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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Literature, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 26 - 50 of 1,870
26. The Fair Toxophilities and Daniel Deronda

By K. M. Newton


The painting The Fair Toxophilites: English Archers by W. P. Frith, dating from 1872, is one of a series representing contemporary life in England. Frith wrote that his”

“desire to discover materials for my work in modern life never leaves me … and, though I have occasionally been betrayed by my love into themes somewhat trifling and commonplace, the conviction that possessed me that I was speaking – or rather painting – the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, rendered the production of real-life pictures an unmixed delight. In obedience to this impulse I began work on a small work suggested by some lady-archers, whose feats had amused me at the seaside … The subject was trifling, and totally devoid of character interest; but the girls are true to nature, and the dresses will be a record of the female habiliments of the time.”

After Gwendolen Harleth’s encounter with Daniel Deronda in Leubronn in Chapters 1 and 2, there’s a flashback to Gwendolen’s life in the year leading up to that meeting, with Chapters 9 to 11 focusing on the Archery Meeting, where she first meets Henleigh Grandcourt, and its consequences. In the England of the past archery was the basis of military and political power, most famously enabling the English to defeat the French at Agincourt. In the later nineteenth century it is now a leisure pursuit for upper-class women. This may be seen as symptomatic of the decline or even decadence of the upper class since it is now associated with an activity which Frith suggests is “trifling and commonplace.” A related symptom of that decline is the devotion of aristocratic and upper-class men, such as Grandcourt and Sir Hugo Mallinger, to a life centred on hunting and shooting.

The Fair Toxophilites

The Frith painting shows a young female archer wearing a fashionable and no doubt extremely expensive dress and matching hat. This fits well with the novel for Gwendolen takes great care in her choice of a dress that will enhance her striking figure and make her stand out at the Archery Meeting, since “every one present must gaze at her” (p.  89), especially Grandcourt. The reader may similarly be inclined to gaze at the figure in the painting. One might say that together with her bow and arrow Gwendolen dresses to kill, an appropriate expression for arrows can kill though in her case she wishes only to kill Grandcourt metaphorically: “My arrow will pierce him before he has time for thought” (p. 78). Readers of the novel will discover that light-hearted thoughts about killing Grandcourt will take a more serious turn later.

With the coming of Grandcourt into the Wancester neighbourhood through renting Diplow Hall, the thoughts of young women and especially their mothers turn to thoughts of marriage – there is obvious literary allusion to the plot of Pride and Prejudice in which Mr Bingley’s renting of Netherfield Park creates a similar effect. The Archery Meeting is the counterpart to the ball in Pride and Prejudice since it is an opportunity for women to display themselves to the male gaze in order to attract eligible husbands and no man is more eligible than Grandcourt. Whereas Mr Darcy eventually turns out to be the perfect gentleman, in Eliot’s darker vision Grandcourt has degenerated into a sadist, “a remnant of a human being” (p. 340), as Deronda calls him. Though Gwendolen is contemptuous of the Archery Meeting as marriage-market, she cannot help being drawn into it as she believes at this point that ultimately a woman of her class, background, and upbringing has no viable alternative to marriage.

While Grandcourt’s moving into Diplow Hall together with his likely attendance of the Archery Meeting become the central talking points of the neighbourhood among Gwendolen and her circle, the narrator casually mentions another matter that is being ignored – “the results of the American war” (p. 74). Victory for the North in the Civil War established the United States as a single nation, one which would ultimately become a great power. There is a similar passing reference later to the Prussian victory over the Austrians at “the world-changing battle of Sadowa” (p. 523), a major step towards the emergence of a unified German nation. While the English upper class are living trivial lives the world is changing around them and Britain’s time as the dominant world power may be ending.

Though the eponymous Deronda does not feature in this part of the novel, he is in implicit contrast to Gwendolen and the upper-class characters as he is preoccupied with these larger issues and uninvolved in trivial activities like archery or hunting and finally commits himself to the ideal of creating a political identity for the Jews. When he tells Gwendolen near the end of the novel of his plans, she is at first uncomprehending but is forced to confront the existence and significance of great events that she previously had ignored through being preoccupied with such “trifling” matters as making an impression at the Archery Meeting: “… she felt herself reduced to a mere speck. There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind … enter like an earthquake into their own lives — when the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war” (p. 677). She will no longer be oblivious of something like “the American war.” By the end of the novel the reader looking at the painting on the front cover may realize that though this woman who resembles Gwendolen remains trapped in triviality and superficiality, the character created in the mind of the reader by the words of the novel has moved on from that image and undergone a fundamental alteration in consciousness.

