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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Discourse on Inequality (Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes, or ‘The Second Discourse’, written 1754, published 1755)

by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

1754

Answering the Academy of Dijon’s question ‘What is the origin of inequality among men, and whether it is authorized by the natural Law’, this essay acknowledges natural physi...

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Split at the Root: An Essay on Jewish Identity (1982, reprinted in Blood, Bread and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985)

by Adrienne Rich

1982

Wrenched from Rich’s multiple identities (a Jewish lesbian ‘raised to be a heterosexual gentile’), this is prose elaboration upon one line of her early poetry. It de...

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The English Mail-Coach (Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine)

by Thomas De Quincey

1849

A long essay that gallops around de Quincey’s nostalgia for riding on the mail-coaches when an Oxford student, with a tour-de-force at its core where he narrates a near-collisi...

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Days of Reading (La Renaissance latine)

by Marcel Proust

1905

Note: Another Proust essay of the same title, designated ‘Days of Reading II’ by Penguin Classics, was published in Le Figaro in 1907; the latter mostly concerns the marve...

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On the Use of Reason by Irrational Animals (Moralia, vol.12, 46-127 as date unknown)

by Plutarch

127

Plutarch uses Homer’s Odysseus to dramatize a first-century debate about consciousness and character. Odysseus is trying to get his compatriots turned back from pigs into men by ...

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On Tickling (in On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life)

by Adam Phillips

1993

In this compact essay, which remains an unanswered enquiry more than most ‘essais’, an esteemed analyst of children wonders that the childhood experience of being tickled by a ...

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Think/Classify (First published in Le Genre humain, 1982, and reprinted, in English, in Species of Spaces and Other Pieces, 1997)

by Georges Perec

1982

This darkly humorous, postmodern essay of fragments by a popular OuLiPo author (whose day-job was as an archivist) starts with a ‘Summary’ of its eclectic subsections that suff...

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At Table and In Bed (1971, and reprinted in Convergences, trans. Helen Lane, 1987)

by Octavio Paz

1971

Paz essays usually make historical approaches, but here he approaches the United States as subject through a Utopia, that of Fourier, involving perspectives of ‘Erotics and Gastr...

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Leonardo da Vinci

by Walter Pater

1869

A biographical and critical essay of a style that would be considered unacceptably impressionistic and rhapsodic today, but which retains the ‘air of truth’ despite all the int...

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The Anger of the Damned (written October 2001, and reprinted in Striking Terror: America’s New War, 2002, trans. Mary Isin)

by Orhan Pamuk

2002

An example of how the personal essay form can be used to say something both more simple and profound than any amount of in-depth commentary by political journalists. Start...

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Common Sense; Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, on the following interesting subjects

by Thomas Paine

1776

‘It would be difficult to name any human composition which has had an effect at once so instant, so extended and so lasting…’ (G.M.Trevelyan). This anonymous pamphlet’s rad...

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The Rights of History and the Rights of the Imagination (in Quarrel & Quandary)

by Cynthia Ozick

2000

An essay about how the ‘broken umbrella of contemporary relativism’ does not change the essentially different aims of history (that which is owed to reality) and imagination (p...

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