"A losing trade, I assure you, sir: literature is a drug."-
George Borrow, Lavengro, Ch. 30.
"In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the
oldest. The classic literature is always modern."-Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton.
"La lecture de tous les bons livres est comme une conversation avec les
plus honnêtes gens des siècles passés. - The reading of all good books is like a conversation with
the finest persons of past centuries."-René Descartes, Le Discours de la méthode,
"Education . . . has produced a vast population able to read but unable
to distinguish what is worth reading."-
G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History
"The Odyssey" an Epic poem in 24 books traditionally. This epic and the "Iliad" are said to have
provided the basis of
Greek education and culture throughout the classical age. The poem is the story of Odysseus, King of
Ithaca, who after
10 years of wanderings (although the action of the poem is in fact the final six weeks) returns home
from the Trojan War.
He finds himself recognized only by his faithful dog and a nurse. With the help of his son
Telemachus he destroys the
importunate suitors of his wife Penelope and reestablishes himself in his kingdom.
The Trojan War
As said by Homer, the Trojan War began when Paris, the son of King Priam of
Troy, stole Helen, the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Menelaus’s brother,
Agamemnon, sailed to Troy with an enormous army carried by a fleet of 1,000
ships to win Helen back. He laid siege to Troy for 10 years, but could not
conquer the walled city. Then Odysseus, one of the Greek commanders, devised a
plan. The Greeks built a huge wooden horse, positioned it outside the walls of
Troy, and then sailed away. The Trojans Thought the house was a sacred offering
and took it into their city. But the wooden horse was actually full of Greek
soldiers who sneak out at night and opened the city gates for the rest of their
army, which had sailed back from a nearby island. The Greeks took Helen Back,
killed king Priam and the Trojan men, took the women captive, and burned Troy to
Troy was believed to be a city of legend, living in the Greek epic poem the
Iliad. Then in the second half of the 19th century the German
archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann set out to prove that Troy had been a real
Note: Plato, Emperor Caligula and the Roman Republic banned this work in 387 B.C. in Greece.
It might be best to begin with the Apology, in which Socrates defends
himself against the charges of atheism and corrupting the youth of Athens. The
dialogue, a long speech. Follow that with the Crito (Socrates gives his reasons
for refusing to escape from prison). Then the Protagors (dialogues). Then try
the Meno (Plato's doctrine of "recollection"). Then the Symposium
(practically a drama).
Selected Works: Start with a reading of the Ethics and the Politics. The
Ethics answers (or tries to) the question, What is the Good? The serious reader
can handle all of the Ethics, if on takes it slowly. In the first reading
concentrate on Books I, II, III, VI and X. The Politics deals specifically with
men in association. The first and third of the eight books are the easiest.
Dante Alighieri (1265
Dante's status rests for the most part on the Divine Comedy (La Divina
Commedia), a long vernacular poem in cantos. Dante entitled it Commedia; the
adjective “Divina” was added in the 16th century by later commentators
(probably because it narrate the tale of the Dante’s journey through hell,
purgatory, and paradise). The poem is divided into three major parts: Hell
(Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Haven (Paradiso). Dante begins his
journey in the hell (the inferno) on Good Friday morning. On the Mountain of
purgatory, Beatrice (when Dante was nine he first saw the little girl, Beatrice
(1266-1290); and ten nine years later saw her again) becomes Dante's guide and
leads him to paradise and to god.Early writings, La Vita Nuova (The New Life,
1293) are a collection of thirty-one love poems for Beatrice. Non-fiction works
include De Vulgari Eloquentia (On Writing in the Italian Language, 1303 or 04).
Dante wrote The Divine Comedy while in exile (1302-1365). The Divine Comedy
teaches that through knowledge, good choices and divine grace, one can
eventually arrive to destination with the god.
1318 France-Lombardy: "De Monarchia" was publicly burned.
1559 Italy-Rome: "De Monarchia" banned by Pope Paul IV and the Index of Trent for asserting that
the authority of Kings was derived from God,
not through God's Vicar on earth, the Pope.
1581 Portugal-Lisbon: "La Divina Commedia" prohibited by Church authorities.
My impression of Shakespeare is that he was a practicing theater craftsman, a
busy actor, a sharp, wealthy businessman, a greatest English poet and dramatist,
not always great (eye on a deadline rather than posterity), not a great original
thinker. There is no such thing as Shakespeare "mystery". To enjoy
Shakespeare, clear minds from the school/college English class. Shakespeare is
for reading not for studying. To read him complete is well worth. The minimum
reading (judgments differ, of course) consists of the following dozen out of
thirty-seven plays and twenty or so sonnets. The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and
Juliet, Henry IV (Parts 1 and 2), Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for
Measure, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, The Tempest and
SONNET: 18, 29, 30, 33, 55, 60, 63, 64, 65, 66, 71, 73, 94, 98, 106, 107, 116,
129, 130, 144, and 146.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
When read GBS it helps to remember a few simple facts about
First, he was Irish, as he puts it, “I am a typical
Irishman; my family came from Yorkshire.” Hence, his world is English life.
