Arthur Conan Doyle – “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1892)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a collection of twelve stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring his famous detective, and illustrated by Sidney Paget.

These are the first of the Sherlock Holmes short stories, originally published as single stories in the Strand Magazine from July 1891 to June 1892. They were collected and published in the book, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, on 14 October 1892 by George Newnes Ltd in England and on 15 October 1892 in the US by Harper. The initial combined print run was 14,500 copies. (Wikipedia)

“You can imagine from what I say that my poor sister Julia and I had no great pleasure in our lives. No servant would stay with us, and for a long time we did all the work of the house. She was but thirty at the time of her death, and yet her hair had already begun to whiten, even as mine has.”

“Your sister is dead, then?”

“She died just two years ago, and it is of her death that I wish to speak to you. You can understand that, living the life which I have described, we were little likely to see anyone of our own age and position. We had, however, an aunt, my mother’s maiden sister, Miss Honoria Westphail, who lives near Harrow, and we were occasionally allowed to pay short visits at this lady’s house. Julia went there at Christmas two years ago, and met there a half-pay major of marines, to whom she became engaged. My stepfather learned of the engagement when my sister returned and offered no objection to the marriage; but within a fortnight of the day which had been fixed for the wedding, the terrible event occurred which has deprived me of my only companion.”

Sherlock Holmes had been leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed and his head sunk in a cushion, but he half opened his lids now and glanced across at his visitor.

“Pray be precise as to details,” said he.

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky – “Notes From The Underground” (1864)

Notes from Underground (Russian: Записки из подполья, Zapiski iz podpol’ya), also translated as Notes from the Underground or Letters from the Underworld, is an 1864 novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Notes is considered by many to be the first existentialist novel. It presents itself as an excerpt from the rambling memoirs of a bitter, isolated, unnamed narrator (generally referred to by critics as the Underground Man) who is a retired civil servant living in St. Petersburg. The first part of the story is told in monologue form, or the underground man’s diary, and attacks emerging Western philosophy, especially Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s What Is to Be Done?. The second part of the book is called “Àpropos of the Wet Snow”, and describes certain events that, it seems, are destroying and sometimes renewing the underground man, who acts as a first person, unreliable narrator. (Wikipedia)

“Liza, do you despise me?” I asked, looking at her fixedly, trembling with impatience to know what she was thinking.

She was confused, and did not know what to answer.

“Drink your tea,” I said to her angrily. I was angry with myself, but, of course, it was she who would have to pay for it. A horrible spite against her suddenly surged up in my heart; I believe I could have killed her. To revenge myself on her I swore inwardly not to say a word to her all the time. “She is the cause of it all,” I thought.

Our silence lasted for five minutes. The tea stood on the table; we did not touch it. I had got to the point of purposely refraining from beginning in order to embarrass her further; it was awkward for her to begin alone. Several times she glanced at me with mournful perplexity. I was obstinately silent. I was, of course, myself the chief sufferer, because I was fully conscious of the disgusting meanness of my spiteful stupidity, and yet at the same time I could not restrain myself.

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Agatha Christie – “The Mysterious Affair At Styles” (1920)

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a detective novel by Agatha Christie. It was written in the middle of World War I, in 1916, and first published by John Lane in the United States in October 1920 and in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head (John Lane’s UK company) on 21 January 1921. The US edition retailed at US$2.00 and the UK edition at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6).

Styles was Christie’s first published novel, introducing Hercule Poirot, Inspector (later, Chief Inspector) Japp, and Arthur Hastings. Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Cavendish, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home. When the woman is killed, Poirot uses his detective skills to solve the mystery. This is also the setting of Curtain, Poirot’s last case.

The book includes maps of the house, the murder scene, and a drawing of a fragment of a will. (Wikipedia)

Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound. Yet this quaint dandyfied little man who, I was sorry to see, now limped badly, had been in his time one of the most celebrated members of the Belgian police. As a detective, his flair had been extraordinary, and he had achieved triumphs by unravelling some of the most baffling cases of the day.

He pointed out to me the little house inhabited by him and his fellow Belgians, and I promised to go and see him at an early date. Then he raised his hat with a flourish to Cynthia, and we drove away.

“He’s a dear little man,” said Cynthia. “I’d no idea you knew him.”

“You’ve been entertaining a celebrity unawares,” I replied.

And, for the rest of the way home, I recited to them the various exploits and triumphs of Hercule Poirot.

We arrived back in a very cheerful mood. As we entered the hall, Mrs. Inglethorp came out of her boudoir. She looked flushed and upset.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said.

“Is there anything the matter, Aunt Emily?” asked Cynthia.

“Certainly not,” said Mrs. Inglethorp sharply. “What should there be?”

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Agatha Christie – “The Secret Adversary” (1922)

The Secret Adversary is a work of detective fiction by Agatha Christie first published in the United Kingdom by The Bodley Head in January 1922 and in the United States by Dodd, Mead and Company later in that same year. The UK edition retailed at seven shillings and sixpence (7/6) and the US edition at $1.75. It is her second published novel. The book introduces the characters of Tommy and Tuppence who feature in three other Christie novels and one collection of short stories; the five Tommy and Tuppence books span Agatha Christie’s writing career. (Wikipedia)

Hardly able to contain his excitement, Tommy hurried down the stairs. Tuppence was waiting at the angle of the turn.

