Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde

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Image provided by Emily Murphy

Emily Murphy
Ph.D. Student, Queen’s University

Affiliation with UVic English: Undergraduate Student, B.A. Hons with Distinction 2009

Special Book: Stories for Children, Oscar Wilde

When did you first read this book: My grandfather gave me this book as a gift when I was four or five years old. It is one of the first books I remember reading.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“And the Tree cried to the Nightingale to press closer against the thorn. “Press closer, little Nightingale,” cried the Tree, “or the Day will come before the rose is finished.”

So the Nightingale pressed closer against the thorn, and the thorn touched her heart, and a fierce pang of pain shot through her. Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb.

And the marvellous rose became crimson, like the rose of the eastern sky. Crimson was the girdle of petals, and crimson as a ruby was the heart.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

This story, “The Nightingale and the Rose,” is one of the first times that I can remember a sad ending being more intriguing than a happy one. All of the stories in this little collection are written simply, for children, but none seem to have a tidy ending. Wilde never shies away from the ambiguity that adults find fascinating in a narrative; he gave my precocious five-year-old reading self a more interesting version of the worlds of talking animals, giants, sighing lovers, and fairies.

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The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

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Image provided by Sean Henry

Sean Henry
Instructor in English

Affiliation with UVic English: Faculty; Alumni, B.A. Hons, 1995

Special Book: The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler

When did you first read this book:
I’ve dipped in and out of Chandler for years, so I can’t remember precisely when I first read “The Long Goodbye.” Early ’90s?

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

So passed a day in the life of a P.I. Not exactly a typical day but not totally untypical either. What makes a man stay with it nobody knows. You don’t get rich, you don’t often have much fun. Sometimes you get beaten up or shot at or tossed into the jailhouse. Once in a long while you get dead. Every other month you decide to give it up and find some sensible occupation while you can still walk without shaking your head. Then the door buzzer rings and you open the inner door to the waiting room and there stands a new face with a new problem, a new load of grief, and a small piece of money. “Come in, Mr. Thingummy. What can I do for you?” There must be a reason.

What does the sentence mean to you?

I love Chandler. Chandler is one of the great underrated authors of atmosphere; passages in his novel rivel the great opening chapter of “Bleak House” for creating mood and place. This particular passage moves and delights me in its bleak self-irony, and comes floating into my mind when the world presses rather to hard upon me for comfort. I love the way Chandler plays with parallel construction here, pulling our expectations out from underneath our feet with that “Once in a long while.” Wry; bitter; ironic: so passes a day in the life of an English instructor (except without the luxury of an office bottle!).

Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works by Aphra Behn

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Image provided by Sandra Friesen

Sandra Friesen
PhD Candidate, Sessional Instructor

Affiliation with UVic English: Graduate Student, PhD Candidate

Special Book: Oroonoko, The Rover and Other Works, Aphra Behn

When did you first read this book: During a graduate seminar at the University of Western Ontario.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?
“And if you’re drawn to th’life, pray tell me then / Why women should not write as well as men” (Epilogue to Sir Patient Fancy, 1679).

What does the sentence mean to you?

As an outspoken, highly prolific author of the 1670s and 80s who published in four separate genres, Aphra Behn, as Virginia Woolf famously said, “earned [women] the right to speak their minds”. At every turn Behn both demonstrated and fought for the legitimization of women’s wit, and I’m deeply grateful for her persistence.

Critical and Historical Essays by Thomas B. Macaulay (1800-1859)

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Paul MacRae
Instructor in writing

Affiliation with UVic English: Faculty; M.A., 20005

Special Book: Critical and Historical Essays , Thomas B. Macaulay (1800-1859)

When did you first read this book: 2005

 

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

In his lengthy essay on Sir Francis Bacon, Macaulay writes: “To make men perfect was no part of Bacon’s plan. His humble aim was to make imperfect men comfortable. … In Plato’s opinion, man was made for philosophy; in Bacon’s opinion philosophy was made for man; it was a means to an end; and that end was to increase the pleasures and to mitigate the pains of millions who are not and cannot be philosophers. … The aim of the Platonic philosophy was to raise us far above vulgar wants. The aim of the Baconian philosophy was to supply our vulgar wants.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

Macaulay’s Critical and Historical Essays are, sadly, neglected in English Departments today, but C&HE was one of three books in most American homes in the 1800s. The, others were the Bible and Shakespeare. In other words, Macaulay’s influence on his time and ours, in moving us toward a liberal, progressive, optimistic humanism, is greater than is generally acknowledged.

The River Why by David James Duncan

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Michael Lukas
Doctoral Candidate English-CSPT/1st Yr. Writing Specialist TWC

Affiliation with UVic English: Graduate Student; Doctoral Candidate, 4th yr.