Second, he was a Fabian Socialist who never recovered from Karl Marx. Hence,
economics plays an important part in his work. Third, he is probably the
greatest showman of ideas who ever lived. He uses thousand stage tricks to play
with the ideas that might be found in books of sociology, economics, politics,
Suggested Reading: Arms and the Man, Candida, The Devil’s
Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman, major Barbara, Androcles and
the Lion, Pygmalion, Heartbreak House, Back to Methuselah, Saint Joan.
Some Useful Links:
Sir Walter Scott
Daniel Defoe (1659 - 1731)
Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660. He was liberal (in today’s term)
and very tolerant of others' religious ideas. After his mother died his father
sent him to a boarding school, after which he attended Morton's Academy. He was
a very good student. By 1683, Daniel was a successful young merchant. In 1684,
he married Mary Tuffley. Later that year, he joined the army of the rebel Duke
of Monmouth. The failed revolt against James forced Defoe to live in semi-exile.
He traveled for three years and wrote anti-James II pamphlets. Daniel went
bankrupt in 1692. In 1701, he wrote a poem called The True-Born Englishman that became the
best-selling poem ever at that time. It was well known that he signed several of
his later works as The True-Born Englishman. Still, it was only a pamphlet,
which made Daniel the lowest form of writer as far as his contemporaries were
The next affair in his life was when he was pilloried in July 1703.
He wrote a pamphlet called The Shortest Way with the
Dissenters. Bear in mind that Daniel himself had been labeled a Dissenter.
This Jonathan Swift style pamphlet made shocking proposal for dealing with
Dissenters. It sold well. He was the only person ever pillioried who later
become a national hero.
He had gotten another incarceration. His business failed while he was in
Newgate prison. Desperate to support his wife and six children, he contact
Robert Harley, Speaker of Parliament. Robert appreciated Daniel's usefulness as
a writer and manipulator of popular opinion. From then on, Daniel had a steady
job as a pamphleteer. Defoe was perhaps the first truly outstanding professional
journalist (or hired hack) in England. In 1706, he returned to Scotland and
started up a newspaper in Edinburgh called the Post-Man
Robinson Crusoe is one of the most famous books in the world. The first
volume of Robinson Crusoe was published on April 25, 1719, and it was a
big hit, chiefly with the lower and middle classes. Robinson Crusoe is a boys’
book ( its cousin Huckleberry Finn) in the sense that it satisfies those male
dreams that happen to be most clear in boyhood but go on to lead an underground
life in most males. In my opinion, this book makes the daydream respectable.
Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick are the two great novels that manage brilliantly
without involving "female" sex. They have never been popular with women.
Since that, one worked so well, Daniel published Moll Flanders in
1722, drawing a great deal on his experience in Newgate prison. Afterward, this
novel got him the label of a social historian. Daniel wrote on various economic
issues and on travel, A Tour Thro' the whole Island of Great Britain.
Some Useful Links:
Minimum Reading (depend upon sex):
Minimum Reading (depend upon whether sex):
Works (Bronte Sisters):
Minimum Reading (Children):
May include (depend upon age):
Andrew Lang (Edited by)
Minimum Reading (Children):
Richard F. Burton (Translated by)
J. M. Barrie
Minimum Reading (Children):
D. H. Lawrence
The Scarlet Letter (1850) novels, resting on the tragic consequences of deny guilt. The setting of the novel is mid-seventh century puritan New England, the tale go after the history of four people. Hester Pryne who has born the daughter of an unnamed father and must wear the scarlet "A" of Adulteress on her bosom, Arthur Dimmesdale later on discovered to be the father of the child, Roger Chillingworth, an elderly physician and Pearl, the child.
This novel was the first U.S. work to rank among "classics of world
literature" was banned (1851-1899) in USA by Rev. A.C.Coxe. In 1852 Nicholas I banned this novel in Russia.
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)" is a novel about a mischievous boy name Tom winning triumphs through a number of adventures.
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)" is a novel about a boy, Huck and his black friend Jim who together make a journey, interrupted by many stops, far down the Mississippi on a raft. The London Athenaeum has called it one of the six greatest books ever written in America.
These two novels were banned by public libraries of US 1876+. Also banned in Soviet Union.
A little bit detail:
1876: excluded from the children's room, Public Library, Brooklyn, N.Y., U.S.A.
1876: excluded from Denver Public Library.
1885: "The Adv. of Huckleberry Finn" was banned by Public Library, Concord, MA.
1905: Both novels excluded from the Public Library, Brooklyn NY.
1930: Books confiscated at the border by Soviet Union.
Results of cencership:
1946: These two books became best sellers in soviet Union.
1957: United States and New York City dropped these books from list of approved books for schools.
