Oxford University Press

In 1959, David Hill, aged twelve, left England and sailed on the Strathaird to Australia with two of his three brothers. Like thousands of children before them the Hill boys were bound for a Fairbridge farm school. Like thousands of children before them, they had come from a poor background, with a struggling single mother who believed that Fairbridge would give her boys a better education and greater opportunities in life than she possibly could.

... (read more)

Ilan Stavans is a professor of Humanities at Amherst College in Massachusetts, a native of Mexico City who is now a distinguished scholar of Latin American and Hispanic cultures. Here he turns his outsider’s gaze on the large question ‘What is American Literature?’ to productive if rather erratic effect. This is a strange book, one that purports to achieve an Olympian overview of an established academic field, but one whose most effective contributions manifest themselves in casual, digressive comments on particular authors and contemporary cultural issues.

... (read more)

The reverberations from 6 January 2021 continue. On that day, two thousand or more protesters stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, intending to overturn the formal ballot electing Joe Biden as president of the United States. Waving phones, livestreaming their moves, some called for the execution of politicians, notably Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. For the first time, a Confederate flag was waved on the floor of the Congress, while a man wearing horns and waving a ‘Q sent me’ sign became the global image of the invasion. The mob was eventually pushed out of the building, but five people died during or after the assault, and four police officers caught in the mêlée later suicided.

... (read more)

As I started to read this book, right-wing extremists stormed the US Congress, spurred on by a president who was unable to accept defeat at the ballot box. It has long been recognised that Donald Trump is a narcissist, but, as Ute Frevert aptly points out in The Politics of Humiliation, narcissism and shame are closely related. Trump feels humiliated by his defeat and is therefore psychologically incapable of accepting his loss, on any level. But there is another side to Trump’s behaviour: he has been quite ‘shameless’ in the way he bends truth and humiliates other political leaders.

... (read more)

The basic facts of William Shakespeare’s life – his baptism, early marriage, three children, shareholder status in his playing company, acquisition of a coat of arms, purchase of New Place in Stratford, and his death in 1616 – are well known. Is there anything new to say?

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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?

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)

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.

... (read more)