Category Archives: History

The 1857 Tidal Wave that was Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary didn’t just make a splash in the literary world — its release caused something more akin to a tidal wave. When it was published in 1857 (or, correction, after its author was acquitted from a trial on the obscenity of the book after its serialized release in 1856), it positively sank the boat of traditional storytelling and forever changed the literary landscape of the world of fiction.


One of the key ways Madame Bovary turned things around was with its bold portrayal of realism. Flaubert didn’t sugarcoat anything – he presented life as it was, warts and all. From the monotony of small-town existence to the harsh realities of adultery and disillusionment alike, Flaubert quite obviously didn’t shy away from the more gritty details of adult life. It wasn’t just the scandalous affairs that made Madame Bovary famous – it was the way Flaubert captured the human condition. He confronted the ugly parts of life – the jealousy, heartbreak and crushing disappointment – and laid them all out there for the world to see, unflinching and unapologetic. This commitment to the realistic style was pretty groundbreaking, and one could argue that it paved the way for future authors to explore the complexities of human experience in a more honest and unfiltered way than previous Victorian literature. 


Another way Flaubert and Madame Bovary left their mark was through his distinctive narrative style. Flaubert had a meticulous attention to detail and used a form of indirect discourse and conversation that allowed readers to dive into the minds of his characters, not just view them from afar. In this way, we didn’t just observe Emma Bovary’s actions – but readers felt her desires, her frustrations and her despair. This engrossing literary technique was influential in setting a new standard for psychological and emotional depth in literature. Flaubert is cited by hundreds of writers that followed in his footsteps as the reason for their ability to explore the inner lives of their characters with greater complexity. 

Another significant impact Madame Bovary had was its challenge to societal norms. Flaubert was brave enough to critique the superficiality and hypocrisy of French society, particularly its treatment of women. Madame Bovary’s quest for passion, excitement and fulfillment in an unbelievably stifling patriarchal world struck a chord with readers of the day. It was able to spark conversations about gender roles, marriage, and individual autonomy (whether male or female) – all topics hot on our minds still today. In doing so, Madame Bovary became not just a work of fiction, but one could see it as a stimulus for social change.

Madame Bovary didn’t just change the literary landscape of the mid 1800s, it reshaped it entirely. Flaubert’s revolutionary approach to the realistic style, his open and deep narrative techniques, and the social commentary throughout the book ensured its place as a timeless masterpiece that still inspires readers to this day. Because in the end, Madame Bovary is a book about longing, about a human search for something more. And who hasn’t felt that at some point in their lives?


What We Can Learn from Evelyn Waugh’s “Scott-King’s Modern Europe”


When you think of the name Evelyn Waugh, titles like Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust probably come to mind. Waugh, an author known for his biting satire and meticulously written prose, was a prolific author of the 20th century. His novella “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” is a classic example of Waugh’s satirical work – complete with profound insights into (unfortunate) cultural decline, the crumbling of “traditional” values, and the occasional absurdity of modern life. Despite its brevity (the work is only 88 pages), this novella is an almost perfect example of Waugh’s trademark wit and language while offering sharp social commentary.


Set in post-World War II Europe, “Scott-King’s Modern Europe” follows (lo-and-behold) the character of Mr. Scott-King, a classics professor at an English public school, as he sets off on a cultural exchange program to the fictional European state of the “Modern European Republic”. At the beginning of the story, Scott-King shows reluctance to participate fully in the trip, feeling a dedication to preserving the traditions and manners of classical education in a progressively more and more modern, utilitarian world. However, as time passes and as Mr. Scott-King sees absurd bureaucratic nonsense and the inanity of this “Modern European Republic”, he finds himself staring straight into the harsh (yet at times comical) realities of the cultural and moral decline of his world.