 K. M. Newton is Professor Emeritus at the University of Dundee. He is the editor, with Graham Handley, of the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: The Fair Toxophilites by W. P. Frith. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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27. Shimmer of Something

Possibly poems, possibly really (really) short stories, possibly mini essays, Brian Doyle's "box poems" — smallish bits of writing with perfectly aligned edges and not one word short or long — are so perfectly exact, they seem utterly intriguing even before you start to read. (How, exactly, did he do that?) Doyle is a man [...]

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28. Children Act

Ian McEwan's The Children Act tackles a very touchy subject these days: religious freedom and all the ethical, moral, legal, and criminal ramifications therein. Fiona, a High Court judge, must rule in a case involving a Jehovah's Witness family, in which the almost 18-year-old son is on the very brink of death unless given an immediate [...]

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29. Lila

With Lila, Marilynne Robinson revisits her beloved town of Gilead, just as she did with Home. This time around, her focus is on Lila Ames, who in both previous novels has been a sort of paragon of calm and dignity. In Lila we learn about her childhood and young adulthood, which could not be further from [...]

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30. The People in the Trees

The People in the Trees has done a thorough job of rattling me to the core, and several months after reading it, I still can't stop thinking about it. The book has so many things I love: an unreliable narrator, explosive endings, secrets, unlikable characters, a scientific bent, cultural clashes, an arrogant hero, and ordinary [...]

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31. Fourth of July Creek

An enjoyable summer read — deeply textured story, characters that bear out their frail existence, and great writing. Books mentioned in this post Fourth of July Creek Smith Henderson Used Hardcover $18.50

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32. Ruby

Bond weaves a web of madness and ghosts in this scary and very disturbing read. I feel like the book needs a warning label: explicit and devastating scenes! Yet the story and Bond's writing are so astonishingly volcanic. One of the best books I have read this year. Books mentioned in this post Ruby Cynthia [...]

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33. California

California by Edan Lepucki is an intelligent, intriguing, and thought-provoking novel about what the near future may be like. Human nature and relationships are highlighted as secrets are kept, yet inner thoughts are reflective and honest. A lazy summer read that I enjoyed throughout. Books mentioned in this post California Edan Lepucki Used Hardcover $17.95

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34. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Known for his beautiful, haunting, lyrical, and — at times — funny surrealistic stylings, Haruki Murakami is one of the most beloved Japanese authors in the Western world. Although infused with the pop culture of the West, his writing remains at its core firmly rooted in Japan. And as modern as his style is, his [...]

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35. To Kill a Mockingbird

While To Kill a Mockingbird is a favorite book of pretty much everyone who has read it, it's important to remember that it continues to be subversive and challenging to the status quo. The protagonist is a young girl named Scout and except for her father, all the main characters in the book are marginalized [...]

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36. Things Fall Apart

Before Things Fall Apart was published in 1958, few novels existed in English that depicted African life from the African perspective. And while the book has paved the way for countless authors since, Chinua Achebe's illuminating work remains a classic of modern African literature. Drawing on the history and customs passed down to him, Achebe [...]

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37. Slaughterhouse-Five

What Kurt Vonnegut set out to do was write a book about war, and in particular the firebombing of Dresden in World War II. What he ended up doing was writing clean around it — traveling in and out of time warps, bouncing on and off the earth, sometimes setting down on the planet Tralfamadore, [...]

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38. Never Let Me Go

This is the kind of book that captures you so completely you find yourself reading it at work with the book covering your keyboard, hoping no one notices but also not really caring if you get fired. It's a subtle sci-fi story about youth, freedom, and a lot of other good stuff — too much [...]

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39. Monsters in the library: Karl August Eckhardt and Felix Liebermann

By Andrew Rabin


On a shelf by my desk rests a pale, cloth-bound octavo volume entitled Leges Anglo-Saxonum, 601-925, published in 1958 by the German philologist Karl August Eckhardt. Inside, the volume’s dedication reads, “Dem andenken Felix Liebermanns” (“In memory of Felix Liebermann”). On its face, this seems perfectly innocuous: what could be more natural than one scholar paying tribute to another, especially someone generally considered among Germany’s greatest medievalists? Yet the dedication conceals a disturbing history, for Liebermann had been a member of one of Berlin’s foremost Jewish families, one nearly wiped out in the Holocaust, and Eckhardt was a dedicated Nazi, a Sturbannführer in the SS, and a close friend to Heinrich Himmler, the leading architect of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

Felix Liebermann, by By Max Liebermann (verstorben 1935).Suedwester93 at de.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Felix Liebermann by Max Liebermann. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Why did Eckhardt dedicate his book to Liebermann, and how should this shape our understanding of his work? To answer these questions, it’s necessary to learn a bit about the individuals themselves, starting with Felix Liebermann.

