Albert Camus’ The Plague: Not about heroism – but about decency

“In January 1941, the twenty-eight year old French writer Albert Camus began work on a novel about a virus that spreads uncontrollably from animals to humans and ends up destroying half the population of a representative modern town. It was called La Peste/The Plague, eventually published in 1947 and frequently described as the greatest European novel of the postwar period…”

The School of Life

12 Great Writers on 12 Great American Birds

From Thoreau to Whitman to Muir, the Very Best Bird-Related Writing

The following passages are from American Birds: A Literary Companionedited by Andrew Rubenfeld and Terry Tempest Williams.

Hector St. John de Crevecoeur“On the Humming Bird” (1782)

“On this little bird nature has profusely lavished her most splendid colours; the most perfect azure, the most beautiful gold, the most dazzling red, are for ever in contrast, and help to embellish the plumes of his majestic head. The richest pallet of the most luxuriant painter, could never invent any thing to be compared to the variegated tints, with which this insect bird is arrayed.”

John James Audubon, “Ivory-billed Woodpecker” (1838)

“The flight of [the Ivory-billed Woodpecker] is graceful in the extreme, although seldom prolonged to more than a few hundred yards at a time, unless when it has to cross a large river, which it does in deep undulations, opening its wings at first to their full extent, and nearly closing them to renew the propelling impulse. The transit from one tree to another, even should the distance be as much as a hundred yards, is performed by a single sweep, and the bird appears as if merely swinging itself from the top of the one tree to that of the other, forming an elegantly curbed line. At this moment all the beauty of the plumage is exhibited, and strikes the beholder with pleasure.” Continue reading

Hedgehogs in Shakespeare’s plays and the early modern imagination

What did people in Shakespeare’s time think about hedgehogs? See where his plays reference them, and check out a 17th-century recipe for hedgehog pudding.

While the global population of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) is stable, their numbers have been rapidly declining in the UK for decades, especially in rural areas. This has led to a huge upswell of conservation efforts as people try to protect the UK’s only spiny mammal, and one of these efforts is centered in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, which has dubbed itself a Hedgehog-Friendly Town.

Stratford’s most famous resident paints a less-than-flattering picture of the humble hedgehog, however. In Richard III, for instance, Richard goads Anne about her father-in-law, King Henry VI, whom Richard has killed (according to Shakespeare, at least). Richard denies it until Anne, fed up, asks him the direct question:

ANNE
Didst thou not kill this king?

RICHARD
I grant you.

ANNE
Dost grant me, hedgehog? Then, God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed.
O, he was gentle, mild, and virtuous. (1.2.108-111)

The Oxford English Dictionary cites this as an example of an obsolete Continue reading

Albion’s Light: William Blake at the Tate Britain

William Blake critiqued the Enlightenment, industrialization, and the expansion of the British empire. His work shines at the Tate as the shadows of Brexit loom.

With England at a critical juncture in terms of national identity, the time seems right for a retrospective of William Blake’s artwork. The seminal poet of the Romantic Age famously cautioned against the expansion of the British empire, the Enlightenment, and mass industrialization. But his paintings, prints, and drawings had almost as much to say, and now, as Brexit freshly looms, the Tate Britain is displaying more than three hundred such works in a show billed as the largest exhibit of his art in more than a generation.

William Blake runs at the Tate Britain through February 2, 2020, and it doesn’t disappoint. Indeed, it opens with Blake’s iconic Albion Rose, which depicts a pristine white figure posed after Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. He stands on a rock, arms outstretched, backlit by rays of gold, fiery Continue reading