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A Short Introduction to Woolf’s ‘Modern Fiction’

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

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10 of the Best Poems about Fish and Fishing

The greatest fishy poems

Fish don’t necessarily lend themselves to poetic possibilities, but there have been some classic poems written about fishing and fish nevertheless. Ranging from religious instructional verse to religious satire, to ecological poems and poems about the self, the following ten poems are among the greatest fish poems in the English language.

John Bunyan, ‘Upon the Fish in the Water’. Using the refrain, ‘The water is the fish’s element’, this short poem by one of the most famous religious writers and preachers of the seventeenth century uses the image of the fish dancing in their native element as a simile for the relationship between God and man.

Thomas Gray, ‘Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes’. Thomas Gray is remembered chiefly for three poems, although he was a much better-known figure in his own day (1716-1771). His ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ is still widely anthologised. His other enduring poem is this, written about the cat belonging to Gray’s friend Horace Walpole, inventor of the Gothic novel; Walpole’s cat did indeed drown in 1747. Read the rest of this entry

Karel Capek’s Apocryphal Stories

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