Liebermann was born in 1851 to a family of wealthy German-Jewish textile merchants. Against his father’s wishes, he pursued a degree in philology at the University of Göttingen and subsequently joined the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, a project editing the major records of early Germanic culture. In 1883, the Royal Academy of Sciences in Munich invited him to produce a new edition of Anglo-Saxon law. The result, published in three volumes between 1903 and 1916, was the Gesetze der Angelsachsen, a monumental accomplishment numbered among the greatest achievements in the history of scholarly editing. Its reception was summed up by the historian Frederic William Maitland, who described Liebermann as “a Sherlock Holmes of today” and the Gesetze as “the best work that has hitherto been done on historical materials of a similar kind.”

Jewish themes surface only occasionally in Liebermann’s writings, yet their appearance suggests that he saw his religious and professional identities as complementary. For instance, in a lecture to the Jewish Historical Society of England, he suggested that Jews should take pride in the fact that “the gem so honored by [England's] greatest king, the founder of the English constitution, as Alfred was called in the twelfth century, was the Mosaic law.” More pointedly, he did not hesitate to harshly and publicly criticize those who concealed anti-Jewish sentiments behind a facade of disinterested scholarship, such as the historian J. M. Rigg, who suggested a factual basis for the medieval “blood libel” legend. Though Liebermann took pride in his Jewishness, it nonetheless had significant consequences for his career. In Germany, he never received a full university appointment, while in England he was mocked as “Stubbs’s Jew” (a reference to his friendship with Bishop William Stubbs) and denied a Cambridge professorship, ostensibly because of an otherwise-unattested stutter. Though Liebermann himself died in 1925, well before Hitler came to power, others in his family felt the full brunt of Nazi anti-Semitism. In 1938, the Liebermann family, including Felix’s widow Cäcilie, saw their home and possessions confiscated. Five years later, Cäcilie would die just weeks before she was to be deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Shortly afterwards, Martha Liebermann, widow of Felix’s brother, the modernist painter Max Liebermann, committed suicide to avoid the same fate.

The history of Liebermann and his family furnishes part of the backdrop against which to read the dedication in the Leges Anglo-Saxonum; the rest must be filled in from the life of Eckhardt himself. Eckhardt was born in 1901 into a family of lawyers and judges. He completed a doctorate in law at Marburg in 1922 and then went on to study Germanic history at Göttingen. His editions of medieval lawbooks earned him a reputation for both brilliance and productivity that led to faculty positions at Keil, Bonn, and Berlin. At the same time, however, he was also growing more engaged with right-wing politics. He joined the SA in 1931, the Nazi Party in 1932, and the SS in 1933. By 1934, he had become a member of Himmler’s personal staff. In this capacity, Eckhardt oversaw the expulsion of Jewish academics from German universities, developed policies penalizing students who spoke out against the regime, and ghost-wrote speeches on Himmler’s behalf, most notably his 1936 address calling for the extermination of homosexuals. Eckhardt also composed a number of pseudo-scholarly pamphlets on topics of interest to Himmler, including ancient Germanic mysticism and the question of whether Jesus was actually Jewish (Eckhardt concluded that he wasn’t). When war came, he was drafted into the army and posted to Paris, where he spent his time carrying out research in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Though briefly imprisoned in 1944-5, he was deemed too insignificant for prosecution. Eckhardt returned to scholarly life and, over the next twenty-five years, published a series of influential editions — most notably of the Lex Salica and the Schwabenspiegel — that confirmed the promise of his early career. He died in 1979.

Eckhardt has often been spoken of as two people, the scholar and the Nazi, but it can be difficult to separate the two. He frequently twisted his scholarship to support his political views, as when he argued (in an essay titled “Unnatural Sex Deserves Death”) that ancient Germanic law offered legal precedent for the execution of homosexuals. Likewise, even in his serious scholarship, he often sought to emphasize the purity of Germanic law and its freedom from the taint of Jewish influence (a notable contrast to the pride Liebermann took in the Mosaic influence on Alfred’s laws).

