Writers and Their Work: July 2021

Have you ever been unsure of where to start when studying the life and works of a distinguished writer for the first time? Our Writers and Their Work series provides brief but rigorous critical examinations of the works of eminent writers and schools of writing, serving as accessible introductions to anyone who wants to broaden their knowledge of some of the key figures of the English literary canon.

For July we are running a ‘buy one get one half price’ offer on all books in our Writers and Their Works series. To take advantage of this offer, use code WATW21 at the checkout. (This promotion is not currently available within the EU. For US orders, please email

In this blog post we meet 12 writers featured in the series. For more information on Writers and Their Work visit our website.

William Makepeace Thackeray by Richard Salmon

Thackeray is best known for his satirical novel Vanity Fair set in Regency England during the Napoleonic wars. The title is derived from The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, more specifically an episode in which a fair is set up in the town of Vanity by the devils Beelzebub and Apollyon. Written by a Richard Salmon, a Victorian literature and culture specialist, this study examines Thackeray’s writings, including novels, shorter fiction, journalism and criticism, locating their generic diversity and persistent critical concerns within the specific material contexts of early mid-nineteenth-century literary culture.

Djuna Barnes by Deborah Parsons

Barnes once described herself as one of the most famous unknowns of the twentieth century. Revisionary accounts of female modernist writers have re-awakened interest in her work, yet she remains a unique and idiosyncratic figure, unassimilated by models of American expatriate or Sapphic modernism. In this study, Deborah Parsons examines the range of Barnes’s oeuvre; her early journalism, short stories and one act dramas, poetry, the family chronicle Ryder, the Ladies Almanack, and her late play The Antiphon, as well as her modernist classic Nightwood. Barnes’s determined inversion of generic and social norms, sexology, degeneration, ethnography, and decadence, her unusual childhood, her professional friendships with T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, and her controversial lesbianism are all highlighted and discussed in this introduction to a bold and enigmatic writer.

Anita Desai by Elaine Yee Lin Ho

The notion of thinking as an outside, and the critical distance which this entails, is a key to an understanding of Desai as writer, and a recurrent theme for the discussions of her novels and short stories in her book. It informs her authorial perspectives on India, its places, scenes, and people, and her creative engagement with those who, through a combination of accident and choice, find themselves marginalised, displaced, and dispossessed. Through detailed discussions of a number of short stories and novels, and references to other works by Indo-English writers, Elaine Yee Lin Ho shows how Desai maps her ‘India’, and opens up ways of reading ‘India’ for the reader as outsider.

Sylvia Plath by Elisabeth Bronfen

Whether giving voice to the relentless self-examination of her autobiographical texts or psychic recovery in her autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, Plath’s struggle with gender and cultural identity is astonishingly timely. The central theme to which this study returns is Plath’s insistence on a clandestine traumatic knowledge of fallibility and fragility underlying the fiction of success, health and happiness so prevalent in post-World War Two. This may be expressed as anger and violence, as the celebration of feminine figures of transcendence, or as the quiet dissolution of the subject and its world represented in her late Ariel poems.

Stephen Crane by Kevin Hayes

Crane was a late-nineteenth-century pioneer of American Naturalism and wrote the acclaimed Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, all the more impressive for the fact he wrote it with no first-hand battle experience. This study seeks to understand the many literary genres in which Crane wrote: newspaper journalism, novels, poetry, sketch and short story. It traces Crane’s development as a writer from the early newspaper contributions to Maggie, his first novel, and The Black Riders, his first collection of verse.

Salman Rushdie by Damian Grant

Salman Rushdie is one of the most widely discussed of contemporary writers; also, one whose work has provoked disagreement and controversy—not least in the far-reaching ‘Rushdie affair.’ This study seeks to provide a balanced view by approaching Rushdie’s fiction in terms of its dual responsibility to the ‘found’ world of historical circumstance and the ‘made’ world of the imagination. The novels are seen as characteristic texts for our times, negotiating between different (often conflicting) cultures, dissonant discourses, heterogeneous literary conventions, incommensurable conceptions of truth.

Chinua Achebe by Nahem Yousaf

Since the publication of Things Fall Apart in 1958, Chinua Achebe has been credited with being the key progenitor of an African literary tradition and his five novels read as tracing the national narrative of Nigeria. Achebe depicts precolonial societies disturbed by British colonization, in the 1890s and the 1930s, the dog days of colonization in the 1950s, Independence in 1960 and the onset of neo-colonial problems of corruption and civil war and, in his final novel, Anthills of the Savannah (1987), the pervasive sense of postcolonial disenchantment. This study casts back over Achebe’s writing career to assess his considerable contribution to postcolonial writing and criticism, including his Editorship of Heinemann’s acclaimed African Writers Series.

Thomas Hardy by Peter Widdowson

Widely popular throughout the world, Hardy still seems to speak to us, in fiction and in poetry, as our contemporary. In this new edition of his popular study, Peter Widdowson identifies the elements in his work which enable Hardy to be read in this way. Drawing on contemporary approaches to literary study in an accessible way, the author shows where this radical and destabilizing Hardy is to be located in the texts; and similarly seeks to recast our conception of Hardy the Poet by showing how preconceived and selective it is.

Samuel Johnson by Liz Bellamy

Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language took him eight years to complete, and was published in 1755. Though it was neither the first nor the most comprehensive of its era, it stood the test of time and remained the definitive English dictionary until the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1928. This book studies Johnson’s work in relation to contemporary anxieties over language and genre.

D. M. Thomas by Bran Nicol

This book argues that D. M. Thomas, while best known for his bestselling novel The White Hotel, is one of our foremost fictional innovators. His work continually stretches the boundaries of the novel to find a suitable form to reflect the impact of the uniquely violent, often nightmarish, events of our times, and on the desires and fantasies within us all.

Gerard Manley Hopkins by Daniel Brown

Hopkins did not write his poetry for his fellow Victorians nor indeed for the huge readership it has acquired since it was first published in 1918, almost forty years after his death. This study argues that Hopkins’ fascinatingly original poetry is the most complete expression of his life’s work and that it becomes accessible when it is read with his prose writings as a passionate exploration of nature, language, philosophy, contemporary science, theology, and prosody, all of which are also drawn together in his central ideas of inscape and sprung rhythm. These contexts yield compelling new readings of the full range of his work, including his early poetry and his neglected poetic fragments, as well as those poems, such as ‘The Windhover’, for which he is best known.

Virginia Woolf by Laura Marcus

As well as exploring Woolf’s significance for, and contribution to, feminist debates and definitions of modernism, this book also includes detailed analyses of all her novels and non-fictional writings, including A Room of One’s Own, Three Guineas and the ‘biography’ Flush. It considers current theoretical approaches to Woolf’s work and also engages with Woolf’s own cultural contexts, exploring, for example, her responses to war, to Freud’s theories, and to early twentieth-century theories of sexuality and gender identity, and the transition from Victorianism to modernity.

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