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. Example intro length, with link to more if needed.

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J.M. Synge and the Ireland of His Time (Written 1910, published 1911)

by W.B. Yeats

1911

Yeats’ tribute to his dead friend opens dramatically with the riots that greeted Synge’s Playboy of the Western World. Yeats argues against picturesque, trivial or declamatory...

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Essay on Epitaphs (The Friend)

by William Wordsworth

1810

The essay in which Wordsworth uttered the Romantic Biographer’s credo: that commemoration is ‘truth hallowed by love’, truth ‘of the highest order’, even if it glosses ov...

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The Cinema (Arts, New York, June 1926)

by Virginia Woolf

1926

A piece both prophetic and self-consciously of its time. Woolf begins disparagingly: the art of making movies is still too young and banal; we are savages knocking together saxopho...

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On Poetry and Our Relish for the Beauties of Nature (Titled ‘Artificial Taste’ in Monthly Magazine, April 1797, and reprinted under the present title in her Posthumous Works, ed. William Godwin, 1798)

by Mary Wollstonecraft

1797

A year before Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’, Wollstonecraft defines the Romantic Poet. Beginning like a periodical piece, laughing at how city people go to the country but don...

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The Decay of Lying – An Observation (Intentions, 1891)

by Oscar Wilde

1891

A mock-Socratic dialogue, in which ‘Vivian’ reads ‘Cyril’ highlights from a longer article. Vivian argues that Art expresses only itself and serves no other end, while Life...

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Why My Mother Was Frightened of Cats (Written 1956, published in The Essential Rebecca West: Uncollected Prose, 2010)

by Rebecca West

1956

Despite her affinity with feline independence, intelligence and elegance, West owned a cat only late in life and this arch but tender piece is the result. Full of gentle, ...

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Human Personality (La Personnalité humaine, le juste et l’injuste, 1943, published posthumously in La Table Ronde, December 1950, and in English as ‘The Fallacy of Human Rights’ in The Twentieth Century, 1959. Reprinted in Selected Essays: 1934-43, trans. Richard Rees)

by Simone Weil

1943

Distinguishing between the soul’s cry ‘Why am I being hurt?’ and the superficial cry ‘Why has somebody else got more than I have?’, Weil argues that the best society is a...

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E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction (Written 1990, published in The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993, and reprinted in A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, 1997)

by David Foster Wallace

1993

The most intellectual yet unpretentious essay on the cultural impact of television – a crater so huge we forget we stand in it. Foster Wallace begins with a Walter Benjaminesque ...

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How To Write About Africa (Granta 92, The View From Africa)

by Binyavanga Wainaina

2005

Originating in a fiercely satirical protest sent by a Kenyan-born author to the editors of Granta, this essay has turned Wainaina into the unofficial ‘censor’ of white writing...

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Miles Apart (1961, and collected in Profiles, ed. Ernie Eban, 1990)

by Kenneth Tynan

1961

This profile of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis begins with musical history and critique, then describes ‘Miles in the flesh’: his extreme egotism and disdain for the British, yet t...

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Walking (First published posthumously in The Atlantic Monthly, June 1862)

by Henry David Thoreau

1862

Aiming ‘to speak a word for Nature’, this essay saunters and surveys, with playful lateral logic. Thoreau’s wide-ranging allusions raise the piece above the spontaneous musin...

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A Modest Proposal for Preventing Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public

by Jonathan Swift

1729

This is an anti-colonialist satire, in the style of Juvenal or Tertullian, sarcastically suggesting that the solution to Irish poverty is for the Catholics to sell their children a...

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