In this light, it is difficult to escape the impression that Eckhardt was using Liebermann’s memory to innoculate himself against his own history. Association with Liebermann allowed him to claim a scholarly pedigree while dismissing the implication that his political record reflected anything more than dedicated (if misguided) patriotism. Yet how should Eckhardt’s history — along with his attempts to erase that history — affect our perception of his scholarship? We cannot simply avoid Eckhardt: like it or not, his serious historical work is too important to dismiss out of hand. But Eckhardt’s history still raises uncomfortable questions: how might our research — and indeed, the shape of early medieval legal history as a discipline — have been influenced, albeit unconsciously, by Eckhardt’s noxious ideology? And is our use of his work, however necessary it may be, complicit in his attempt to erase his involvement in one of the twentieth century’s greatest atrocities?

If Borges was right and every library is a labyrinth, then inside every library lurks a monster. In my library, the monster is Karl August Eckhardt.

Andrew Rabin is an associate professor of English at the University of Louisville. He has published extensively on early medieval law and literature. His next book, The Political Writings of Archbishop Wulfstan of York, will be published this fall by Manchester University Press. He is a forthcoming contributor to Oxford Bibliographies in British and Irish Literature.

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40. 10 questions for Ammon Shea

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 5 August 2014, Ammon Shea, author of Reading the OED and Bad English, leads a discussion on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

ammonsheaWhat was your inspiration for Bad English?

I am often guilty of spectacular incompetence when I try to use the English language, and I wanted to find some justification for my poor usage. I am happy to report that we have all been committing unseemly acts with English for many hundreds of years.

Where do you do your best writing?

In library basements, preferably when they are empty of people.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?

I hadn’t so much of an ‘a-ha’ moment that made me want to be a writer as I had a series of ‘uh-oh’ moments while doing other things that did not involve writing.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?

Gerald Durrell

What is your secret talent?

I can distinguish between Sonny Stitt and Charlie Parker, and between Phil Woods and Gene Quill, in under four measures.

What is your favorite book?

Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal.

Who reads your first draft?

My wife reads my first drafts, and, if she is feeling particularly generous, my second and third ones as well.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?

Not unless I absolutely have to.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?

I have no marked preference. I will write on whatever is at hand, and this ranges from cellular telephones to antiquated typewriters.

What book are you currently reading? (And is it in print or on an e-Reader?)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with my son, and in print.

What word or punctuation mark are you most guilty of overusing?

I reject the premise of this question.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Someone who wished he was a writer.

Ammon Shea is the author of Bad English, Reading the OED, The Phone Book, Depraved English (with Peter Novobatzky), and Insulting English (with Peter Novobatzky). He has worked as consulting editor of American dictionaries at Oxford University Press, and as a reader for the North American reading program of the Oxford English Dictionary. He lives in New York City with his wife (a former lexicographer), son (a potential future lexicographer), and two non-lexical dogs.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook. Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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Image couresty of Jenny Davidson.

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41. Our free e-book for August: For the Love of It

0226065863

Wayne C. Booth (1921–2005) was the George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, one of the most renowned literary critics of his generation, and an amateur cellist who came to music later in life.  For the Love of It is a story not only of one intimate struggle between a man and his cello, but also of the larger conflict between a society obsessed with success and individuals who choose challenging hobbies that yield no payoff except the love of it. 

“Will be read with delight by every well-meaning amateur who has ever struggled.… Even general readers will come away with a valuable lesson for living: Never mind the outcome of a possibly vain pursuit; in the passion that is expended lies the glory.”—John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

“If, in truth, Booth is an amateur player now in his fifth decade of amateuring, he is certainly not an amateur thinker about music and culture. . . . Would that all of us who think and teach and care about music could be so practical and profound at the same time.”—Peter Kountz, New York Times Book Review

“Wayne Booth, the prominent American literary critic, has written the only sustained study of the interior experience of musical amateurism in recent years, For the Love of It. [It] succeeds as a meditation on the tension between the centrality of music in Booth’s life, both inner and social, and its marginality. . . . It causes the reader to acknowledge the heterogeneity of the pleasures involved in making music; the satisfaction in playing well, the pride one takes in learning a difficult piece or passage or technique, the buzz in one’s fingertips and the sense of completeness with the bow when the turn is done just right, the pleasure of playing with others, the comfort of a shared society, the joy of not just hearing, but making, the music, the wonder at the notes lingering in the air.”—Times Literary Supplement
Download your copy here.

