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Ten Things You Might Not Know About Famous Poets

In this special guest post, Ana Sampson offers some fascinating facts about classic poets

Matthew Arnold struggled a bit with the ageing process

At Oxford University, Arnold made a name for himself as something of a dandy. It was only when he fell in love, and needed to prove that he had prospects, that he finally settled into the position of Schools Inspector, rattling around provincial Victorian Britain on the newborn railway network. Most of his poetry was written during his younger years – he once said that after his thirtieth birthday he felt ‘three parts iced over’. His most famous poem, ‘Dover Beach’, was begun during his honeymoon in 1851, but was not published until sixteen years later.

There was a sad story behind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s beard

Longfellow, best remembered now for The Song of Hiawatha, numbered among New England’s ‘Fireside Poets’, so called because their verses were easy to learn and recite due to their musical rhythms, and were written to be shared with families. Longfellow’s first wife, Mary, died young and his second, Frances, burnt to death while using sealing wax on a letter. He grew his iconic bushy beard to hide the burn scars he sustained while trying to save her. Read the rest of this entry

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10 Science Fiction Novels Everyone Should Read

The best science fiction novels

Science fiction is now a crowded genre and a popular field. The genre is characterised by speculative fiction and novels rich in ideas, especially about the future of human civilisation and the relationship between people and technology. But what are the best science fiction novels? Any list of top ten works of science fiction everyone should read is going to prove controversial, and we have no doubt that reader will disagree with our choices here. We’ve tried to give a sense of the range of the genre since its (arguable) starting-point back in the early nineteenth century, and to include as many big names as we can, but also to include some lesser-known cult classics which we think everyone who wants to explore science fiction should read.

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895). Critic Bernard Bergonzi called The Time Machine a modern myth; V. S. Pritchett thought it the best of Wells’s scientific romances. It was published in 1895, though the novella had evolved over several years and a series of drafts, beginning with the very different story ‘The Chronic Argonauts’, published in 1888 when Wells was in his early twenties. Read the rest of this entry

Five Fascinating Facts about Plutarch

Fun facts about a pioneering ancient writer

1. Plutarch effectively invented the genre of biography. Plutarch’s innovative approach to biography was to take two important figures – one from Greek civilisation and the other from the Roman empire – and compare and contrast their characters, fortunes, and outlooks. This is the basis for his most famous work, the Parallel Lives.

2. As well as being a serious biographer, though, he was also something of a gossip. Plutarch loves to home in on an individual story that sheds some light on his subject – an anecdote, a moral tale, a quirk or distinctive character trait. And this is why we at Interesting Literature admire Plutarch so much: he saw the importance of trivia, and the fact that it isn’t always as trivial as it might first appear. His Greek Lives and Roman Lives (of which there are two very good selections by Oxford World’s Classics) show the individual personalities of the great statesmen and cultural figures he discusses, their quirks and foibles, their eccentricities. Read the rest of this entry