In celebration of Penguin's 80th birthday, this box of the 80 books in the Little Black Classics series showcases the many wonderful and varied writers in Penguin Black Classics. From India to Greece, Denmark to Iran, and not forgetting Britain, this assortment of books will transport readers back in time to the furthest corners of the globe. With a choice of fiction, poetry, essays and maxims, by the likes of Chekhov, Balzac, Ovid, Austen, Sappho and Dante, it won't be difficult to find a book to suit your mood.
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was an English poet, philosopher and literary critic. Born in Ottery St Mary, Coleridge was educated at Christ's Hospital School, London where he began his friendship with Charles Lamb and began writing his first sonnets, and Jesus College, Cambridge. With his friend William Wordsworth, Coleridge founded the Romantic Movement and became a member of the Lake Poets. In 1798 they co-wrote Lyrical Ballads, a landmark collection of poems that marked the beginning of Romanticism in English literature. The collection includes his greatest poem 'The Rime of the Ancient Marnier'. Charles Dickens (1812-70) is one of the most recognized celebrities of English literature. His many books include Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. The son of a civil servant, Honore de Balzac was born in 1799 in Tours, France. After attending boarding school in Vendome, he gravitated to Paris where he worked as a legal clerk and a hack writer, using various pseudonyms, often in collaboration with other writers. Balzac turned exclusively to fiction at the age of thirty and went on to write a large number of novels and short stories set amid turbulent nineteenth-century France. He entitled his collective works The Human Comedy. Along with Victor Hugo and Dumas pere and fils, Balzac was one of the pillars of French romantic literature. He died in 1850, shortly after his marriage to the Polish countess Evelina Hanska, his lover of eighteen years. Moscow-born Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) served time in a convict prison in Siberia for his political alliances, and in his later years his passion for gambling led him deeply into debt. His many brilliant novels include Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. Henry James was born in 1843 in New York and died in London in 1916. In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote some twenty novels, the first published being Roderick Hudson (1875). They include The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, The Tragic Muse, The Spoils of Poynton, The Awkward Age, The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors and The Golden Bowl. Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) was one of the leading poets of the First World War. Brought up in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury, Owen worked as a lay assistant to the vicar of Dunsden before teaching in France the year before the war broke out. In 1915 he enlisted in the Artists' Rifles group and was wounded in combat in 1917. Recovering from concussion and shellshock in an Edinburgh hospital, Owen met another patient, the poet Siegfried Sassoon who became his mentor. At this time Owen wrote many of his greatest poems including 'Anthem for Doomed Youth'. In June 1918 Owen returned to France and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery. He was killed on 4th November 1918, one week before Armistice Day. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) was one of the greatest female writers of the nineteenth century. Born in London into a remarkably creative family; her father was an exiled Italian revolutionary and poet and her brothers William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In 1862 Rossetti published her first full collection of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems. Religious themes dominate her work as do those of repressed sexuality and the loss of beauty. Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 in the Tula province. He studied at the University of Kazan, then led a life of pleasure until 1851 when he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus. He established his reputation as a writer with The Sebastopol Sketches (1855-6). After a period in St Petersburg and abroad, he married, had thirteen children, managed his vast estates in the Volga Steppes and wrote War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). A Confession (1879-82) marked a spiritual crisis in his life, and in 1901 he was excommuincated by the Russian Holy Synod. He died in 1910, in the course of a dramatic flight from home, at the railway station of Astapovo. Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854. He went to Trinity College, Dublin and then to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he began to propagandize the new Aesthetic (or 'Art for Art's Sake') Movement. Despite winning a first and the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, Wilde failed to obtain an Oxford scholarship, and was forced to earn a living by lecturing and writing for periodicals. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884, he tried to establish himself as a writer, but with little initial success. However, his three volumes of short fiction, The Happy Prince (1888), Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891) and A House of Pomegranates (1891), together with his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), gradually won him a reputation as a modern writer with an original talent, a reputation confirmed and enhanced by the phenomenal success of his Society Comedies - Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, all performed on the West End stage between 1892 and 1895. Success, however, was short-lived. In 1891 Wilde had met and fallen extravagantly in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1895, when his success as a dramatist was at its height, Wilde brought an unsuccessful libel action against Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde lost the case and two trials later was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for acts of gross indecency. As a result of this experience he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He was released from prison in 1897 and went into an immediate self-imposed exile on the Continent. He died in Paris in ignominy in 1900. Boccaccio was born in Florence in 1313. He later moved to Naples, where he became part of the circle at court and started writing books. In 1348, he witnessed the plague in Florence, which killed half the city's population and would become the backdrop to his masterpiece,The Decameron. In later life he befriended the poet Petrarch, who left to him in his will an ermine robe to keep him warm when studying on winter nights. Boccaccio died in 1375. Friedrich Nietzsche was born near Leipzig in 1844. When he was only twenty-four he was appointed to the chair of classical philology at Basel University. Works published in the 1880s include The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist. In January 1889, Nietzsche collapsed on a street in Turin and was subsequently institutionalized, spending the rest of his life in a condition of mental and physical paralysis. Works published after his death in 1900 include Will to Power, based on his notebooks, and Ecce Homo, his autobiography. Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. The son of a prosperous civil engineer, he was expected to follow the family profession but was finally allowed to study law at Edinburgh University. Stevenson reacted forcibly against the Presbyterianism of both his city's professional classes and his devout parents, but the influence of Calvinism on his childhood informed the fascination with evil that is so powerfully explored in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Stevenson suffered from a severe respiratory disease from his twenties onwards, leading him to settle in the gentle climate of Samoa with his American wife, Fanny Osbourne. Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was born in India, although educated in England. He was a prolific writer and recognized as a genius. In 1907 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His many books for children includeJust So Stories and Kim. Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and belonged to a noble but impoverished family. He met Beatrice, who was to be his muse, in 1274, and when she died in 1290 he sought distraction in philosophy and theology, and wrote La Vita Nuova. He worked on the Divine Comedy from 1308 until near the time of his death in Ravenna in 1321. Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London in about 1342. He was valued highly by Edward III, who paid part of his ransom when he was captured fighting in France in 1360. He rose in royal employment, becoming a Justice of the Peace and was buried in 1400 in Westminster Abbey. Anglo-Irish poet, satirist and clergyman, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), was born in Dublin to English parents. He embarked on a career as diplomatic secretary and became increasingly involved in politics. He published many satirical works of verse and prose, including A Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, and Gulliver's Travels. Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is regarded as one of America's most important nineteenth century poets. Born in Long Island, Whitman grew up in Brooklyn and received a limited formal education. Whitman adopted many professions in his lifetime including printer, essayist, journalist and school teacher. As early as 1850, Whitman turned his hand to poetry and in 1855 he self-published his greatest work, Leaves of Grass. John Keats (1795-1821) is one of the greatest English poets and a key figure in the Romantic movement. He grew up in London and undertook medical training before finding his vocation in poetry. His poems include 'The Eve of St Agnes', 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' and 'To Autumn', and his group of five odes, which include 'Ode to a Nightingale', are ranked among the greatest short poems in the English language. They were written shortly before his tragically early death, in Rome, from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five. Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is one of the most renowned novelists and poets in English literary history. Born in Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, Hardy became an apprentice architect at the age of 16 and spent his twenties in London where he wrote his first poems. In 1867 Hardy returned to his native Dorset, whose rugged landscape was a great source of inspiration for his writing. Hardy was a prolific writer, between 1871 and 1897 he wrote fourteen novels, three volumes of short stories and several poems. In this period he wrote some of his greatest novels including 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles' and 'Jude the Obscure'. Hardy's long career spanned the Victorian and modern eras and though his work was not well received during his lifetime, it has had a lasting impact on English literature influencing the likes of Virginia Woolf and Philip Larkin. Guy de Maupassant was born in Normandy in 1850. In addition to his six novels, which include Bel-Ami (1885) and Pierre et Jean (1888), he wrote hundreds of short stories, the most famous of which is 'Boule de suif'. By the late 1870s, he began to develop the first signs of syphilis, and in 1891 he was committed to an asylum in Paris, having tried to commit suicide. He died there two years later. Marco Polo was born in 1254, joining his father on a journey to China in 1271. He spent the next twenty years travelling in the service of Kublai Khan. There is evidence that Marco travelled extensively in the Mongol Empire and it is fairly certain he visited India. He wrote his famous Travels whilst a prisoner in Genoa. Emily Bronte (1818-1848) published only one novel, Wuthering Heights (1847), but that single work has its place among the masterpieces of English literature. Some of her lyrics are also rated with the best in English poetry. Joseph Conrad's major works (all published by Penguin Classics) include Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, Lord Jim,Under Western Eyes, The Secret Agent and Typhoon. Charles Darwin, a Victorian scientist and naturalist, has become one of the most famous figures of science to date. Born in 1809 to an upper-middle-class medical family, he was destined for a career in either medicine or the Anglican Church. However, he never completed his medical education and his future changed entirely in 1831 when he joined HMS Beagle as a self-financing, independent naturalist. On returning to England in 1836 he began to write up his theories and observations which culminated in a series of books, most famously On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859, where he challenged and contradicted contemporary biological and religious beliefs with two decades worth of scientific investigation and theory. Darwin's theory of natural selection is now the most widely accepted scientific model of how species evolve. He died in 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Damien Hirst is an internationally renowned English artist, who has dominated the art scene in England since the 1990s. Known in particular for his series of works on death, Hirst here provides a contemporary, visual take on Darwin's theory of evolution - the struggle between life and death in nature. William Bynum is Professor Emeritus of the History of Medicine at University College, London, and was for many years Head of the Academic Unit of the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine. He edited the scholarly journal Medical History from 1980 to 2001, and his previous publications include Science and the Practice of Medicine in the Nineteenth Century; The Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine (co-edited with Roy Porter); The Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (with Roy Porter), The Dictionary of Medical Biography (with Helen Bynum), and History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction. He lives in Suffolk. Jacob Ludwig Carol Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786-1859), universally known as 'the brothers Grimm', were born in the German state of Hesse. Their ambition was to collect traditional tales in order to preserve Germany's heritage. They published two volumes in 1812 and 1814 which include some of the best-known fairy tales of all time, such as 'Tom Thumb' and 'The Elves and the Shoemaker'. Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev was born in 1818 in the province of Oryol. After the family had moved to Moscow in 1827 he entered St Petersburg University where he studied philosophy. When he was nineteen he published his first poems and went to the University of Berlin. After two years he returned to Russia and took his degree at the University of Moscow. After 1856 he lived mostly abroad, and he became the first Russian writer to gain a wide reputation in Europe. He wrote many novels, plays, short stories and novellas, of which First Love (1860) is the most famous. He died in Paris in 1883. H.G. Wells was a professional writer and journalist who published more than a hundred books, including pioneering science fiction novels, histories, essays and programmes for world regeneration. He was a founding member of numerous movements including Liberty and PEN International - the world's oldest human rights organization - and his Rights of Man laid the groundwork for the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Wells' controversial and progressive views on equality and the shape of a truly developed nation remain directly relevant to our world today.
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