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42. This Is the Water

Page-turning suspense Yannick Murphy style — always inventive, with gorgeous prose, surprising perspectives, and captivating characters. This Is the Water is a most unusual mystery. Books mentioned in this post This Is the Water (P.S.) Yannick Murphy New Trade Paper $14.99

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43. Lucky Us

Amy Bloom's hypnotic and gorgeous new novel displays her trademarks — remarkable narrative skill and richly drawn, evocative characters. Iris and Eva, half-sisters creating a family in World War II-era America, will draw you in and not let go. Perfect summer reading. Books mentioned in this post Lucky Us Amy Bloom Used Hardcover $17.95

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44. Landline

This is A Christmas Carol meets Rainbow Rowell. If you had a telephone that could call your spouse in the past, what would you say? Funny, a tiny bit tragic, and full of Rowell's usual magic and quirk, this is her best book so far. Books mentioned in this post Landline Rainbow Rowell New Hardcover $24.99

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45. In Praise of Rejections: Why I’m Glad It Took Me 10 Years to Publish This Darn Book

When I see my name in print next to the phrase "debut novel," I can't help but picture my hardcover yanking at an ill-fitting cotillion dress that keeps falling off its shoulder. The descriptor seems off somehow — it's right, but not quite that. I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is my [...]

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46. Advanced praise for The Getaway Car

9780226121819

On our forthcoming The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany, from Kirkus Reviews (read the review in full here):

Westlake (1933–2008), who wrote under his own name and a handful of pseudonyms, was an award-winning writer of crime, mystery and detective novels; short stories; screenplays; and one children’s book. University of Chicago Press promotions director Stahl thinks this collection of Westlake’s nonfiction will please his fans; it’s likely these sharp, disarmingly funny pieces will also create new ones. The editor includes a wide range of writing: interviews, letters, introductions to Westlake’s and others’ work, and even recipes. “May’s Famous Tuna Casserole” appeared in the cookbook A Taste of Murder. May is the “faithful companion” of Westlake’s famous protagonist John Dortmunder, “whose joys are few and travails many.” Another of his culinary joys, apparently, was sautéed sloth. One of the best essays is “Living With a Mystery Writer,” by Westlake’s wife, Abby Adams: “Living with one man is difficult enough; living with a group can be nerve-wracking. I have lived with the consortium which calls itself Donald Westlake for five years now, and I still can’t always be sure, when I get up in the morning, which of the mob I’ll have my coffee with.”

To read more about The Getaway Car (publishing September 2014), click here.

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47. Summer reading recommendations

owc_standard

Whether your version of the perfect summer read gives your cerebrum a much needed breather or demands contemplation you don’t have time for in everyday life, here is a mix of both to consider for your summer reading this year.

If You Liked…

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, you should read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Themes of family, coming of age, poverty, and idealism provide the framework for both titles. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott’s tale of four spirited sisters growing up in Civil War-era Massachusetts, continues to charm readers nearly 150 years after its original publication.

9780199564095_450Interview with the Vampire, you should read Dracula by Bram Stoker. An obvious association, but if you gravitate toward vampire tales you owe it to yourself to read the book that paved the way for True Blood and Twilight, among many others.  Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, he is credited with introducing the character to modern storytelling.  Told in epistolary form, the story follows Dracula from Transylvania to England and back, as he unleashes his terror on a cast of memorable characters.

…Bridget Jones’s Diary, you should read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The parallels between these two protagonists prove that universal themes such as love and the absurdities of dating can transcend centuries. Fans of Bridget Jones, who was in fact inspired by Pride and Prejudice, will find amusement and sympathy in the hijinks Elizabeth Bennett experiences in one of literature’s most enduring romantic and comedy classics.

…The Harry Potter series, you should read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. J.K. Rowling herself has purportedly cited this timeless children’s classic as one of her first literary inspirations, read to her as a measles-stricken four-year-old. Like Potter, Wind in the Willows employs child-centric characters, adventures, and allegory to explore such adult themes as morality and sociopolitical revolution.

…The Da Vinci Code, you should read Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Where Da Vinci Code’s treasure is symbolic in nature, Treasure Island’s booty takes a more literal approach. The book boasts the same page-turning suspense offered up by Dan Brown’s mega-hit, with some good old fashioned pirates thrown in for added fun. This edition includes a glossary of nautical terms, which will come in handy should you decide to take up sailing this summer.

9780199535729_450…Jaws, you should read Moby Dick by Herman Melville. If you like to keep your holiday reading material thematically consistent with your setting, you may have read Jaws on a previous beach stay. For a more pensive and equally thrilling literary adventure, try Moby Dick. Where the whale pales in the body count comparison he surpasses in tenacity, stalking his victim with a human-like malevolence that will make you glad you stayed on the sand.

