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Lincoln’s last play; or, the continuing fascination with “Our American Cousin”

E. A. Sothern as the foppish and silly Lord Dundreary stole the show. His part was originally small, but his ad libs were received so well by the audience that his part was expanded. Our American Cousin wasn’t just the last play President Lincoln saw.  It  was one of the great commercial successes of its day.  It made a star our of E. A. Sothern and cemented the reputation of…

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Vandal scratches Poe phrase into car at dealership

Language nerds will appreciate this news story about a Latin vandal. The scratching on one of the cars spelled out “Nemo me inpune lacessit.” The phrase means “No one attacks me with impunity.” The quotation, in fact, comes from Edgar Allan Poes classic horror story “The Cask of Amontillado.” It is the family crest of Fortunato, the unfortunate victim of revenge by his neighbor, Montressor. The narrator lures the drunken…

Harper Lee
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Harper Lee to publish new novel, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird

Lee said in an announcement from her publisher, Penguin Random House, that she completed Go Set a Watchman in the mid-1950s, but set it aside after the publication of her debut and never returned to it. “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort,” said the reclusive writer. “My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood,…

A Novel is a Fictional Story Told by a Narrator (Poems, Plays & Reports are not Novels)
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I’m Asking My Students to Be Deliberate about the Word “Novel”

In the past few years, I have noticed more students are applying the word “novel” to any text they might be asked to study in class, whether that text is a book-length fictional narrative, a play, a poem, a political manifesto, or a collection of academic essays. I wrote up this lecture to introduce the concept of literary genre, in the hopes of communicating why it’s important that we recognize…

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Author Says a Whole Culture—Not a Single ‘Homer’—Wrote ‘Iliad,’ ‘Odyssey’

I think it’s a mistake to think of Homer as a person. Homer is an “it.” A tradition. An entire culture coming up with ever more refined and ever more understanding ways of telling stories that are important to it. Homer is essentially shared. Today we have an author obsession—we want to know biography all the time. But Homer has no biography. The Iliad and The Odyssey are like Viking…

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When T.S. Eliot Invented the Hipster

  Prufrock cannot bring himself to ask his companion the “overwhelming question” (which he never identifies) that carries us through the poem. He is paralyzed by the same overwhelming fear of missing out (yes, “FOMO”) that plagues a generation facing endless options and clear few choices: “In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse,” Prufrock laments. Instead, not daring to “disturb the…