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Five of the Best Literary Travel Guides to Britain

The best literary travelogues

There are plenty of books out there telling the story of English literature: its history and development. But what about those guidebooks which take a geographical approach to literary Britain, and offer suggestions for places to visit around the UK based on their literary associations? Here are five of our favourite literary guides to travelling around Britain.

Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book. Forgive the hutzpah of beginning with an Interesting Literature production, but this curious tour of literary Britain, written by this blog’s founder, is designed to be a light, entertaining, and above all, interesting guide to the literary history of Britain: a sort of cross between a guidebook and a book of literary trivia. If you want to discover the true location of Robin Hood (not Sherwood Forest), or the location of King Arthur’s court (not Camelot), or the Dorset writer who Read the rest of this entry

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The First Ever Poet in the World: The Woman Writer, Enheduanna

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle travels back over four millennia in search of the world’s oldest named poet

Where and when did literature begin? With Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, nearly 3,000 years ago? Or with the Epic of Gilgamesh, written by an unknown poet some four millennia ago in ancient Mesopotamia, and featuring a cataclysmic flood similar to the one described in the book of Genesis? We could be forgiven for thinking that Homer was the first great ‘named’ author (although who he exactly was – and whether he was even a ‘he’ – remains unknown), and that the further we go back in time before Homer, the less chance we have of encountering an author whose identity we actually know. And, well, if we do encounter a pre-Homeric writer of stature, we could probably put a pretty safe bet on that writer being male. But this is wrong. We can confidently identify the first named author in world history, and what’s more, the author is a woman, named Enheduanna. Read the rest of this entry

So Bad It’s Good: The Best Bad Poets in English Literature

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys some good bad poetry courtesy of The Joy of Bad Verse

I’ve long been a fan of Nicholas Parsons. No, not that one – although who could fail to appreciate the sharp wit of the Just a Minute host? – but Nicholas T. Parsons, the author of one of the best books of literary trivia out there (The Book of Literary Lists), an enjoyable history of the guidebook (Worth the Detour: A History of the Guidebook), and what I’d consider his Magnificent Octopus, The Joy of Bad Verse. This book was published in 1988, so you can consider this ‘review’ a sort of 30-year retrospective. It’s well worth tracking down.

Parsons’ The Joy of Bad Verse is a scholarly and readable study of the history of ‘bad verse’ down the age. What makes a bad poet? Patriotism, religion, and sexual desire appear to be among the worst culprits for serving as muse to the wellspring of the worst and the most wearisome of versifiers. But what Parsons’ book does, as well as offering some rigorous analysis of what makes a bad poem, is to offer up some of the best – which is to say some of the worst – examples of doggerel ever to have inflicted upon an unsuspecting reading public. Read the rest of this entry