Franz Kafka – “The Metamorphosis” (1915)

The Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung) is a novella written by Franz Kafka which was first published in 1915. (Wikipedia)

One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.



Dante Alighieri – “The Divine Comedy” (1320)

The Divine Comedy is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered to be the preeminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. It helped establish the Tuscan language, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The narrative describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven, while allegorically the poem represents the soul’s journey towards God. Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy, especially Thomistic philosophy and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Consequently, the Divine Comedy has been called “the Summa in verse”. In Dante’s work, Virgil is presented as human reason and Beatrice is presented as divine knowledge. (Wikipedia)

O’er all the sand fell slowly wafting down
Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow
On Alpine summit, when the wind is hush’d.
As in the torrid Indian clime, the son
Of Ammon saw upon his warrior band
Descending, solid flames, that to the ground
Came down: whence he bethought him with his troop
To trample on the soil; for easier thus
The vapour was extinguish’d, while alone;
So fell the eternal fiery flood, wherewith
The marble glow’d underneath, as under stove
The viands, doubly to augment the pain.

Unceasing was the play of wretched hands,
Now this, now that way glancing, to shake off
The heat, still falling fresh.  I thus began:
“Instructor! thou who all things overcom’st,
Except the hardy demons, that rush’d forth
To stop our entrance at the gate, say who
Is yon huge spirit, that, as seems, heeds not
The burning, but lies writhen in proud scorn,
As by the sultry tempest immatur’d?”

Straight he himself, who was aware I ask’d
My guide of him, exclaim’d: “Such as I was
When living, dead such now I am.  If Jove
Weary his workman out, from whom in ire
He snatch’d the lightnings, that at my last day
Transfix’d me, if the rest be weary out
At their black smithy labouring by turns
In Mongibello, while he cries aloud;
“Help, help, good Mulciber!” as erst he cried
In the Phlegraean warfare, and the bolts
Launch he full aim’d at me with all his might,
He never should enjoy a sweet revenge.”

Then thus my guide, in accent higher rais’d
Than I before had heard him: “Capaneus!
Thou art more punish’d, in that this thy pride
Lives yet unquench’d: no torrent, save thy rage,
Were to thy fury pain proportion’d full.”

Next turning round to me with milder lip
He spake: “This of the seven kings was one,
Who girt the Theban walls with siege, and held,
As still he seems to hold, God in disdain,
And sets his high omnipotence at nought.
But, as I told him, his despiteful mood
Is ornament well suits the breast that wears it.



Jane Austen – “Northanger Abbey” (1817)

Northanger Abbey was the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication, but published after her death, at the end of 1817. The novel is a satire of the Gothic novels popular at the time of its first writing in 1798–99. The heroine, Catherine, thinks life is like a Gothic novel, but her real experiences bring her down to earth as an ordinary young woman.

The novel is more explicitly comic than her other works and contains many literary allusions that her parents and siblings would have enjoyed, as a family entertainment—a piece of lighthearted parody to be read aloud by the fireside. The novel names many of the Gothic novels of that time and includes direct commentary by Austen on the value of novels, which were not valued as much as nonfiction or historical fiction. (Wikipedia)

The company began to disperse when the dancing was over—enough to leave space for the remainder to walk about in some comfort; and now was the time for a heroine, who had not yet played a very distinguished part in the events of the evening, to be noticed and admired. Every five minutes, by removing some of the crowd, gave greater openings for her charms. She was now seen by many young men who had not been near her before. Not one, however, started with rapturous wonder on beholding her, no whisper of eager inquiry ran round the room, nor was she once called a divinity by anybody. Yet Catherine was in very good looks, and had the company only seen her three years before, they would now have thought her exceedingly handsome.

She was looked at, however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl. Such words had their due effect; she immediately thought the evening pleasanter than she had found it before—her humble vanity was contented—she felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true-quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms, and went to her chair in good humour with everybody, and perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention.


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H. G. Wells – “The Island of Doctor Moreau” (1896)

The Island of Doctor Moreau is an 1896 science fiction novel, by English author, H. G. Wells.

The novel deals with a number of philosophical themes, including pain and cruelty, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature. Wells described the novel as “an exercise in youthful blasphemy”.

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a classic of early science fiction and remains one of Wells’s best-known books, and has been adapted to film and other media on many occasions. (Wikipedia)

After a day of alternate sleep and feeding I was so far recovered as to be able to get from my bunk to the scuttle, and see the green seas trying to keep pace with us. I judged the schooner was running before the wind. Montgomery—that was the name of the flaxen-haired man—came in again as I stood there, and I asked him for some clothes. He lent me some duck things of his own, for those I had worn in the boat had been thrown overboard. They were rather loose for me, for he was large and long in his limbs. He told me casually that the captain was three-parts drunk in his own cabin. As I assumed the clothes, I began asking him some questions about the destination of the ship. He said the ship was bound to Hawaii, but that it had to land him first.

“Where?” said I.