Feodor Mikhailovich Dostovski
Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy
Minimum Readings (Short Story):
Minimum Reading (Short Story):
Minimum Reading (Science Fiction):
Arthur Conan Doyle
H. G. Wells
John Stuart Mill
Alfred North Whitehead
- Science and the Modern World, An Introduction to Mathematics
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Machiavelli, Italian diplomat and political philosopher, was a Florentine.
Savonarola dominated Florence when he was in his twenties. Immediately after
Savonarola’s putting to death Machiavelli gets hold of a small position in the
Florentine government (1498). He remained in its service until the
re-reestablishment of the Medici in 1512. He was arrested, but set free,
permitted to live in withdrawal near Florence. His most famous work, The Prince,
was written in 1513, and dedicated to Lorenzo the Magnificent to win the favor
of the Medici (but failed to conciliate). His longer work, the “Discourses”
is markedly more republican and more liberal.
Principe (The Prince), a remarkably short book, tries to
lay out methods or schemes how principalities are won, how they are held and how
they are lost. In fifteenth century Italy few rulers were legitimate; even the
popes, in many cases, secured election by fraudulent way. The Prince is very
explicit in repudiating received morality where the conduct of rulers is
concerned. A ruler will not survive if he is at all times good; he must be
cunning and as violent. There is chapter (XVIII) entitled: “In What Way
Princes Must Keep Faith.” We learn that they should keep faith when it pays to
do so, but not otherwise. A prince must on occasion be faithless.
In Machiavelli there is no “legitimate power”
comprehension. Power is for those who have the skill to grab it in a free
competition or rivalry. His preference for popular government is not resulting
from any idea of “rights,” but from the observation that popular governments
are less cruel, unscrupulous, and inconstant than tyrannies.
In his doctrine, there are three important political goods:
national independence, security, and a well-ordered constitution. The best
constitution is one that shares out legal rights among prince, aristocracy, and
people in proportion to their real power (the idea is under such a constitution
successful revolutions are hard and therefore stability is achievable). His
political philosophy is scientific and empirical, based upon his own
experiences. He holds that religion should have a leading place in the State,
not on the ground of its truth, but as social make strength.
The Prince (1513), Discourses on Livy (1517), The Art of War (1520), Reform
of Florence (1520), The Life of Castruccio Castracane, History of Florence, and
Numerous essays on the military and politics.
Rene Descartes (or
Cartesius – the Latin form of his name) (1595 – 1650)
Descartes is a father of modern rationalism. He died
unhappily in the service of queen Christina of Sweden.
- The Principles of sychology, Pragmatism and Four Essays from the meaning of
Truth, The Varieties of Religious Experience
- The Prelude; Selected Shorter Poems; Preface to the Lyrical Ballads,
- The Story of Civilization
- Arthur's Classic
- Alex Catalog of Electronic
Texts -- Collection of digital documents, including American literature,
English literature, and Western philosophy texts, representing over 120
- Australian Literary and
Historical Texts -- Database of 18th, 19th and early 20th century
Australian poems, short stories, novels, reference works, historical
narratives, and memoirs, searchable by title, author, date, publisher, genre,
and opening lines. Contains texts by writers such as Joseph Banks, Christopher
Brennan, Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, and Andrew Barton.
- Concordances of Great Books
-- Searchable index of classic authors and full texts. Includes the plays and
sonnets of Shakespeare, the complete Sherlock Holmes, a selection of Charles
Dickens' books, works by the Bronte sisters, Tacitus, Melville, Gibbon, George
Eliot, and many others. Searches can be conducted using keywords, words in
concordance by letter, location within text and by frequency of occurrence.
- Electronic Literature Foundation,
Great Books of Western Civilization Bookstore
- Internet Classics Archive --
Searchable archive of Greco-Roman, Chinese and Persian classical literature
texts in English translation with commentaries. Includes Aesop's Fables,
Ovid's Metamorphoses and Plato's Republic.
Online Books Page, The
- Online Library of Literature
Labyrinth: Old English Literature -- Collection of old English
poetry, prose, runic and liturgical texts. Also includes a bibliography of
reference works and a Modern English to Old English Vocabulary.
- Literature Webliography
-- Annotated links to collections of literary guides and criticism, journals,
bibliographies, OPACs, dictionaries, discussion forums and news groups,
societies and associations, style guides, and full text collections.
- Reading Room
-- Collection of English language literary works, including drama, fiction,
non-fiction, poetry, and resources such as electronic journals and newsletter
Middle English Texts -- Collection of more than one hundred middle
English texts online. Includes King Arthur and King Cornwall, The Wedding of
Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle, The Ploughman's Tale, Lancelot of the Laik, and
a collection of Robin Hood tales.
- Twentieth Century Authors
-- Annotated links to biographical, bibliographic, and critical information on
major modern and contemporary English-language writers. Offers general
collections of American, postcolonial, and female writings, together with a
selection of journals, magazines, and mailing lists.
There is no place like