November 30 in Literary History: Mark Twain Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 30th of November

1554: Sir Philip Sidney is born. This Elizabethan poet wrote one of the earliest sonnet sequences in English (Astrophil and Stella), and in his prose romance the Arcadia, he invented the name Pamela. The name means ‘all sweetness’ (from pan meaning all, and mela from the Latin for ‘sweet’ or ‘honey’, whence ‘mellifluous’). Sidney’s The Defence of Poesy (published posthumously in 1595) is widely regarded as the first sustained piece of literary criticism (or even literary theory) written in the English language.

Read more

November 29 in Literary History: C. S. Lewis Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 29th of November

1832: Louisa May Alcott is born. She is best known for Little Women, a novel she didn’t really want to write. When her publisher suggested the idea of writing a ‘girls’ story’ to her, Alcott was less than enthusiastic. She had never written such a book before, and had no love for the genre, considering it ‘moral pap’. However, she did like the idea of the money (as did her father), and so churned out the book quickly. It was a huge bestseller and the publishing phenomenon of the age.

Read more

November 28 in Literary History: William Blake Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 28th of November

1582: William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway pay a £40 bond for their marriage licence.

1628: John Bunyan is born. He wrote much of his defining work, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), while imprisoned in Bedford Jail. As well as the famous allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress – which, as well as arguably being an early English novel, also gave us the name of another classic novel, Vanity Fair – Bunyan also wrote a sort of spiritual memoir, Grace Abounding (1666), and The Life and Death of Mr Badman (1680), a sort of follow-up book to The Pilgrim’s Progress.

Read more

A Short Analysis of A. E. Housman’s ‘Give Me a Land of Boughs in Leaf’

A short analysis of a classic autumnal poem by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

Much of A. E. Housman’s poetry requires no analysis or criticism; its meaning is plain enough to the reader. But the following poem, poem VIII from the posthumously published More Poems (1936) – sometimes known by its first line, ‘Give me a land of boughs in leaf’ – is a particularly fine example of Housman’s style and a brief analysis of it may help to elucidate some of its subtler effects.

Give me a land of boughs in leaf,
A land of trees that stand;
Where trees are fallen, there is grief;
I love no leafless land.

Read more

November 27 in Literary History: Roman Poet Horace Dies

The most significant events in the history of books on the 27th of November

8 BC: Horace dies. The Roman poet whose full name was Quintus Horatius Flaccus once observed, ‘It is not enough that poetry is agreeable, it should also be interesting.’ He wrote the Satires, the Odes, and numerous other poems, including the Ars Poetica (‘The Art of Poetry’), a poem that doubles up as a sort of ‘how-to’ guide for aspiring poets. Several well-known phrases, such as carpe diem (‘seize the day’) and dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’), derive from Horace’s work.

Read more