Oxford University Press

Histories of the origins of the idea of ‘Europe’ have probed the legacies of the Roman Empire, the concept of western Christendom, and the power of the ‘republic of letters’ in the dissemination of ‘Enlightenment’ ideas, culminating in the cosmopolitanism of the early years of the French Revolution. Anthony Pagden is well aware of this heritage but has decided to begin his own study with Napoleon. It seems a strange choice, since the emperor’s European dream was always of a French imperium, whatever the toll in lives; but it does serve to highlight the later triumph of the European Union in securing continental peace.

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Archaeologists can tell us about the tools, diets, shelters, art, and burials of humans and other hominins who lived during the Pleistocene, the geological period lasting from two million to twelve thousand years ago. But what we most want to know is hidden from view. How did they communicate? What was it like to be them? How did they become us?

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In a recent interview, India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, was asked whether his country was heading in what his interlocutor, the Lowy Institute’s Michael Fullilove, called ‘an illiberal direction’. Bristling, Jaishankar denied the charge. India is undergoing something quite different, he argued. It is experiencing a ‘very deep democratization’. This process might be hard for outsiders to understand, but it was positive, not problematic. After decades of rule by an English-speaking, Western-educated élite, the country was at last being governed by politicians who spoke and thought and behaved like ordinary Indians.

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How best to tell the history of literature? – a long, chronological survey tracing broad arcs of development, or as a tight focus on a single, transformative year? The dedicated study of a single writer’s life, or the story of a movement, of several writers brought together for a time by some common cause? In recent years, the history of modernist literature has enjoyed these and other treatments. In Poets and the Peacock Dinner: The literary history of a meal (2014), Lucy McDiarmid takes as her subject a single evening: a dinner, held in West Sussex on 18 January 1914, in honour of the poet Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and attended by six other poets, including W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. That famous evening serves to focus a wide-ranging discussion of literary friendship and romance, collaboration and rivalry.

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If you are looking for the perfect command of voice, Alexander Pope is your poet. It is not just desiccated eighteenth-century rationalists who say this, my Keats-scholar friend Will Christie thinks so too. This is despite the fact that there is zero negative capability in Pope, ‘when man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. His ironies are precise riddles to be sprung, his judgements instant aphorisms. Pope writes exactly what he means, and it lands exactly on target.

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Shakespeare and East Asia is one of the latest titles released in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series. Edited by Stanley Wells and Peter Holland, the Oxford University Press series is pitched at the elusive general reader who is seeking a primer on one of the many topics proliferating within the bustling industry of Shakespeare studies. Written by one of the directors of the MIT Global Shakespeares Archive, this book invites readers to think about the significance of Shakespeare’s continuing influence on cultural production in the Far East, and how Asian adaptations of his corpus participate in creating a contested image of Asia for audiences both in the region and in the Anglophone West. Assembling a varied body of cinematic and theatrical reworkings of Shakespeare from countries like Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, Joubin tells a story about Asian Shakespeares that is also a story about how a particular region has negotiated the imperatives of globalisation and the tacit anglicising effects of global culture.

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Along Heroic Lines by Christopher Ricks

by
August 2021, no. 434

The first essay in Christopher Ricks’s Along Heroic Lines is the text of his inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, an honorary post he held from 2004 to 2009. He takes as his subject the formal distinction between poetry and prose. If one is going to be a professor of poetry, the least one can do is arrive at a satisfactory definition of one’s object of study. To this end, Ricks summons to the witness stand an august procession of English poets and critics – Samuel Johnson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson, W.H. Auden, A.C. Bradley – and considers their authoritative pronouncements on the matter, only to arrive at the inconvenient conclusion that a strict line of demarcation is difficult to sustain.

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Michael Hofmann’s Messing About in Boats is based on his 2019 Clarendon Lectures at Oxford. This series, rather like the Clark Lectures at Cambridge or the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard, offers a distinguished literary practitioner the opportunity to address a particular theme in a short sequence of interlinked lectures. Given that the form of oral delivery tends to preclude extensive or detailed critical analysis, the most effective of these sequences usually promote a few challenging ideas in a compact form that lends itself readily to crystallisation. For example, Toni Morrison’s book The Origin of Others (2017), which links racism to constructions of ‘Otherness’, was based on her Norton Lectures at Harvard the previous year.

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The Gallipoli campaign has a peculiar fascination for historians of World War I. This new book, by British historian Nicholas A. Lambert, is concerned not so much with the conduct of the campaign as with the reasons for its being launched. The chances for its success were known at the time to be low, so why was this gamble, which cost perhaps 130,000 Allied and Ottoman lives, taken?

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Refugee policies around the globe are under strain. As Alexander Betts recognises in the opening pages of The Wealth of Refugees, refugee numbers are increasing due to conflict and political instability in many countries, a situation that will be exacerbated in the future by climate change and the impact of Covid-19. Betts, a political scientist at Oxford University, also notes that populist nationalism has undermined the political willingness of wealthy countries to accept migrants and asylum seekers.

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