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The latest new books in Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

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  • 05/01/16--22:00: Great William
  • The Great William is the first book to explore how seven renowned writers—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Virginia Woolf, Charles Olson, John Berryman, Allen Ginsberg, and Ted Hughes—wrestled with Shakespeare in the very moments when they were reading his work. What emerges is a constellation of remarkable intellectual and emotional encounters. Theodore Leinwand builds impressively detailed accounts of these writers’ experiences through their marginalia, lectures, letters, journals, and reading notes. We learn why Woolf associated reading Shakespeare with her brother Thoby, and what Ginsberg meant when referring to the mouth feel of Shakespeare’s verse. From Hughes’s attempts to find a “skeleton key” to all of Shakespeare’s plays to Berryman’s tormented efforts to edit King Lear, Leinwand reveals the palpable energy and conviction with which these seven writers engaged with Shakespeare, their moments of utter self-confidence and profound vexation. In uncovering these intense public and private reactions, The Great William connects major writers’ hitherto unremarked scenes of reading Shakespeare with our own.

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    Shakespeare’s plays are powerfully shaped by their sense of place. From Romeo and Juliet’s fiery, divided Verona to the mists and ghosts of Hamlet’s Denmark or Macbeth’s Inverness, location in Shakespeare is often as much a character as any of his protagonists. Unlike his other characters, however, it is still possible to visit many of the locations in Shakespeare’s plays, and author and scholar Ralph Berry does just that, visiting each of the places that inspired the Bard’s imagination.   Examining locations Shakespeare knew from personal experience, such as Windsor; locations he created through imagination, such as Elsinore, based on far-off Kronborg Castle; and locations important because Shakespeare’s plays were performed there, such as Hampton Court and the Great Hall of the Middle Temple, Shakespeare’s Settings and a Sense of Place is a vivid and unique approach to the great author’s work, sure to appeal to fans and scholars alike.

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  • 05/14/16--22:00: Mapping Shakespeare's World
  • Shakespeare never set a play in his own Elizabethan London. From the castle in Elsinore where Hamlet avenges his father’s death to Cleopatra’s Alexandria at the height of the Roman Empire to the seaport town in Cyprus where we await the arrival of Othello, each of Shakespeare’s plays is set in a time or space remote from his primary audience. Why is this? How much did the Bard and his contemporaries know about the foreign lands his characters often inhabit? What expectations did an audience have if the curtains rose on a play which claimed to take place in ancient Troy or the Pyrenean kingdom of Navarre in northern Spain?            Mapping Shakespeare’s World explores these questions with surprising results. It has often been said that setting is irrelevant to Shakespeare’s plays—that, wherever they are set, their enduring appeal lies in their ability to speak to broad questions of human nature. Peter Whitfield shows that, on the contrary, many of Shakespeare’s locations were carefully chosen for their ability to convey subtle meanings an Elizabethan audience would have picked up on and understood. Through the use of paintings, drawings, contemporary maps and geographical texts, Whitfield suggests answers to such questions as where Illyria was located, why The Merry Wives of Windsor could only have taken place in Windsor, and how two utterly different comedies—The Comedy of Errors and Pericles, Prince of Tyre—both came to take place in ancient Ephesus.             Just when one might think there was nothing more to be said about Shakespeare, with Mapping Shakespeare’s World, Whitfield offers a fascinating new point of view.

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  • 05/30/16--22:00: Substance of Shadow
  • John Hollander, poet and scholar, was a master whose work joined luminous learning and imaginative risk. This book, based on the unpublished Clark Lectures Hollander delivered in 1999 at Cambridge University, witnesses his power to shift the horizons of our thinking, as he traces the history of shadow in British and American poetry from the Renaissance to the end of the twentieth century. Shadow shows itself here in myriad literary identities, revealing its force as a way of seeing and a form of knowing, as material for fable and parable. Taking up a vast range of texts—from the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton to Poe, Dickinson, Eliot, and Stevens—Hollander describes how metaphors of shadow influence our ideas of dreaming, desire, doubt, and death. These shadows of poetry and prose fiction point to unknown, often fearful domains of human experience, showing us concealed shapes of truth and possibility. Crucially, Hollander explores how shadows in poetic history become things with a strange substance and life of their own: they acquire the power to console, haunt, stalk, wander, threaten, command, and destroy. Shadow speaks, even sings, revealing to us the lost as much as the hidden self. An extraordinary blend of literary analysis and speculative thought, Hollander’s account of the substance of shadow lays bare the substance of poetry itself.   