…Jurassic Park, you should read The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. Reading Jurassic Park without having read The Lost World is like watching the Anne Heche remake of Psycho and skipping Hitchcock’s classic version. Though most people are familiar with the book by Michael Crichton, you may not be aware that the blockbuster was inspired by a lesser-known original that dates back to 1912. And isn’t the original always better?

…The Hunt for Red October, you should read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Although an adventure of a different sort, Leagues takes readers on a similarly gripping underwater journey full of twists and turns. Verne was ahead of his time, providing uncannily prescient descriptions of submarines that wouldn’t be invented until years later. For a novel that’s been around for over 150 years, it still has the ability to exhilarate.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook.

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48. So you think you know Jane Austen?

How much do you know about the works of one of our best-loved classic authors? What really motivates the characters, and what is going on beneath the surface of the story? Using So You Think You Know Jane Austen? A Literary Quizbook by John Sutherland and Deirdre La Faye, we’ve selected twelve questions covering all six of Austen’s major novels for you to pit your wits against. Whether you are an expert or an enthusiast, we hope you’ll learn a little extra than you already knew.

Jane Austen coloured version.jpg

Your Score:  

Your Ranking:  

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook.

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Image credit: Jane Austen. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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49. 10 questions for Jenny Davidson

Each summer, Oxford University Press USA and Bryant Park in New York City partner for their summer reading series Word for Word Book Club. The Bryant Park Reading Room offers free copies of book club selections while supply lasts, compliments of Oxford University Press, and guest speakers lead the group in discussion. On Tuesday 22 July 2014, Jenny Davidson, Professor of English at Columbia University, leads a discussion on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

Jenny Davidson_PhotoWhat was your inspiration for choosing this book?

The book I’ll be talking about is Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park. It doesn’t tend to be a favorite with readers, though I’ve always loved it; I especially appreciated it when I was a graduate student, as there is something about the status of the novel’s protagonist Fanny Price as hanger-on and dependent relation that resonated with my own station in life! I write a little bit in my new book Reading Style: A Life in Sentences about how there is a perfect Austen novel for every stage of life: I loved Pride and Prejudice the most when I was young, Sense and Sensibility as a teenager, Emma in bossy adulthood, and Persuasion now that I have fully come into my own professionally as a literary critic. I am not a huge fan of Northanger Abbey, but I do love Austen’s juvenilia, the short tales like Love and Friendship and so forth. I think in many ways they show us how we might want to read the novels of Austen’s adulthood.

Did you have an “a-ha!” moment that made you want to be a writer?

I wanted to write books for as long as I can remember. (Here is the evidence: it’s my first known work, age three or so, as dictated to my mother.) I wrote compulsively throughout childhood and adolescence, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I realized that though I really still wanted to write novels as well, my true vocation would be as a professor of literature. It still seemed an almost insurmountably long road, but from that point onward I was sure what direction I should point myself in.

Which author do you wish had been your 7th grade English teacher?

Well, many authors would have been very poor teachers – but I would have to say Anthony Burgess, whose book 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 was my guide for reading throughout my teenage years. He would have been disreputable – unreliable, frequently hungover – but brilliant. Gore Vidal would have been another interesting one to have in the classroom.

What is your secret talent?

Punctuality. I have a very bad sense of direction – all places look the same to me, and I can get lost even in places I know very well – but it is easy for me to be on time and also to have a sense of how time’s passing. You would have to ask my students to know if this is really true, but I pride myself on not wasting their time in class and ending a little early whenever possible.

What word or punctuation mark do you most identify with?

The exclamation point! I do have a soft spot for the semi-colon, of course, and I can’t do without commas and periods. I am also rather partial to the em-dash and the hyphen, each of which has its own charms. I will hyphenate whenever possible.

Where do you do your best writing?

The truthful answer: anywhere with no Internet! I like to go to a cafe where there’s a bit of background buzz – easier for me to concentrate against a backdrop of minor noise than in full silence – and either write by longhand, with no distractions in the way of the internet.

Do you read your books after they’ve been published?

No, but I sometimes have to look up something or remind myself of what exactly I said in the past. My novel The Explosionist was written because I’d fallen in love with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books and Garth Nix’s Sabriel books, and was haunting the bookstore wishfully hoping for something similar. When there really wasn’t anything new along those lines, I realized that I would have to write it myself.

Do you prefer writing on a computer or longhand?

