A short summary and analysis of Virginia Woolf’s 1919 essay
Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Modern Fiction’, which was originally published under the title ‘Modern Novels’ in 1919, demonstrates in essay form what her later novels bear out: that she had set out to write something different from her contemporaries. Analysis of this important short essay reveals the lengths that Woolf was prepared to go to discredit earlier writers and promote a new style of writing, which she calls ‘Georgian’ and was often referred to as ‘impressionist’ at the time, but which we now know better as ‘modernist’. Read the rest of this entry
In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the charming short stories of Karel Čapek
The modern meaning of the word ‘robot’ has its origins in a 1920 play by Czech writer Karel Čapek. The play, titled R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), begins in a factory which manufactures artificial people, the ‘universal robots’ of the play’s title. The robots are designed to serve humans and work for them, but the robots eventually turn on their masters, wiping out the human race (shades, or rather a foreshadowing, of The Terminator here). This sense of ‘robot’ is taken from the earlier one defined above – namely, the Czech for ‘slave worker’ or ‘drudge’.
Karel Čapek himself didn’t coin the word. The word ‘robot’ was in existence before he wrote his play. But nor did Čapek come up with the idea of taking the word ‘robot’ and using it to describe the man-made droids that feature in his play. He originally called them labori, from the Latin for ‘work’, but it was his brother, Josef Čapek, who suggested roboti. Josef, himself a gifted artist, would later write a volume of poems from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in which he was interned. In April 1945, just weeks before the end of the war, he became one of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in Hitler’s Final Solution.
Most readers who know the name Karel Čapek associate it with robots and little else. Yet Čapek was also the author of some charming short stories and skits, which were collected together as Apocryphal Stories (Modern Classics). Read the rest of this entry
The best poems for friends
Love may be a bigger topic for poets than friendship, but there are nevertheless some classic poems about friends and friendship to be found in English literature. Here are ten of the greatest poems about friendship, and poems for friends, that poets have come up with over the centuries.
Edmund Waller, ‘On the Friendship betwixt Two Ladies’. In this witty poem, Waller, a Cavalier poet of the seventeenth century, celebrates the close friendship between two ladies but also suggests that they are perhaps too close, and deprive themselves of male company (e.g. Waller’s). ‘Why so careless of our care, / Only to yourselves so dear?’ Not so much ‘hoes before bros’ as ‘sisters before misters’?
Katherine Philips, ‘To my Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship’. Philips (1632-64), also known as ‘the Matchless Orinda’, was an Anglo-Welsh poet and translator in an age where few women had the chance to succeed at either. ‘To my Excellent Lucasia’ (Lucasia being the alter ego of Philips’ friend Anne Owen) is a poem of friendship but might also qualify as a lesbian love poem. Read the rest of this entry