The greatest fairy stories
As G. K. Chesterton remarked, ‘I left fairy stories lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.’ Angela Carter, who reinvented the fairy tale in her collection The Bloody Chamber, observed that a fairy tale is a story where one king goes to another king to borrow a cup of sugar. The best fairy tales are timeless and yet forever modern, tapping into deeply held and widely shared emotions and moral attitudes. The following constitutes not an exhaustive list of the definitive fairy tales, but rather our attempt to pick the top ten greatest fairy stories. As ever, we welcome your suggestions in the comments for any notable omissions.
‘Puss in Boots’. A classic example of the fairy tale featuring ‘the animal as helper’, ‘Puss in Boots’ entered the canon of classic fairy tales when Charles Perrault included it in his 1697 collection of fairy stories, although like many of the greatest fairy tales, an earlier version can be found in the 1634 Pentamerone, a collection of oral folk tales compiled by Giambattista Basile. Read the rest of this entry
A close reading of Joyce’s story
‘Eveline’ is one of the shortest stories that make up James Joyce’s collection Dubliners (1914), a volume that was not an initial commercial success (it sold just 379 copies in its first year of publication, and 120 of those were bought by Joyce himself). Yet Dubliners redefined the short story and is now viewed as a classic work of modernist fiction, with each of its fifteen short stories repaying close analysis. ‘Eveline’ focuses on a young Irish woman of nineteen years of age, who plans to leave her abusive father and poverty-stricken existence in Ireland, and seek out a new, better life for herself and her lover Frank in Buenos Aires. You can read ‘Eveline’ here.
First, a brief summary of ‘Eveline’. Eveline is a young woman living in Dublin with her father. Her mother is dead. Dreaming of a better life beyond the shores of Ireland, Eveline plans to elope with Frank, a sailor who is her secret lover (Eveline’s father having forbade Eveline to see Frank after the two men fell out), and start a new life in Argentina. With her mother gone, Eveline is responsible for the day-to-day running of the household: her father is drunk and only reluctantly tips up his share of the weekly housekeeping money, and her brother Harry is busy working and is away a lot on business (another brother, Ernest, has died). Read the rest of this entry
The best flower poems
Flowers are a perennial theme of poetry. Indeed, the word for a book of poems, ‘anthology’, even comes from the Greek for ‘flower’. Given how many classic poems have been written about flowers, it’s difficult to narrow it down to just ten of the best flowery poems – but that is nevertheless what we’ve tried to do below, offering a range of poems (comic, celebratory, romantic, carpe diem) from different periods of English literature.
George Herbert, ‘A Wreath’. In this poem by one of English literature’s greatest devotional poets, Herbert (1593-1633) creatively suggests the shape of a wreath through the rhyme scheme of his poem. The progression of its lines, and its rhyme scheme, both reflect the wreath’s circularity, a symbol of totality and connection. So the movement from one line to next forms a chain: the first line ends with talk of ‘deservèd praise’, so the second line begins by talking about ‘praise deservèd’; this second line in turn ends ‘unto Thee I give’, leading into the third line which begins ‘I give to Thee’; and so on, until we end up where we started, with ‘a crown of praise’ returning us to the first line of the poem, ‘A wreathèd garland of deservèd praise’. A good poem, all round, we might say. Read the rest of this entry