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  • 06/16/16--22:00: Corporate Commonwealth
  • The Corporate Commonwealth traces the evolution of corporations during the English Renaissance and explores the many types of corporations that once flourished. Along the way, the book offers important insights into our own definitions of fiction, politics, and value.     Henry S. Turner uses the resources of economic and political history, literary analysis, and political philosophy to demonstrate how a number of English institutions with corporate associations—including universities, guilds, towns and cities, and religious groups—were gradually narrowed to the commercial, for-profit corporation we know today, and how the joint-stock corporation, in turn, became both a template for the modern state and a political force that the state could no longer contain. Through innovative readings of works by Thomas More, William Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes, among others, Turner tracks the corporation from the courts to the stage, from commonwealth to colony, and from the object of utopian fiction to the subject of tragic violence. A provocative look at the corporation’s peculiar character as both an institution and a person, The Corporate Commonwealth uses the past to suggest ways in which today’s corporations might be refashioned into a source of progressive and collective public action.

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  • 07/10/16--22:00: Shakespeare and the Law
  • William Shakespeare is inextricably linked with the law. Legal documents make up most of the records we have of his life, and trials, lawsuits, and legal terms permeate his plays. Gathering an extraordinary team of literary and legal scholars, philosophers, and even sitting judges, Shakespeare and the Law demonstrates that Shakespeare’s thinking about legal concepts and legal practice points to a deep and sometimes vexed engagement with the law’s technical workings, its underlying premises, and its social effects. The book’s opening essays offer perspectives on law and literature that emphasize both the continuities and contrasts between the two fields. The second section considers Shakespeare’s awareness of common law thinking and common law practice, while the third inquires into Shakespeare’s general attitudes toward legal systems. The fourth part of the book looks at how law enters into conversation with issues of politics and community, whether in the plays, in Shakespeare’s world, or in our own world. Finally, a colloquy among Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Judge Richard Posner, Martha C. Nussbaum, and Richard Strier covers everything from the ghost in Hamlet to the nature of judicial discretion.

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  • 07/14/16--22:00: Object Lessons
  • Object Lessons explores a fundamental question about literary realism: How can language evoke that which is not language and render objects as real entities? Drawing on theories of reference in the philosophy of language, Jami Bartlett examines novels by George Meredith, William Makepeace Thackeray, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Iris Murdoch that provide allegories of language use in their descriptions, characters, and plots. Bartlett shows how these authors depict the philosophical complexities of reference by writing through and about referring terms, the names and descriptions that allow us to “see” objects. At the same time, she explores what it is for words to have meaning and delves into the conditions under which a reference can be understood. Ultimately, Object Lessons reveals not only how novels make references, but also how they are about referring.

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  • 07/14/16--22:00: Shakespeare's Dead
  • Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death, his plays live on in theater and popular culture, given new life through countless innovative approaches to their performance and interpretation. Just as our enthusiasm for seeing the plays performed—and transformed—affirms their continued life, death scenes in Shakespeare’s plays tend to mark not an ending but a transformation of life. Published to accompany a major exhibition at the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Shakespeare’s Dead documents the many ways Shakespeare’s characters meet their demise, from suicide to murder, from death by workaday dagger to the more creative method of being baked and fed to one’s family in a meat pie. Through these examples, Simon Palfrey and Emma Smith show Shakespeare’s mastery at choreographing death as a means of rediscovery. Some characters refuse to go quietly, dying in stages, as in Nick Bottom’s performance as Pyramus killing himself with much flourish in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Others are remembered in elegies, and still others are resurrected or reappear as ghosts. Shakespeare’s death scenes also often speak to the boundaries between theater and everyday life, with funerals and scenes of mourning that are undercut by their staged inauthenticity. Extensively illustrated with contemporary drawings and images from stage history, Shakespeare’s Dead takes readers through the playwright’s great death scenes and tragic figures, exploring in them the theme of life in death and delineating the cultural, religious, and social contexts.