“It’s an island, where I live. So far as I know, it hasn’t got a name.”

He stared at me with his nether lip dropping, and looked so wilfully stupid of a sudden that it came into my head that he desired to avoid my questions. I had the discretion to ask no more.


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H. P. Lovecraft – “At The Mountains Of Madness” (1936)

At the Mountains of Madness is a novella by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, written in February/March 1931 and rejected that year by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright on the grounds of its length. It was originally serialized in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories. It has been reproduced in numerous collections.

The novella’s title is derived from a line in “The Hashish Man,” a short story by fantasy writer Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany: “And we came at last to those ivory hills that are named the Mountains of Madness…” (Wikipedia)

The outside world knew, of course, of our program, and was told also of Lake’s strange and dogged insistence on a westward—or rather, northwestward—prospecting trip before our radical shift to the new base. It seems that he had pondered a great deal, and with alarmingly radical daring, over that triangular striated marking in the slate; reading into it certain contradictions in nature and geological period which whetted his curiosity to the utmost, and made him avid to sink more borings and blastings in the west-stretching formation to which the exhumed fragments evidently belonged. He was strangely convinced that the marking was the print of some bulky, unknown, and radically unclassifiable organism of considerably advanced evolution, notwithstanding that the rock which bore it was of so vastly ancient a date—Cambrian if not actually pre-Cambrian—as to preclude the probable existence not only of all highly evolved life, but of any life at all above the unicellular or at most the trilobite stage. These fragments, with their odd marking, must have been five hundred million to a thousand million years old.



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Henry James – “The Portrait of a Lady” (1881)

The Portrait of a Lady is a novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in The Atlantic Monthly and Macmillan’s Magazine in 1880–81 and then as a book in 1881. It is one of James’s most popular long novels, and is regarded by critics as one of his finest.

Like many of James’s novels, it is set in Europe, mostly England and Italy. Generally regarded as the masterpiece of James’s early period, this novel reflects James’s continuing interest in the differences between the New World and the Old, often to the detriment of the former. It also treats in a profound way the themes of personal freedom, responsibility, and betrayal.

“In Florence we should call it a very bad house,” said Mrs. Touchett; “but here, I dare say, it will bring a high price. It ought to make a considerable sum for each of you. In addition to that you must have something else; it’s most extraordinary your not knowing. The position’s of value, and they’ll probably pull it down and make a row of shops. I wonder you don’t do that yourself; you might let the shops to great advantage.”

Isabel stared; the idea of letting shops was new to her. “I hope they won’t pull it down,” she said; “I’m extremely fond of it.”

“I don’t see what makes you fond of it; your father died here.”

“Yes; but I don’t dislike it for that,” the girl rather strangely returned. “I like places in which things have happened—even if they’re sad things. A great many people have died here; the place has been full of life.”

“Is that what you call being full of life?”

“I mean full of experience—of people’s feelings and sorrows. And not of their sorrows only, for I’ve been very happy here as a child.”

“You should go to Florence if you like houses in which things have happened—especially deaths. I live in an old palace in which three people have been murdered; three that were known and I don’t know how many more besides.”

“In an old palace?” Isabel repeated.

“Yes, my dear; a very different affair from this. This is very bourgeois.”

Isabel felt some emotion, for she had always thought highly of her grandmother’s house. But the emotion was of a kind which led her to say: “I should like very much to go to Florence.”

“Well, if you’ll be very good, and do everything I tell you I’ll take you there,” Mrs. Touchett declared.

Our young woman’s emotion deepened; she flushed a little and smiled at her aunt in silence. “Do everything you tell me? I don’t think I can promise that.”

“No, you don’t look like a person of that sort. You’re fond of your own way; but it’s not for me to blame you.”

“And yet, to go to Florence,” the girl exclaimed in a moment, “I’d promise almost anything!”



Plato – “Gorgias” (c. 380 BC)

Gorgias (Greek: Γοργίας) is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC. The dialogue depicts a conversation between Socrates and a small group of sophists (and other guests) at a dinner gathering. Socrates debates with the sophist seeking the true definition of rhetoric, attempting to pinpoint the essence of rhetoric and unveil the flaws of the sophistic oratory popular in Athens at this time.

SOCRATES: Then let me raise another question; there is such a thing as ‘having learned’?


SOCRATES: And there is also ‘having believed’?


SOCRATES: And is the ‘having learned’ the same as ‘having believed,’ and are learning and belief the same things?

GORGIAS: In my judgment, Socrates, they are not the same.

SOCRATES: And your judgment is right, as you may ascertain in this way:—If a person were to say to you, ‘Is there, Gorgias, a false belief as well as a true?’—you would reply, if I am not mistaken, that there is.


SOCRATES: Well, but is there a false knowledge as well as a true?


SOCRATES: No, indeed; and this again proves that knowledge and belief differ.

GORGIAS: Very true.

SOCRATES: And yet those who have learned as well as those who have believed are persuaded?

GORGIAS: Just so.