I am still on longhand for a lot of draft-writing. Occasionally I have a project that seems to call out for typing rather than handwriting, but it’s less common. The couple things I always write on the computer, that come easily and enjoyably and wouldn’t feel the same in handwriting: blog posts and lectures.

What book are you currently reading? (And is it in print or on an e-Reader?)

Just finishing Alice Goffman’s wonderful On the Run, which I highly recommend. I love my Kindle Paperwhite, and read most of my pleasure reading on it these days. My apartment is also full of stacks of library books right now that I’m dipping into to make a new fall-semester syllabus.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

I have toyed with the idea of taking up “kitten socializer at animal shelter” as a secondary job description. More seriously: neurologist; epidemiologist; copy editor. It would be hard for me not to be an academic of one kind or another, though I suspect I’d be in the hard sciences, computer programming or mathematics if I weren’t a humanist.

Jenny Davidson is a Professor of English at Columbia University in the City of New York. She is interested in eighteenth-century British literature and culture; cultural and intellectual history, especially history of science; and the contemporary novel. He latest book is Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. She blogs at Light reading.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter and Facebook. Read previous interviews with Word for Word Book Club guest speakers.

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Image couresty of Jenny Davidson.

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50. Roll over, Rimbaud: P. F. Kluge, Walt Whitman, and Eddie and the Cruisers

By Kirk Curnutt


Ask folks who came of age in the 1980s what they remember about the movie Eddie and the Cruisers and one of the following responses is likely:

  1. It spawned the great rock-radio staple “On the Dark Side” and briefly made MTV stars of the improbably named John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band.
  2. It was such a shameless Bruce Springsteen rip-off that Boss fans considered it as sacrilegious as devout Christians do Jesus Christ Superstar.
  3. It had a whiplash-inducing twist ending that Roger Ebert called “so frustrating, so dumb, so unsatisfactory that it gives a bad reputation to the whole movie.”
  4. It was a box-office flop that thirty years ago this month shocked Hollywood by becoming a surprise HBO hit.
  5. It was a movie you rented repeatedly during the decade’s video boom because it fit perfectly VHS’s promise of cheap home entertainment: undemanding, toe-tapping, and eminently re-watchable, it was an ideal 99-cent diversion that helped you forget VCRs cost $500 and were as boxy as Samsonite suitcases.


What you’re less likely to hear, unfortunately: it was based on one of the best, most criminally underappreciated rock ‘n’ roll novels ever.

In a preface to Overlook Press’s 2008 reissue (the book’s first widely available trade paperback), no less than Sherman Alexie admits he never knew Eddie was originally a novel by P. F. Kluge until deep into his own career, long after “obsessing” over the movie as a high-schooler. It’s indicative of how the film overshadows its source material that Kluge’s Eddie doesn’t even make this supposedly comprehensive list of rock novels published since the 1950s.

The novel’s relative obscurity is a shame, for as Alexie notes, it has literary “ambitions and secrets and qualities” that far surpass the movie’s “mainstream” pleasures. Director Martin Davidson, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Arlene, made several changes to Kluge’s tale of a Jersey rock star who may or may not be haunting former bandmates twenty years after his supposed death. The most significant is seemingly the most cosmetic. Whereas Kluge conceived hero Eddie Wilson as a Dion-esque doo-wop rocker, Davidson turned him into an awkward splice of Springsteen and Jim Morrison. In so doing, the filmmaker altered the literary inspiration that in Kluge gives the musician a model for imagining rock ‘n’ roll as an art form instead of mere entertainment. The change is decisive to how differently each version of Eddie depicts the purpose of popular music.

Une_saison_en_enfer_-_01

Une saison en enfer, Arthur Rimbaud, Bruxelles, Alliance typographique, 1873. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

In the movie, college dropout Frank “Wordman” Ridgeway, the story’s Nick Carraway, introduces Eddie to the 19th-century French symboliste Arthur Rimbaud. Literature spurs the hunky frontman to make “serious” music instead of cranking out bar-band favorites for Jersey beachgoers: “I want songs that echo,” Eddie insists. “The [music] we’re doing now is like bed sheets. Spread ’em, soil ’em, ship ’em out to laundry. Our songs — I like to fold ourselves up in them forever.” Soon enough, Eddie pens a concept album called A Season in Hell, after Rimbaud’s most famous work. His slimy record-company owner refuses to release it, however, because the music sounds “like a bunch of jerkoffs making weird sounds.” The rejection sends Eddie squealing away in his ’57 Chevy, which hurtles off the Raritan Bridge, either an accident or a suicide. The Cruisers are forgotten for two decades later until an Entertainment Tonight-type reporter begins hyping Hell as an ominous foreshadowing of the late sixties, “a new age, an age of confusion, an age of passion, of commitment!” Suddenly, someone claiming to be the dead rock star is stalking the surviving Cruisers, intent on finally releasing the missing opus so the public can recognize Eddie’s brilliance.