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  • 07/25/16--22:00: Prince of Tricksters
  • Meet Netley Lucas, Prince of Tricksters—royal biographer, best-selling crime writer, and gentleman crook. In the years after the Great War, Lucas becomes infamous for climbing the British social ladder by his expert trickery—his changing names and telling of tales. An impudent young playboy and a confessed confidence trickster, he finances his far-flung hedonism through fraud and false pretenses. After repeated spells in prison, Lucas transforms himself into a confessing “ex-crook,” turning his inside knowledge of the underworld into a lucrative career as freelance journalist and crime expert. But then he’s found out again—exposed and disgraced for faking an exclusive about a murder case. So he reinvents himself, taking a new name and embarking on a prolific, if short-lived, career as a royal biographer and publisher. Chased around the world by detectives and journalists after yet another sensational scandal, the gentleman crook dies as spectacularly as he lived—a washed-up alcoholic, asphyxiated in a fire of his own making. The lives of Netley Lucas are as flamboyant as they are unlikely. In Prince of Tricksters, Matt Houlbrook picks up the threads of Lucas’s colorful lies and lives. Interweaving crime writing and court records, letters and life-writing, Houlbrook tells Lucas’s fascinating story and, in the process, provides a panoramic view of the 1920s and ’30s. In the restless times after the Great War, the gentlemanly trickster was an exemplary figure, whose tall tales and bogus biographies exposed the everyday difficulties of knowing who and what to trust. Tracing how Lucas both evoked and unsettled the world through which he moved, Houlbrook shows how he prompted a pervasive crisis of confidence that encompassed British society, culture, and politics. Taking readers on a romp through Britain, North America, and eventually into Africa, Houlbrook confronts readers with the limits of our knowledge of the past and challenges us to think anew about what history is and how it might be made differently.

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  • 10/02/16--22:00: Very Queer Family Indeed
  • “We can begin with a kiss, though this will not turn out to be a love story, at least not a love story of anything like the usual kind.” So begins A Very Queer Family Indeed, which introduces us to the extraordinary Benson family. Edward White Benson became Archbishop of Canterbury at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, while his wife, Mary, was renowned for her wit and charm—the prime minister once wondered whether she was “the cleverest woman in England or in Europe.” The couple’s six precocious children included E. F. Benson, celebrated creator of the Mapp and Lucia novels, and Margaret Benson, the first published female Egyptologist. What interests Simon Goldhill most, however, is what went on behind the scenes, which was even more unusual than anyone could imagine. Inveterate writers, the Benson family spun out novels, essays, and thousands of letters that open stunning new perspectives—including what it might mean for an adult to kiss and propose marriage to a twelve-year-old girl, how religion in a family could support or destroy relationships, or how the death of a child could be celebrated. No other family has left such detailed records about their most intimate moments, and in these remarkable accounts, we see how family life and a family’s understanding of itself took shape during a time when psychoanalysis, scientific and historical challenges to religion, and new ways of thinking about society were developing. This is the story of the Bensons, but it is also more than that—it is the story of how society transitioned from the high Victorian period into modernity.  

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  • 10/16/16--22:00: Jane Austen's Names
  • In Jane Austen’s works, a name is never just a name. In fact, the names Austen gives her characters and places are as rich in subtle meaning as her prose itself. Wiltshire, for example, the home county of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, is a clue that this heroine is not as stupid as she seems: according to legend, cunning Wiltshire residents caught hiding contraband in a pond capitalized on a reputation for ignorance by claiming they were digging up a “big cheese”—the moon’s reflection on the water’s surface. It worked. In Jane Austen’s Names, Margaret Doody offers a fascinating and comprehensive study of all the names of people and places—real and imaginary—in Austen’s fiction. Austen’s creative choice of names reveals not only her virtuosic talent for riddles and puns. Her names also pick up deep stories from English history, especially the various civil wars, and the blood-tinged differences that played out in the reign of Henry VIII, a period to which she often returns. Considering the major novels alongside unfinished works and juvenilia, Doody shows how Austen’s names signal class tensions as well as regional, ethnic, and religious differences. We gain a new understanding of Austen’s technique of creative anachronism, which plays with and against her skillfully deployed realism—in her books, the conflicts of the past swirl into the tensions of the present, transporting readers beyond the Regency. Full of insight and surprises for even the most devoted Janeite, Jane Austen’s Names will revolutionize how we read Austen’s fiction.

