OTD in 1834, six farm labourers from the Dorset hamlet of Tolpuddle fell foul of draconian Victorian laws prohibiting assembly . Today the names of George Loveless & his brother James, Thomas Standfield & his son John, James Brine & James Hammett, who made up the Tolpuddle Martyrs, stand high on the roll of British men who have been victimised for their beliefs but stood steadfast in the face of persecution. They refused to be persuaded to betray their principles either by the promise of release or by transportation to Australia.

The Tolpuddle men fought to win their freedom sustained by their passionate conviction that their sacrifices would not be in … More

The Emigrants is divided into four sections, each one documenting the life of a man no longer living in the country of his birth, men who in the twilight of their lives can find no peace with the past, no happiness in the present. While the book is categorized as fiction, each story reads like a personal narrative, an intimate encounter between the narrator and his subjects.

To enhance the illusion that these stories are true, Sebald had embedded black and white photos throughout the narrative. This … More

Born OTD in 1802, Victor Hugo. Hugo was at the forefront of the Romantic literary movement & many of his works have inspired music, both during his lifetime & after his death, including the musicals Notre-Dame de Paris & Les Misérables. He produced more than 4,000 drawings in his lifetime, & campaigned for social causes such as the abolition of capital punishment. Though a committed royalist when he was young, Hugo’s views changed as the decades passed, & he became a passionate supporter of republicanism; his work touches upon most of the political & social issues & the artistic trends of his time. Hugo began planning a major novel about social misery & injustice as early as the 1830s, but a full 17 years were needed for Les Misérables to be realised and finally published in 1862.

Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put … More

Resurrection (1899) is the last of Tolstoy’s major novels. It tells the story of a nobleman’s attempt to redeem the suffering his youthful philandering inflicted on a peasant girl who ends up a prisoner in Siberia. Tolstoy’s vision of redemption, achieved through loving forgiveness and his condemnation of violence, dominate the novel. An intimate, psychological tale of guilt, anger, and forgiveness…

Resurrection is at the same time a panoramic description of social life in Russia at the end of the nineteenth … More

James’s novel has been acclaimed as “a ground-breaking example of regional social realism” and as “a major forerunner of the Caribbean literary movements in English.” Many of James’s readers believe that it is not possible fully to comprehend Caribbean literary art in English without first reading Minty Alley. In the interactions of the characters of Maisie, Haynes, Mrs. Rouse, & Benoit, James discerns new forms of society rooted in the oldest of desires and aspirations. In the everyday language of the unforgettable dialogues in the novel James reveals new modes of human relationships.

Haynes, a young middle-class lodger at No. 2 Minty Alley, becomes both confidant and judge as he examines the other … More

Society has never known what to do with its rebellious women. Those who defied expectations about feminine behaviour have long been considered dangerous and unnatural, and ever since the Victorian era they have been removed from public view, locked up and often forgotten about. Many of these women ended up at HMP Holloway, the self-proclaimed ‘terror to evil-doers’ which, until its closure in 2016, was western Europe’s largest women’s prison.

First built in 1852 as a House of Correction, Holloway’s women have come from all corners of the UK – … More

London is a city of ruins and rubble: in fighting against a police state Britain has become almost a police state itself. Rationing is still in place, the black market is thriving, medical shortages have resulted in antibiotics being watered down. Though Britain was possessed of great decency there was a limit to what it might be expected to bear after suffering six years of war. The barbarities of war had changed peoples’ attitudes; nobody thought of foreigners in terms of human beings.

Lulled by a series of swift and sure dissolves, in an apparently orthodox romance of Irish immigrant life in post-war … More

Born OTD in 1912, English Marxist historian and academic, specialising in 17th-century English history, Christopher Hill. Within the English revolution of the mid-17th century which resulted in the triumph of the protestant ethic – the ideology of the propertied class – there threatened another, quite different, revolution. Its success ‘might have established communal property, a far wider democracy in political & legal institutions, might have disestablished the state church & rejected the protestant ethic’.

In ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ Christopher Hill studies the beliefs of such radical groups as the Diggers, the Ranters, … More

For nearly a century, the original version of Upton Sinclair’s classic novel has remained almost entirely unknown. When it was published in serial form in 1905, it was a full third longer than the censored, commercial edition published in book form the following year. That expurgated commercial edition edited out much of the ethnic flavor of the original, as well as some of the goriest descriptions of the meat-packing industry and much of Sinclair’s most pointed social and political commentary.

The text of this new edition is as it appeared in the original uncensored edition of 1905. It contains the … More

Not so long ago, our roads, buildings, gravestones & monuments were built from local rock, our cities were powered by coal from Welsh mines, & our lamps were lit with paraffin from Scottish shale. At the height of the empire, British stone travelled across the world to India and China, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Singapore & South Africa. There were thousands of mines, quarries, slag heaps & brick pits across the British Isles. We live among the remnants of those times – our older cities are built from Bath limestone, or Aberdeen granite – but for the most part our mines are gone, our buildings are no longer local, & the flow of stone travels east to west.

Spurred on by the erasure of history and industry, Ted Nield journeyed across this buried landscape: from the small Welsh … More