Central in the novella is Waugh’s rather scathing critique of modernity and its impact on education, culture, and society in general. Comparing the polar opposites of the world of classical academia and the fairly soulless modern functional bureaucracy, Waugh found a way to reveal the occasionally empty promises of progress and pragmatism. The protagonist’s extreme commitment to the concepts of a classical education and tradition seem to be a rather uncomfortable reminder to value knowledge, tradition and manners in an age obsessed with the superficial, with expediency and convenience. Sound familiar to anyone else? Seems like a reminder we could all use today. And this was written in 1947… clearly it’s an enduring problem!

Throughout the book, Waugh’s writing is full of subtle irony and dark humor – classic hallmarks of his satires. The novella might be short, but don’t let that fool you. Waugh deftly handles themes of identity and disillusionment, not to mention the human battle between our idealistic and realistic feelings and desires. Mr. Scott-King himself is something of a tragicomic character, with a hint of the absurd yet heroic in his own way. He sticks to his principles, even to the detriment of his relationships with those around him. While coming across as a bit of a “stick-in-the-mud”, he also isn’t necessarily wrong in his breakdown of a modern, unfeeling society. 

Despite being published almost eight decades ago, Waugh’s work remains almost remarkably relevant in his critique of contemporary society. Here in the 21st century, we struggle with similar issues! Perhaps we can all take a lesson from Waugh’s commentary and incorporate more traditions and values into our modern society.

Check out our 1st edition copy here!


A Look at Charles Dickens’ Thoughts on America


This being his birth month, we couldn’t possibly let the month go by without a blog on our main man – Charles Dickens. Our Victorian celebrity gifted the world with timeless tales of love, loss, and, of course, the occasional ghostly visitation (what happy, holiday story would be the same without one?). Did you know though, that when it came to his adventures touring in America, Charles was full of wit and humor… and dismay, at our strange American customs? If not, buckle up – you’re in for a ride! (Yet another American idiom he probably would have hated!)

First on Dickens’ list of American annoyances was the peculiar trait of what he called “Yankee Doodle Dandies” – who chewed tobacco with (apparently) all the grace of a cow chewing cud. Dickens was disgusted at the sight of fully grown men spitting wads of brown gunk on the sidewalks like it was going out of fashion. He wrote about this disturbing habit, “One wonders if they mistake the streets for spittoons or simply enjoy adding a dash of rustic charm to the pavements.” Honestly? Yuck – he’s not wrong. 

Dickens also couldn’t help but poke fun at what he perceived as a showy nature of American hospitality. “In England we’re content with a pot of tea and a biscuit, but in America, one must navigate a veritable maze of gilded mirrors and chandeliers just to find the water closet!” How difficult it must have been for him, trying to find his way through lavish mazes of American excess! (I have seen Downton Abbey… who is he calling excessive?!)

And of course, one can not forget Dickens’ abhorrence for general American cuisine! The man who wrote descriptions of an amazing amount of delectable Christmas feasts found himself absolutely disconcerted by our culinary creations. From “chili con carne” (delicious – did he even try it?) to an apparently confounding combination of turkey and cranberry sauce, Dickens found his stomach not in agreement with American cooking. Not to mention our sheer nerve: “One can only wonder at the audacity of a nation that serves pie without custard!”


Despite all of his reservations at our strange customs and interesting inventions (I would consider turkey with cranberry sauce an invention, after all), Dickens nevertheless had moments of true admiration for the people of the United States. He appeared impressed by the spirit of democracy that seemed openly expected and understood by all the people he met here on his travels, and he found the general optimism of our nation delightful. I suppose his final conclusion was that “America may be a land of eccentricities and culinary calamities, but it is also a land of opportunity and innovation – a place where even the most unlikely of dreams can take flight.” Hear, hear!


“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day”: An In-Depth Look at Winnie-the-Pooh’s Author A. A. Milne on the Anniversary of His Death

In the enchanted world of children’s literature, a few household names stand out to the average reader. Not many of them evoke the same sense of nostalgia and peace in us as A. A. Milne – the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh. On this the anniversary of his death, we wanted to take a look at what made Pooh, the endearing inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood, and A. A. Milne unique, and how he crafted stories that continue to this day to captivate generations both young and old. 

