“A Most Savage Plague”: A Brief Encounter with Literary Envy

In Book Two of Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid takes his readers to a cave, “filthy with black gore,” where the demigod Envy lives in a sunless valley. Envy herself has teeth “foul with mould” and venom dripping from her tongue. “She gnaws and is gnawed,” Ovid says, “herself her own punishment.” Centuries later the Dutch […]

By My Halidome! The Use and Overuse of Period Language in Historical Novels

Gentle reader, prithee tarry thou a moment in mine company, for by my troth, a tale I would fain unfold for thee. List and learn… And there you have it: gadzookery, the intemperate and/or unskillful use of archaic language. If you’re a reader of historical fiction, you’re no doubt familiar with the phenomenon. And if, […]

“It’s Laudable To Be Audible”: Enhancing the Reading Experience (Or Not)

“Have you ever heard a blindfolded octopus unwrap a cellophane-covered bathtub?” Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth 1. Musical Accompaniment Not long ago I went to a silent-reading event at the Colonial-era Loring-Greenough House in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Apart from the whisper of turning pages (I saw no e-readers), attendees sat and read their books […]

Mapping the Fictional Universe

The history of fantasy maps in books goes back at least as far as Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels. Swift’s satirical account of adventures in imaginary lands was modeled on the real-life exploration narratives that were popular in his day, and like many of these travelogues, it included engravings of maps. Two centuries or so later, […]

Victorian Smackdown: Five Little Peppers v. Four Little Women, Part 2

Last week, I speculated about possible tension between Louisa May Alcott and Harriett Lothrop (“Margaret Sidney”), who, along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, lived in The Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In the week between that first post and this, I was delighted to discover a book by Patricia West, Domesticating […]

Victorian Smackdown? Five Little Peppers v. Four Little Women: Part 1

On the road from Lexington to Concord, Massachusetts, midway between the welter of orange-striped traffic barrels on the outskirts and the boutiques and pricey restaurants downtown, two old wood-framed houses sit side by side. One of these, Orchard House, is famous as the place where Louisa May Alcott wrote some of her best-known books. The […]

The Writers’ Room of Boston

Every writer is, in the profoundest way, on his or her own, and there is little we can do to help. Inspiration comes or it doesn’t, the form comes or it doesn’t, the end comes or it doesn’t. But nothing comes without a quiet place to sit and try things, and read them over, and […]