Special Book: The River Why, David James Duncan

When did you first read this book: It was recommended by Phyllis Kenevan, a philosophy professor specializing in existentialism and Nietzsche at the Univ. of Colorado. She argued to me in her office that he was the greatest living American prose writer at the time, and that Updike was the most over-rated.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“Having harbored two sons in the waters of her womb, my mother considers herself something off an authrority on human foetuses. The normal foetus, she says, is no swimmer; it is not fish-, seal-, eel-, or even turtlelike: it is an awkward alien in the liquid environment–a groping land creature confused by its immersion and anxious to escape.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

This is the opening sentence of the novel, epitomizing Duncan’s style: both playful and existential. Somehow, He defies the sedimentation of his metaphors into cliche through a diction that is both common and richly philosophical. His sincerity seems to me concretely grounded, as a result.

The Heart of Midlothian by Walter Scott

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Miranda Burgess
Associate Professor of English, UBC

Affiliation with UVic English: Alumni, BA Hons 1990

Special Book: The Heart of Midlothian, Walter Scott

When did you first read this book: First: 1987, in UVic English 384 (Nineteenth-Century Novel) with V. Neufeld. Second: 1990, in Boston University English 892 (Framing Fiction), with John T. Matthews.

Why is this book important to you?

In working with this book, I learned that it’s possible to combine rigorous historical argument with close study of literary form.

Murphy by Samuel Beckett (the site’s 50th Special Book)

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Image provided by Zaqir Virani

Affiliation with UVic English: Graduate Student, M.A. English

Special Book: Murphy, Samuel Beckett

When did you first read this book: 2007

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“He drew up the ladder, lit the dip sconced in its own grease on the floor and tied himself up in his chair, dimly intending to have a short rock and then, if he felt any better, to dress and go, before the day staff were about, leaving Ticklepenny to face the music, Music, MUSIC, back to Brewery Road, to Celia, serenade, nocturne, albada.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

The rambling fuge of Beckett’s polyrhythmic prose shines in these lines, and they were what offered up to me the closest I’ve ever experienced to textual synesthesia.

 

Persuasion by Jane Austen

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Kandice
PhD Candidate

Affiliation with UVic English: Undergraduate Student, B.A. Hons 2009; Graduate Student, M.A. 2011

Special Book: Persuasion, Jane Austen

When did you first read this book: I cannot recall, possibly because any part of life in which I was unaware of this novel is not worth remembering.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

This is the moment in which Austen brings her literary agenda to the fore: to place the pen in women’s hands and give their stories value regardless of how misguided or foolish or inconsequential they seem.

It is also one of the most polite yet absolute shut-downs ever. I have always been secretly disappointed that Anne didn’t run off to start an all-ladies debate team in the end.

Bobo’s Metamorphosis (in Selected Poems) by Czeslaw Milosz

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Iain Higgins
Professor

Affiliation with UVic English: Faculty

Special Book: Bobo’s Metamorphosis (in Selected Poems), Czeslaw Milosz

When did you first read this book: Sometime in the early 1980s, when I stumbled across a copy of Milosz’s Selected Poems. The poem in question dates from the early 1960s.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

Bobo, a nasty boy, was changed into a fly.
In accordance with the rites of the flies he washed himself by a rock of sugar
And ran vertically in caves of cheese.
He flew through a window into the bright garden.

What does the sentence mean to you?

These lines come from a longer Polish poem translated into English as “Bobo’s Metamorphosis,” though its original title (“Gucio Zaczarowany”) means “Gus Spellbound.” Like the Gus of this poem, who is enchanted by the world in all its intoxicatingly rich thinginess, I was and still am enchanted by the poem’s way of evoking and extending that world. This is a magical, impish, provocative, searching, anti-idealist philosophical poem in praise of being that, if written in English, would have been written by Swift crossed with Hopkins. Unlike Kafka, who imagines Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis into an insect as a kind of horror, Milosz imagines Gus’s transformation as an opportunity to see the world afresh, impishly even. Kafka’s Die Verwandlung is one of my favourite books too, so I am not rejecting his dark vision. Rather, I also want to acknowledge Milosz’s embrace of the world in all its enchanting richness. There is much more to the poem than these lines, though, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves both poetry and the world.

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

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Image provided by Scott Swanson

Scott Swanson
Clergy, Spiritual Director, Coach, Prison Chaplain

Affiliation with UVic English: Graduate Student, M.A. 1994

Special Book: Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr

When did you first read this book: 2005

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“We do not find our own centre; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. … The greatest barrier to the next level of conscience or consciousness is our comfort and control at the one we are at now.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

The genius of this book for me is the way in which Rohr articulates in contemporary language the shared wisdom of many cultures and spiritual traditions over the millennia. This is true Wisdom literature — no quick, easy, glib answers.