Serious scholarly papers have drawn parallels between Eddie and Rimbaud, but the script’s invocation of the poet never really rises above literary window dressing. Davidson mainly uses Rimbaud to allude to Morrison, who idolized the literary libertine and who, according to a farcical urban legend, faked his 1971 death to escape the rock biz (much as Rimbaud abandoned literature before he was twenty). The movie asks us to believe that the Beatlemania-era Eddie predicted the Dionysian extremes of the Doors’ “The End” or (God help us) “Horse Latitudes,” but the song that’s supposed to illustrate his visionary genius, “Fire,” hardly qualifies as “weird sounds”. It’s merely an arthritic gloss on Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain” with none of the Boss’s blistering vitality.

Walt Whitman by George C. Cox (1851–1903, photo) Adam Cuerden (1979-, restoration). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Walt Whitman. Photo by George C. Cox, restoration by Adam Cuerden. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

For Kluge’s Eddie, by contrast, the spirit father isn’t Rimbaud but Walt Whitman, and Eddie’s magnum opus is Leaves of Grass. Having seen Leaves appropriated to do everything from woo interns to expose unlikely meth kingpins, I’ll be the first to say that the Good Gray Poet’s popularity as the Go-To Lit Reference sometimes leaves me craving a Longfellow revival. Yet his role in Kluge isn’t gratuitous. Whitman inspires Eddie to reimagine rock ‘n’ roll as the vox populi, a medium not for becoming famous but for creating the true song of democracy. To produce his rock version of Leaves, Eddie recruits black and white greats from Elvis to Sam Cooke to Buddy Holly (the novel is set in 1957-58, a half-decade earlier than the film). Their mission is to snip the American barbed wire of segregation through a series of secret jam sessions designed to “to bring off the impossible, some fantastic union of black and white music.” What breakthroughs Eddie achieved before his supposed death is as compelling a page-turner as the mystery of who’s harassing the surviving Cruisers. (Spoiler alert: Eddie does not predict “Ebony and Ivory”).

In ditching Whitman for Rimbaud, Davidson’s film became a story not about the Gordian knot of race in American music but about rock-star greatness and fame. That point is bashed home like a gong by the movie’s trick ending, which reveals Eddie is indeed alive but indifferent to the hullaballoo the media creates when his masterwork is finally released. Despite the adaptation’s defects, Kluge speaks appreciatively of it, and rightly so: as a cult favorite, the movie kept the novel’s name alive during the decades the book was out of print. Besides, when the other movie based on your writing is Dog Day Afternoon, you can afford to be generous.

Nevertheless, the lack of attention Book Eddie receives feels like a missed opportunity for rock novels in general. The genre is a diverse, unruly one. Some of its entries are romans à clef that do little more than pencil fictional names into legends rock fans already know by heart (Paul Quarrington’s Brian Wilson-retelling Whale Music). Many others are coming-of-age novels in which that form’s traditional theme of lost innocence plays out like a Behind the Music episode, all downward-spiral cocaine and coitus. Still others are less about music-making than about the grotesquery of fame and fan worship (Don DeLillo’s Great Jones Street). What rock novels aren’t nearly as often about is race — or, at least, the alchemies of ethnic interchange explored in such great nonfiction music histories as Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1986). A handful of exceptions do come to mind, Alexie’s own Reservation Blues (1995) most notably. Yet for the most part storylines about ahead-of-their-time geniuses predominate, and frankly, the plot of making personal art instead of appeasing a hits-happy public is as tired as the playlist at my local oldies station.

The idea of rock ‘n’ roll as both the promise and impasse of a racially egalitarian barbaric yawp, on the other hand… That’s a song in fiction we still don’t hear nearly enough.

Kirk Curnutt is professor and chair of English at Troy University’s Montgomery, Alabama, campus, where Scott Fitzgerald met Zelda Sayre in 1918. His publications include A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald (2004), the novels Breathing Out the Ghost (2008) and Dixie Noir (2009), and Brian Wilson (2012). He is currently at work on a reader’s guide to Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not. Read his previous OUPblog posts.

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