement of this event led Conan Doyle to become intimately involved with the development of the modern Olympics as we know it. more