SOCRATES: Shall we then assume two sorts of persuasion,—one which is the source of belief without knowledge, as the other is of knowledge?

GORGIAS: By all means.

SOCRATES: And which sort of persuasion does rhetoric create in courts of law and other assemblies about the just and unjust, the sort of persuasion which gives belief without knowledge, or that which gives knowledge?

GORGIAS: Clearly, Socrates, that which only gives belief.

SOCRATES: Then rhetoric, as would appear, is the artificer of a persuasion which creates belief about the just and unjust, but gives no instruction about them?



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Plato – “Symposium” (c. 385 BC)

The Symposium (Ancient Greek: Συμπόσιον) is a philosophical text by Plato dated c. 385–370 BC. It concerns itself at one level with the genesis, purpose and nature of love, and (in latter-day interpretations) is the origin of the concept of Platonic love.

Love is examined in a sequence of speeches by men attending a symposium, or drinking party. Each man must deliver an encomium, a speech in praise of Love (Eros). The party takes place at the house of the tragedian Agathon in Athens. Socrates in his speech asserts that the highest purpose of love is to become a philosopher or, literally, a lover of wisdom. Commonly regarded as one of Plato’s major works, the dialogue has been used as a source by social historians seeking to throw light on life in ancient Athens — in particular, upon human sexuality and the symposium as an institution. (Wikipedia)

For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live—that principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honour and dishonour, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonourable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonour is done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else. The beloved too, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves (compare Rep.), they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own nature infuses into the lover.

Love will make men dare to die for their beloved—love alone; and women as well as men. Of this, Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, is a monument to all Hellas; for she was willing to lay down her life on behalf of her husband, when no one else would, although he had a father and mother; but the tenderness of her love so far exceeded theirs, that she made them seem to be strangers in blood to their own son, and in name only related to him; and so noble did this action of hers appear to the gods, as well as to men, that among the many who have done virtuously she is one of the very few to whom, in admiration of her noble action, they have granted the privilege of returning alive to earth; such exceeding honour is paid by the gods to the devotion and virtue of love. But Orpheus, the son of Oeagrus, the harper, they sent empty away, and presented to him an apparition only of her whom he sought, but herself they would not give up, because he showed no spirit; he was only a harp-player, and did not dare like Alcestis to die for love, but was contriving how he might enter Hades alive; moreover, they afterwards caused him to suffer death at the hands of women, as the punishment of his cowardliness. Very different was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus—his lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far). And greatly as the gods honour the virtue of love, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and valued and rewarded by them, for the lover is more divine; because he is inspired by God.


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Edgar Rice Burroughs – “Tarzan of the Apes” (1912)

Tarzan of the Apes is a novel written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first in a series of books about the title character Tarzan. It was first published in the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine in October 1912. The character was so popular that Burroughs continued the series into the 1940s with two dozen sequels. (Wikipedia)

One afternoon, while Clayton was working upon an addition to their cabin, for he contemplated building several more rooms, a number of their grotesque little friends came shrieking and scolding through the trees from the direction of the ridge. Ever as they fled they cast fearful glances back of them, and finally they stopped near Clayton jabbering excitedly to him as though to warn him of approaching danger.

At last he saw it, the thing the little monkeys so feared—the man-brute of which the Claytons had caught occasional fleeting glimpses.

It was approaching through the jungle in a semi-erect position, now and then placing the backs of its closed fists upon the ground—a great anthropoid ape, and, as it advanced, it emitted deep guttural growls and an occasional low barking sound.

Clayton was at some distance from the cabin, having come to fell a particularly perfect tree for his building operations. Grown careless from months of continued safety, during which time he had seen no dangerous animals during the daylight hours, he had left his rifles and revolvers all within the little cabin, and now that he saw the great ape crashing through the underbrush directly toward him, and from a direction which practically cut him off from escape, he felt a vague little shiver play up and down his spine.


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Plato – “Phaedo” (c. 400 BC)

Phaedo, also known to ancient readers as On The Soul, is one of the best-known dialogues of Plato’s middle period, along with the Republic and the Symposium. The Phaedo, which depicts the death of Socrates, is also Plato’s fourth and last dialogue to detail the philosopher’s final days, following Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito.

You must first let me hear what Crito wants; he has long been wishing to say something to me.

Only this, Socrates, replied Crito:—the attendant who is to give you the poison has been telling me, and he wants me to tell you, that you are not to talk much, talking, he says, increases heat, and this is apt to interfere with the action of the poison; persons who excite themselves are sometimes obliged to take a second or even a third dose.

Then, said Socrates, let him mind his business and be prepared to give the poison twice or even thrice if necessary; that is all.

I knew quite well what you would say, replied Crito; but I was obliged to satisfy him.

Never mind him, he said.

And now, O my judges, I desire to prove to you that the real philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and Cebes, I will endeavour to explain. For I deem that the true votary of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is always pursuing death and dying; and if this be so, and he has had the desire of death all his life long, why when his time comes should he repine at that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?


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