Short stories, novellas, essays, poetry, philosophy, radical thinking – there’s a lot more to the classical canon than the obvious candidates, and they are suddenly a lot more accessible that you knew …
Boule de Suif by Guy de Maupassant
A carriage transporting ten passengers fleeing from Rouen is stopped at a village inn by Prussian soldiers, who decide to detain them until one of their party, the prostitute Boule de Suif, consents to sleep with their officer. When Boule de Suif refuses to do so on account of her principles and patriotic sentiments, the solidarity initially manifested by her fellow travellers becomes increasingly tested as the deadlock continues, and the strained relationship between her and her “respectable” counterparts gradually worsens.
A scathing satire of bourgeois prejudice and hypocrisy and a compelling snapshot of France during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, `Boule de Suif’ – here presented with five other major stories on the lives of prostitutei – was declared a masterpiece by Flaubert and is widely considered to be Maupassant’s finest short story.
The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins
Frank Aldersley becomes engaged to Clara Burnham on the eve of his departure on a journey to discover the Northwest Passage. Unbeknownst to him, Richard Wardour, his spurned rival, joins the crew of another ship belonging to the same expedition. When the ships get trapped in the ice and the men are randomly drawn into the same search party, Richard finds himself torn between his desire for revenge and the need for solidarity in the face of adversity.
Based on an actual doomed mission to the Arctic captained by Sir John Franklin, and initially written for the stage in collaboration with Dickens – who also acted in the play – ‘The Frozen Deep’ is an action-packed tale of vengeance and sacrifice
The Duel by Giacomo Casanova
The notorious adventurer and seducer Giacomo Casanova tells of his travels – on the run from the authorities of his native Venice – around northern Europe, poking fun at the ruling classes he encounters there, before focusing on a pivotal incident that occurs in Warsaw. Insulted by a Polish count over an Italian ballerina, Casanova finds himself forced to challenge his rival to a duel, and the sequence of events and their aftermath are described with gusto by the narrator.
A rollicking autobiographical account by one of the most iconic figures of eighteenth-century Europe, ‘The Duel’ is presented here with an extract about the same event from Casanova’s memoirs, written fifteen years later.
Prophecies by Leonardo da Vinci
Found in the Codex Atlanticus of Leonardo da Vinci’s writings and drawings, ‘The Prophecies’ are a collection of enigmatic divinatory pronouncements, some punning and playful, others dire and ominous. While the author’s intentions behind these utterances are unclear, they clearly attest to the artist’s fevered and troubled imagination and offer a glimpse into a world very similar to that depicted in his lost painting The Battle of Anghiari.
This volume also contains a further selection of Leonardo da Vinci’s fragmentary writings, in the form of fables and aphorisms. Taken together, these pieces provide an invaluable insight into the thought processes of one of the Renaissance’s most productive minds.
Eureka by Edgar Allan Poe
Initially composed by Poe as a public lecture towards the end his career and considered by him the culmination of all his life’s work, Eureka is an extended treatise about the creation, existence and the ultimate end of the world. An idiosyncratic blend of creative writing and scientific discourse, with unexpected forays into comedy and wordplay, this self-styled “prose poem” is a genre-defying masterpiece.
Although it baffled the reading public of its time, ‘Eureka’ found many prominent admirers, from Charles Baudelaire to W.H. Auden, and has since assembled an audience receptive to its unique appeal as a compendium of European thought that anticipated many current theories and discoveries while also pioneering many elements of science-fiction aesthetics.
Colonel Chabert by Honore de Balzac
An old man arrives at the offices of the lawyer Derville, claiming to be Colonel Chabert, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars who was left for dead on the battlefield, but in fact managed to survive under a pile of corpses before spending years as a recovering amnesiac. Having returned to Paris and discovered that his wife has married an aristocrat who has liquidated all his assets, Chabert enlists the help of Derville to recover both his name and his fortune. Part of Balzac’s La Comedie humaine cycle, Colonel Chabert is a poignant tale about the pursuit of justice, as well as a portrait of France’s transition from the Napoleonic Empire to the Restoration.
Inspired by actual events, the novella has captured the imagination of generations of readers and has been adapted for the stage and screen numerous times.
The Single Hound by Emily Dickinson
When Emily Dickinson died in 1886, having published only a tiny selection of her verse anonymously in journals and newspapers, she left behind a chest containing almost 1,800 poems written on notebooks and loose sheets. Her family members, starting with her sister Lavinia, began editing and compiling them for publication, and one of the most celebrated collections, ‘The Single Hound’, was prepared by her niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi and published in 1914.
This volume, containing some of Dickinson’s most original and poignant pieces, helped cement her reputation as one of America’s most important poets. Sparse and experimental, yet accessible and intimate, the compositions included in ‘The Single Hound’ provide an ideal introduction to Dickinson’s genius.
Life in the Country by Giovanni Verga
Published in 1880, one year before Verga’s influential novel ‘The Malavoglias’, ‘Life in the Country’ first marked his stylistic shift towards the verismo school of Italian realism.
The collection’s centrepiece, ‘Rustic Honour’ (‘Cavalleria rusticana’) – which was famously adapted into a play by the author before becoming an opera by Mascagni – tells the tale of Turiddu, a poor young man who returns from military service and finds himself embroiled in adultery and a feud with a rival. Also including the well-known stories ‘She-Wolf’ and ‘Foxfur’, ‘A Life in the Country’ captures, in an objective, non-judgemental prose, the difficult conditions and personal struggles of the peasant class in his native Sicily at the turn of the twentieth century.
The Lazy Tour of the Two Idle Apprentices by Wilkie Collins & Charles Dickens
Under the pseudonyms of Francis Goodchild and Thomas Idle, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins set off on a walking tour of the north-west of England, reporting back on their adventures for Dickens’s magazine ‘Household Words’.
A unique insight into the friendship of two of the towering figures of Victorian literature, and featuring a pair of chilling ghost stories from the leading exponents of the genre, ‘The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices’ is a charming evocation of the adventures they experienced on their trip and the gently mocking nature of their relationship.