“You heard?”

“Yes. Oh, Tommy!”

Tommy squeezed her arm sympathetically.

“I know, old thing. I feel the same.”

“It’s—it’s so lovely to think of things—and then for them really to happen!” cried Tuppence enthusiastically.

Her hand was still in Tommy’s. They had reached the entrance hall. There were footsteps on the stairs above them, and voices.

Suddenly, to Tommy’s complete surprise, Tuppence dragged him into the little space by the side of the lift where the shadow was deepest.

“What the——”

“Hush!”

Two men came down the stairs and passed out through the entrance. Tuppence’s hand closed tighter on Tommy’s arm.

“Quick—follow them. I daren’t. He might recognize me. I don’t know who the other man is, but the bigger of the two was Whittington.”

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman – “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892)

“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a 6,000-word short story by the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published in January 1892 in The New England Magazine. It is regarded as an important early work of American feminist literature, illustrating attitudes in the 19th century toward women’s physical and mental health.

Gilman explained that the idea for the story originated in her own experience as a patient: “the real purpose of the story was to reach Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, and convince him of the error of his ways”. She had suffered years of depression, and consulted a well-known specialist physician who prescribed a “rest cure” which required her to “live as domestic a life as possible.” She was forbidden to touch pen, pencil or brush and allowed only two hours of mental stimulation a day.

After three months and almost desperate, Gilman decided to contravene her diagnosis and started to work again. After realizing how close she had come to complete mental breakdown, she wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” with additions and exaggerations to illustrate her own misdiagnosis complaint. (Wikipedia)

The furniture in this room is no worse than inharmonious, however, for we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such ravages as the children have made here.

The wall-paper, as I said before, is torn off in spots, and it sticketh closer than a brother—they must have had perseverance as well as hatred.

Then the floor is scratched and gouged and splintered, the plaster itself is dug out here and there, and this great heavy bed which is all we found in the room, looks as if it had been through the wars.

But I don’t mind it a bit—only the paper.

There comes John’s sister. Such a dear girl as she is, and so careful of me! I must not let her find me writing.

She is a perfect and enthusiastic housekeeper, and hopes for no better profession. I verily believe she thinks it is the writing which made me sick!

But I can write when she is out, and see her a long way off from these windows.

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John Milton – “Paradise Lost” (1674)

Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton (1608–1674). The first version, published in 1667, consisted of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the manner of Virgil’s Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. It is considered by critics to be Milton’s major work, and helped solidify his reputation as one of the greatest English poets of his time.

The poem concerns the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s purpose, stated in Book I, is to “justify the ways of God to men”. (Wikipedia)

Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air,
That felt unusual weight; till on dry land
He lights–if it were land that ever burned
With solid, as the lake with liquid fire,
And such appeared in hue as when the force
Of subterranean wind transports a hill
Torn from Pelorus, or the shattered side
Of thundering Etna, whose combustible
And fuelled entrails, thence conceiving fire,
Sublimed with mineral fury, aid the winds,
And leave a singed bottom all involved
With stench and smoke. Such resting found the sole
Of unblest feet. Him followed his next mate;
Both glorying to have scaped the Stygian flood
As gods, and by their own recovered strength,
Not by the sufferance of supernal Power.

“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Archangel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heaven?–this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sovereign can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor–one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.

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Jane Austen – “Emma” (1815)

Emma, by Jane Austen, is a novel about youthful hubris and the perils of misconstrued romance. The novel was first published in December 1815. As in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of genteel women living in Georgian-Regency England; she also creates a lively comedy of manners among her characters.

Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” In the very first sentence she introduces the title character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma, however, is also rather spoiled, headstrong, and self-satisfied; she greatly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities; she is blind to the dangers of meddling in other people’s lives; and her imagination and perceptions often lead her astray. (Wikipedia)

“Well,” said the still waiting Harriet;–”well–and–and what shall I do?”

“What shall you do! In what respect? Do you mean with regard to this letter?”

“Yes.”

“But what are you in doubt of? You must answer it of course–and speedily.”

“Yes. But what shall I say? Dear Miss Woodhouse, do advise me.”

“Oh no, no! the letter had much better be all your own. You will express yourself very properly, I am sure. There is no danger of your not being intelligible, which is the first thing. Your meaning must be unequivocal; no doubts or demurs: and such expressions of gratitude and concern for the pain you are inflicting as propriety requires, will present themselves unbidden to your mind, I am persuaded. You need not be prompted to write with the appearance of sorrow for his disappointment.”

“You think I ought to refuse him then,” said Harriet, looking down.

“Ought to refuse him! My dear Harriet, what do you mean? Are you in any doubt as to that? I thought–but I beg your pardon, perhaps I have been under a mistake. I certainly have been misunderstanding you, if you feel in doubt as to the purport of your answer. I had imagined you were consulting me only as to the wording of it.”

Harriet was silent.

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