Born on January 18, 1882, Alan Alexander Milne lived a relatively peaceful childhood. He was brought up in London, attended the small independent school his father ran (fun fact: at one point H.G. Wells was one of Milne’s teachers!), and then went on to the Westminster School and to Trinity College, Cambridge where he received a B.A. in Mathematics. He was a talented cricket player and played on a couple different teams, one of which was the Allahakbarries, Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie’s cricket team (along with teammates such as Arthur Conan Doyle and P.G. Wodehouse). To say that Milne was privileged and knew all the right people to join the literary scene was an understatement!

After his graduation, Milne wrote humorous essays and articles for Punch magazine. While working for Punch, he published 18 plays and three novels, all of which were well received (even if they did not achieve the literary acclaim that Pooh did, years later). In 1913 he married, and in 1920 his son, Christopher Robin, was born. Milne served in both WWI and later WWII, and considered himself a very proud Englishman. 

After a successful career as a playwright and humorist, Milne turned to his son Christopher Robin for inspiration in his next work. Not yet called “Pooh”, Christopher Robin’s bear first appeared in Milne’s poem “Teddy Bear” in Punch magazine in 1924. He then appeared on Christmas Eve in 1925, in the London Evening News in a short story. Winnie-the-Pooh, however, made headlines in the first book about him, published in 1926, when Christopher Robin was six years old. Two years later, Milne published The House at Pooh Corner, the second book set in the Hundred Acre Wood. Throughout this time, Milne continued working on other things, and even published four plays in these “Pooh” years. 

Both Milne and Christopher Robin’s relationship with Winnie-the-Pooh was strained. During his childhood years, they enjoyed a close personal relationship. However, soon A. A. Milne found himself disappointed that his childish work was overshadowing the multitude of other works he had created over the years. He hated the constant demand for more Pooh stories, and he wished to be taken more seriously as an author than he felt he was. On Christopher Robin’s part, he was relentlessly bullied at school for being the Christopher Robin, and ended up resenting his father for trapping him forever in association with the popular children’s story. We like to think that this bit of Pooh’s history reminds us that art and life aren’t always two completely separate things. 

That being said, how has Pooh pulled on our heartstrings the way he has, for almost a hundred years now? We believe that the simplicity and innocence of the Hundred Acre Wood, which is an idyllic place in and of itself, serves as a safe refuge for us, even in our imaginations. The gentle humor and (often pretty profound) wisdom of the books invites all ages to enjoy them. Pooh himself reminds us of the joy of simple pleasures – from a jar full of honey to a day out with a good friend. 

As we celebrate the life and legacy of A. A. Milne and Winnie-the-Pooh, we are reminded in an often chaotic and uncertain world to cherish moments of joy, embrace our sense of childish wonder, and hold fast to our friendships – for these are the things that will sustain us through rough times. 


Edith Wharton – A Literary Queen

As you know, we occasionally like to highlight specific authors throughout the year. One author that everyone knows the name of, but not everyone knows any intimate details about, is Edith Wharton. In the world of literature, Wharton’s literary accomplishments have made her a household name, albeit one usually associated with high school reading requirements! But Wharton wasn’t just a skilled author… despite being born into relative privilege she was also a social commentator who wasn’t afraid to confront the injustice of the social norms of her time! A true force to be reckoned with in the early 20th century. 


Edith Wharton (born Edith Newbold Jones) was born on January 24th, 1862, in New York City. Wharton’s family belonged to the upper class of New York society, giving her access and opportunity to a world of luxury, culture and high society from a young age. However, her privileged upbringing became a double-edged sword, as her access to the people and views of the upper echelons shaped her perspective on almost all aspects of her life – society, class, love, and gender roles. Her first pieces were published when she was just 15 years old, an English translation of the German poem “Was die Steine Erzählen”, for which she was paid $50. Her family did not wish her name to be published publicly, and her mother refused to allow Wharton to even read novels until she was married. Though occasionally disheartening, these obstacles did not deter young Edith, and at just 16 her father arranged for a book of her poetry to be published under a pseudonym. She also had her poems published in Atlantic MonthlyNew York World, and Scribner’s Magazine. Clearly, Wharton was destined for a literary life. 

