How to Use the Essay Library:
There are currently 100 essays in the Library – please come in and browse. Use the ‘additional suggestions’ box to tell us if your favourite essay or author is missing, or comment boxes on each essay’s page to discuss the selection, including where you feel we should have selected another essay by the same author. We will expand the Essay Library in future, using suggestions and comments received.
Each essay is introduced by an original summary of exactly 100 words, intended to give a foretaste of the work, and then a link is provided to either the online text or to where the essay can be found as hardcopy. There are ‘related recommendations’ of other essays, most of which appear elsewhere in the Library. Sometimes the ‘relation’ is self-evident or stated; sometimes it is left for the reader to deduce.
Click on ‘read more’ to learn How the Essay Library has been Selected, including criteria and deliberate omissions.
How the Essay Library has been Selected:
All essays included here succeed stylistically and structurally, to their purpose, but some are also included because they proved great in their influence. Others are perfect performances, or candid meditations, without other motive.
The vast majority are written in English, giving the list a clear Anglo-American bias, but the list also includes some gems in translation, either because they influenced, or compare interestingly and enjoyably, to those in English.
As the choice is so vast for this initial list of one hundred, only one essay per author has been selected, with the exception of several ‘founding fathers’ of the essay (Bacon, Montaigne, etc) who have been allowed two entries each.
The essay is a protean form, but this Library, for the sake of comparative fairness, excludes the following sub-categories: the verse essay, the essay as diary entry, the private letter as essay, the film or radio essay, the academic article, and very short pieces such as parables. Book prefaces and book reviews (of the pure variety) are also excluded, with the idea that a separate section in the Library may be set aside for them in future.
The essays vary considerably in length, from one-and-a-half to over a hundred pages. Rather than setting a word limit, we think of Michael Holroyd’s definition of essays as ‘non-fiction short stories’ and so identify an essay in the same spirit as a publisher distinguishes short story from novella. Some cases, certainly, are debatable.
This selection begins as the expression of a few people’s eclectic tastes but aims to become increasingly definitive, or at least democratic, through the process of public discussion on this site. Such an unsystematic, subjective approach befits the essay form.
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Quick view of all essays
Notting Admin, 10 months ago
Here is New York
Augustine Casiday, 1 year ago
On Lying in Bed
Fiona Buckland, 2 years ago
The Will to Believe
Charles Robert Baker, 2 years ago
On Being an Only Child
Sophie Hughes, 2 years ago