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  • 11/09/16--22:00: Oscar Wilde Prefigured
  • “I do not say you are it, but you look it, and you pose at it, which is just as bad,” Lord Queensbury challenged Oscar Wilde in the courtroom—which erupted in laughter—accusing Wilde of posing as a sodomite. What was so terrible about posing as a sodomite, and why was Queensbury’s horror greeted with such amusement? In Oscar Wilde Prefigured, Dominic Janes suggests that what divided the two sides in this case was not so much the question of whether Wilde was or was not a sodomite, but whether or not it mattered that people could appear to be sodomites. For many, intimations of sodomy were simply a part of the amusing spectacle of sophisticated life.Oscar Wilde Prefigured is a study of the prehistory of this “queer moment” in 1895. Janes explores the complex ways in which men who desired sex with men in Britain had expressed such interests through clothing, style, and deportment since the mid-eighteenth century. He supplements the well-established narrative of the inscription of sodomitical acts into a homosexual label and identity at the end of the nineteenth century by teasing out the means by which same-sex desires could be signaled through visual display in Georgian and Victorian Britain. Wilde, it turns out, is not the starting point for public queer figuration. He is the pivot by which Georgian figures and twentieth-century camp stereotypes meet. Drawing on the mutually reinforcing phenomena of dandyism and caricature of alleged effeminates, Janes examines a wide range of images drawn from theater, fashion, and the popular press to reveal new dimensions of identity politics, gender performance, and queer culture.

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  • 11/29/16--22:00: Alice in Space
  • In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll created fantastic worlds that continue to delight and trouble readers of all ages today. Few consider, however, that Carroll conceived his Alice books during the 1860s, a moment of intense intellectual upheaval, as new scientific, linguistic, educational, and mathematical ideas flourished around him and far beyond. Alice in Space reveals the contexts within which the Alice books first lived, bringing back the zest to jokes lost over time and poignancy to hidden references. Gillian Beer explores Carroll’s work through the speculative gaze of Alice, for whom no authority is unquestioned and everything can speak. Parody and Punch, evolutionary debates, philosophical dialogues, educational works for children, math and logic, manners and rituals, dream theory and childhood studies—all fueled the fireworks. While much has been written about Carroll’s biography and his influence on children’s literature, Beer convincingly shows him at play in the spaces of Victorian cultural and intellectual life, drawing on then-current controversies, reading prodigiously across many fields, and writing on multiple levels to please both children and adults in different ways. With a welcome combination of learning and lightness, Beer reminds us that Carroll’s books are essentially about curiosity, its risks and pleasures. Along the way, Alice in Space shares Alice’s exceptional ability to spark curiosity in us, too.

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  • 12/20/16--22:00: Death Be Not Proud
  • The seventeenth-century French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche thought that philosophy could learn a valuable lesson from prayer, which teaches us how to attend, wait, and be open for what might happen next. Death Be Not Proud explores the precedents of Malebranche’s advice by reading John Donne’s poetic prayers in the context of what David Marno calls the “art of holy attention.” If, in Malebranche’s view, attention is a hidden bond between religion and philosophy, devotional poetry is the area where this bond becomes visible. Marno shows that in works like “Death be not proud,” Donne’s most triumphant poem about the resurrection, the goal is to allow the poem’s speaker to experience a given doctrine as his own thought, as an idea occurring to him. But while the thought must feel like an unexpected event for the speaker, the poem itself is a careful preparation for it. And the key to this preparation is attention, the only state in which the speaker can perceive the doctrine as a cognitive gift. Along the way, Marno illuminates why attention is required in Christian devotion in the first place and uncovers a tradition of battling distraction that spans from ascetic thinkers and Church Fathers to Catholic spiritual exercises and Protestant prayer manuals.

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  • 02/14/17--22:00: Legal Epic
  • The seventeenth century saw some of the most important jurisprudential changes in England’s history, yet the period has been largely overlooked in the rich field of literature and law. Helping to fill this gap, The Legal Epic is the first book to situate the great poet and polemicist John Milton at the center of late seventeenth-century legal history. Alison A. Chapman argues that Milton’s Paradise Lost sits at the apex of the early modern period’s long fascination with law and judicial processes. Milton’s world saw law and religion as linked disciplines and thought therefore that in different ways, both law and religion should reflect the will of God. Throughout Paradise Lost, Milton invites his readers to judge actions using not only reason and conscience but also core principles of early modern jurisprudence. Law thus informs Milton’s attempt to “justify the ways of God to men” and points readers toward the types of legal justice that should prevail on earth. Adding to the growing interest in the cultural history of law, The Legal Epic shows that England’s preeminent epic poem is also a sustained reflection on the role law plays in human society.