Wharton married Edward “Teddy” Wharton when she was just 23. Teddy was a wealthy banker, and from the outside, it must have looked like a solid match for Edith. Unfortunately, their marriage was fraught with tension… Teddy was not interested nor supportive of Edith’s literary pursuits, and though they shared a love of travel, Teddy’s debilitating depression was eventually too much for Edith. That being said, their travels provided much inspiring worldliness for Wharton’s later works. 

Her first novel “The Valley of Decision” was published in 1902, and Wharton never looked back. A few short years later she published “The House of Mirth” (1905), a novel focusing it’s plot on the life of a young high-society woman who sees her life fall apart because she doesn’t adhere to common notions of what she ought to be. Wharton used her own life experiences to criticize the upper class, highlight their insincerity and false superiority – and Wharton gained a name for herself in the literary world. In 1911 she published “Ethan Frome”, further highlighting Wharton’s ability to create evocative worlds with vivid characters, once again imprisoned by their circumstances (though the rural farmer Ethan Frome is a world away from “The House of Mirth’s Lily Bart. More works followed – “The Custom of the Country” (1913), countless poems, and of course, “The Age of Innocence”. The latter being one of Wharton’s most famous works – earning her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921. Wharton was the first female to win the award. 

Wharton never slowed down. During WWI she was actively involved in relief efforts, organizing charity initiatives to aid refugees in France, and using her fame to help raise funds for the war effort. She addressed social issues and advocated for causes close to her heart – primarily those about gender roles, society and classism. Over her lifetime she produced fifteen novels, seven novellas, eighty-five short stories, books of poetry, books on design and travel. She wrote cultural criticisms, and a memoir. In 1937 she received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Yale University. She was the first woman to do so. 

Wharton indelibly impacted the American literary world, and her works have reached around the globe. Her frank, descriptive and beautiful prose highlighting the complexities of human nature and the constraints of society are unbelievably realistic. One of the most interesting parts about her writing is how she was able to capture society’s issues from all walks of life – from the poor and downtrodden to the unbelievably privileged elite. Throughout her works Wharton explored the human condition with depth and sensitivity.

Wharton died of a stroke on August 11th, 1937 at a country home in France, but one only needs to pick up one of her works to be transported back in time and live a new human experience. 


The Literary Marvel of the American Declaration of Independence: An Ode to Freedom

The American Declaration of Independence is a remarkable document that paved the way for a new nation founded on the principles of freedom and equality. As we take a closer look at this historical masterpiece, we discover profound notions that continue to resonate with individuals even today. In honor of July 4th, we did a dive deep into the Declaration, uncovering its key ideas and their relevance to society today.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These simple yet powerful words serve as a jumping-off point for the Declaration’s journey. The phrase in its entirety captures the belief in certain undeniable truths, such as the equality of all people. It reminds us that some things ought to be so obvious that they require no further explanation, urging a sense of shared understanding and unity. Interestingly, the inclusion of the “pursuit of Happiness” among the inherent rights highlighted in the Declaration is kind of a revolutionary idea. It acknowledges the innate desire for personal fulfillment and the pursuit of one’s ambitions. This concept, somewhat rooted in the philosophy of the Enlightenment at the time, reflects the profound belief in individual agency and has resonated throughout American history… it is even a trait we are still associated with today.

“That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”

This quote recognizes the idea that every person is born with fundamental rights that cannot be taken away by man. It reminds us that our rights, like life and liberty, are not granted by any government or individual, but are inherent and universal. These words resonate with everyone, as it reaffirms the belief in the intrinsic worth and dignity of every individual, no matter their background.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

With this phrase, the Declaration emphasizes the true purpose of government: to protect the rights of its citizens. This concept resonates with us still today, as in a perfect world we would like to rely on our government to ensure justice and uphold our freedoms. It highlights the reciprocal relationship between the governed and those in power, reinforcing the notion that government should serve the people, and not the other way around.

