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Showing posts from January, 2015

Authors in Context: Virginia Woolf by Michael Whitworth.

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Virginia Woolf by Michael Whitworth (2005) is a part of the 'Authors in Context' series published by Oxford World Classics. It is essentially a biography but what makes this biography such a fascinating read is that Whitworth writes about Virginia Woolf's life and works in the context of her times. This is not one of those biographies that write about an author with historical, social, and literary events on the periphery but one that locates her in the centre of it all. It's an excellent portrait of Virginia Woolf. 
The book is divided into seven parts: The Life of Virginia WoolfThe Fabric of Society: Nation and IdentityThe Literary ScenePhilosophical QuestionsSociety, Individuals, and ChoicesScientific and Medical ContextsRecontextualizing and Reconstructing WoolfIn the first, Whitworth writes on the key events in Woolf's personal life - her birth on 25th January 1882 and her early years at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, a brief account of the lives of her parents,…

Death by Advertising by Émile Zola.

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Death by Advertising (Une Victime de la Réclame) is a short story by Émile Zola and was first published in L'Illustration on the 17th November 1866, five years prior to The Fortune of the Rougons(1871), the first of the Rougon Macquart novels, and one year before Thérèse Raquin (1867).

It's French title, Une Victime de la Réclame, literally means "victim of the claims", which is what Pierre Landry the character of this four page story is. He is left an inheritance and effectively squanders it, buying only things recommended in adverts, which he follows blindly:
And to think that these benefactors of mankind even take the trouble to draw our attention to all these wonderful things, great and small, tell us where to find them, and even how much we'll have to pay for them! Some of them we really ought to thank on bended knees for being willing even to lose money on our behalf, and others quite satisfied merely to cover their expenses. They're working purely in the…

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser.

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Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser was first published in 1900 by Doubleday, Page, & co, who were themselves pressured to do so by Frank Norris, one of their editors. Yet Frank Doubleday disliked the novel because of its supposed vulgarity and immorality, so, because Dreiser forced them to abide by their contract they did go ahead and published it, however made little effort to promote it, so the process was effectively held up until 1912. Dreiser's first commercial success was not until 1925 with the publication of An American Tragedy.

Dreiser began writing it in 1899, encouraged by his friend Arthur Henry: that it was written during the reign of Queen Victoria is astonishing to me, it's style and substance is so far ahead of Victorian writers, even Thomas Hardy and Émile Zola (both of whom have had their works substantially altered for publication because of their perceived immorality), that I felt as though I was reading something much later: I'd say it almost had a 1…

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by C. 3. 3. (Oscar Wilde).

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In 1898 Leonard Smithers of London published The Ballad of Reading Gaol by "C. 3. 3." with the dedication, In Memoriam  C. T. W. Sometime Trooper of the Royal Horse Guards. Obiit H. M. Prison, Reading, Berkshire, July 7th, 1896. The poem, which consists of 109 stanzas, was generally well received and deemed a commercial success, with seven editions printed within two years. It was not until the seventh edition in June 1899 that the name of the author was formally revealed: Oscar Wilde. 

By this point, Oscar Wilde had published many plays, poems, essays, short stories, and a novel: The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890, The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888), Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), Salomé: A Tragedy in One Act, (1894), and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) are but a few examples. He was associated with themes of beauty, decadence, and aestheticism, all with razor sharp wit and a satirist's eye.

The year 1895 marked the downfall of …

Sybil, or The Two Nations by Benjamin Disraeli.

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'Well, society may be in its infancy,' said Egremont, slightly smiling; 'but, say what you like, our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.' 'Which nation?' asked the younger stranger, 'for she reigns over two.' The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly. 'Yes,' resumed the young stranger after a moment's interval. 'Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.' 'You speak of -' said Egremont, hesitatingly. 'Tʜᴇ Rɪᴄʜ ᴀɴᴅ ᴛʜᴇ Pᴏᴏʀ.' Sybil, or The Two Nations is a roman à thèse written by Benjamin Disraeli (1845), who twice served as a Conservative Prime Minister of the United …

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.

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The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1591 and first published in about 1594. It is his second play and his second comedy following The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1589-92).
Be warned: I discuss the ending in this post. I don't feel I can do anything but!

It's one of Shakespeare's play-within-a-plays: it opens with a prank - a local 'tinker' (the definition of which is "a person who makes a living by travelling from place to place mending pans and other metal utensils") named Christopher Spy is found intoxicated by a Lord. He and his men convince Spy that he too is a Lord, and has wrongly believed himself to be a tinker for many years. They put on a play for his amusement, and the play is, of course, The Taming of the Shrew.

It is one of Shakespeare's bleaker comedies. It's set in Padua, Italy, and tells the story of sisters Katherina (the 'shrew') and Bianca and their suitors Lucentio, …