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  • 02/14/17--22:00: Saturday's Silence
  • R. S. Thomas (1913–2000) was one of the major poets of the twentieth century, an Anglican priest who fiercely disliked the spread of Anglicanism in Wales and was called “the Solzhenitsyn of Wales” for his ability to force attention to matters of conscience. This book reveals his poetry’s deep indebtedness to key features of the classic Christian tradition through a focus on the three days at the center of the story of the resurrection and how they are reflected in and treated through Thomas’s work.  

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  • 04/30/17--22:00: Outward Mind
  • Though underexplored in contemporary scholarship, the Victorian attempts to turn aesthetics into a science remain one of the most fascinating aspects of that era. In The Outward Mind, Benjamin Morgan approaches this period of innovation as an important origin point for current attempts to understand art or beauty using the tools of the sciences. Moving chronologically from natural theology in the early nineteenth century to laboratory psychology in the early twentieth, Morgan draws on little-known archives of Victorian intellectuals such as William Morris, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, and others to argue that scientific studies of mind and emotion transformed the way writers and artists understood the experience of beauty and effectively redescribed aesthetic judgment as a biological adaptation. Looking beyond the Victorian period to humanistic critical theory today, he also shows how the historical relationship between science and aesthetics could be a vital resource for rethinking key concepts in contemporary literary and cultural criticism, such as materialism, empathy, practice, and form. At a moment when the tumultuous relationship between the sciences and the humanities is the subject of ongoing debate, Morgan argues for the importance of understanding the arts and sciences as incontrovertibly intertwined.

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  • 06/04/17--22:00: Poetic Relations
  • What is the relationship between our isolated and our social selves, between aloneness and interconnection? Constance M. Furey probes this question through a suggestive literary tradition: early Protestant poems in which a single speaker describes a solitary search for God. As Furey demonstrates, John Donne, George Herbert, Anne Bradstreet, and others describe inner lives that are surprisingly crowded, teeming with human as well as divine companions. The same early modern writers who bequeathed to us the modern distinction between self and society reveal here a different way of thinking about selfhood altogether. For them, she argues, the self is neither alone nor universally connected, but is forever interactive and dynamically constituted by specific relationships. By means of an analysis equally attentive to theological ideas, social conventions, and poetic form, Furey reveals how poets who understand introspection as a relational act, and poetry itself as a form ideally suited to crafting a relational self, offer us new ways of thinking about selfhood today—and a resource for reimagining both secular and religious ways of being in the world.

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  • 06/12/17--22:00: Invention of the Oral
  • Just as today’s embrace of the digital has sparked interest in the history of print culture, so in eighteenth-century Britain the dramatic proliferation of print gave rise to urgent efforts to historicize different media forms and to understand their unique powers. And so it was, Paula McDowell argues, that our modern concepts of oral culture and print culture began to crystallize, and authors and intellectuals drew on older theological notion of oral tradition to forge the modern secular notion of oral tradition that we know today.   Drawing on an impressive array of sources including travel narratives, elocution manuals, theological writings, ballad collections, and legal records, McDowell re-creates a world in which everyone from fishwives to philosophers, clergymen to street hucksters, competed for space and audiences in taverns, marketplaces, and the street. She argues that the earliest positive efforts to theorize "oral tradition," and to depict popular oral culture as a culture (rather than a lack of culture), were prompted less by any protodemocratic impulse than by a profound discomfort with new cultures of reading, writing, and even speaking shaped by print.   Challenging traditional models of oral versus literate societies and key assumptions about culture’s ties to the spoken and the written word, this landmark study reorients critical conversations across eighteenth-century studies, media and communications studies, the history of the book, and beyond.  

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    This book details the foundation and evolution of the romance genre in Iceland, tracing it from the introduction of French narratives and showing how they were acculturated into indigenous literary traditions. Marianne E. Kalinke focuses in particular on the oldest Icelandic copies of three chansons de geste and four of the earliest indigenous literary traditions, all found in an Icelandic codex from around 1300. She breaks considerable new ground in tracing the impact of the translated epic poems, which have largely been neglected by scholars in favor of the courtly romances.

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