Listing Grievances: An Unveiling of Injustice

The middle section of the Declaration lists a set of grievances against the British King George III, describing the colonists’ reasons for seeking independence. As one delves into these exploitations, you can understand the injustices that fueled the desire for change. 

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

This quote alone encapsulates a pretty powerful idea—that people have the right to challenge a government that fails to protect their rights. For us, it serves as a reminder that we have agency and the ability to demand change when necessary. It empowers individuals to question authority and assert their rights not only as citizens, but as humans.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

The concluding words of the Declaration of Independence embody the spirit of sacrifice, confidence and commitment that began the American Revolution. The men who signed it, fully aware of the risks they faced in doing so, pledged their lives, fortunes, and honor to the cause of American liberty. 

The American Declaration of Independence continues to speak to American citizens in profound ways, when we take the time to reread it. Its simple, straightforward language and relatable themes resonate with individuals from all walks of life. It reminds us of the timeless importance of equality, the true role of government in protecting our rights, and the power of the people to effect change. The Declaration’s literary genius lies in its ability to engage the average person and inspire them to recognize their own agency in shaping a more just and free society. As we reflect on this literary treasure on the anniversary of the birth of our country, we embrace the enduring spirit of freedom and continue the pursuit of justice… for all!


Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!

In honor of his birthday, today we dive into the world of early American poetry and the incredible, lasting impact of Walt Whitman. In the mid-19th century, American literature was primed to experience an almost seismic shift. That’s where Whitman – with his larger-than-life personality, strong opinions and groundbreaking verses – stepped in and became a figurehead of the American dream. As poet Ezra Pound once said about Whitman… “America’s poet… He is America.” 

Walt Whitman was born on May 31st, 1819, in West Hills, New York. After a rather long period of time working in editing and freelancing (and getting fired from several jobs in the process), Whitman decided to write poetry. He began writing poems in 1850, and in a time when strict poetic forms and rhymes were expected – Whitman broke free from these conventional norms. His first book of poetry and magnum opus, “Leaves of Grass,” first published in 1855, shattered the traditional poetic protocol of the time. He celebrated the beauty of everyday life (what a novel idea!), embraced a democratic spirit, and wove together the interconnectedness of all beings, human and nature alike. He opted for free verse, aiming to set poetry free from the rigid confines it had been heeding to. It even seemed to some that Whitman wished the art of poetry to be as free as he himself was.

Whitman’s ideas aligned perfectly with the transcendentalist movement of the time. Transcendentalists believed in the power of the individual, the transcendence of the self, and a connection between humans and nature. Minds like those of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were Whitman’s philosophical comrades, Emerson praising Leaves of Grass far and wide, and almost certainly aided in the work’s popularity. Transcendentalists were all about embracing spiritual in the mundane, finding beauty in the everyday, and recognizing the oneness of all existence. Whitman’s revolutionary approach to form and subject matter not only rocked the American literary scene, but paved a way for future poets to break free from using more traditional verse. Emily Dickinson, often regarded as one of the greatest American poets, was profoundly influenced by Whitman’s somewhat unorthodox style, and proceeded to use her own brevity and lyricism to explore similar themes of individualism and the human condition. Other notable poets who fell under Whitman’s spell include Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, and Adrienne Rich. Each poet, in their own way, channeled Whitman’s spirit of rebellion, using poetry as a tool to challenge societal norms, advocate for social justice, and shed light on the diversity of the American experience.

Walt Whitman’s celebration of democracy, inclusivity, and everyday beauty continues to inspire modern American readers. Whitman’s embrace of individuality and his refusal to be confined by societal expectations serves as a powerful reminder that we all have a unique voice and our own stories to tell… if only we have the courage to open our mouths!