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Classic Authors Born in May

By Megan Powell, Magali Prel, and Natasha Smith 


As we enter spring with full force, what better way to spend a warm afternoon than indulging in a classic you’ve been wanting to try. The month of May has created a plethora of exciting classic literature; join us as we explore the talent of authors born in this month. We have chosen a poet, a playwright and nature writer in the hopes of providing some inspiration for your reading lists. 


Robert Browning 


Born in 1812, Robert Browning is one of England’s most famous and well-renowned poets. Famous for dramatic monologues, his Victorian poetry encapsulates humanity’s complexities. Browning was married to poet Elizabeth Barrett, who was celebrated for her literary work surrounding themes of social injustice, such as the Slave Trade and restrictions on 19th-century women. 


One well-known example of Browning’s work is My Last Duchess. This explores the speaker, assumed to be based on the Italian Duke Alfonso of Ferrara, as he gives his fiancé’s family’s emissary a tour of his art. Browning portrays the duke as a domineering, jealous individual who retells his flawed version of events regarding his late wife. The audience is led to believe he is the culprit of her death. The duchess is presented as powerless, her alleged affair angering the duke to the point of murdering her. The use of iambic pentameter, as well as pristine rhyme and rhythm, depict the possessive control that the late duchess was subjected to and foreshadows the duke’s behaviour of what his new wife could expect. This poem highlights frequent historical aristocratic arrogance, reinforcing how many women were voiceless in such marriages. Browning engages with psycho-historical themes further in The Ring and the Book, which follows a murder trial of a nobleman against his young wife, who is suspected of having affairs. 


Rachel Carson 


Born 27 May 1907, Rachel Carson was an environmental pioneer which earned her work classic status. Her thoughts and talents are unrivalled when it comes to exploring environmental factors, a theme that has only increased with time, thus prolonging the relevance of Carson’s work. As a marine biologist, Carson utilised the power of the written word to advance her ideas of conservation and advance research into not just marine biology, but the global environment. 


Writing in America at the height of the sixty’s counterculture movement, Carson’s Silent Spring propelled her talent into the classic direction. Written in 1962, Carson’s novel imperatively explores the environmental anxieties following the harmful use of pesticides during World War Two. She exposes and challenges the chemical industry and commercial structures for misrepresenting the severe damage pesticides were causing, overlooking their marketing power. From her extensive research, Carson eventually attracted enough attention to get a ban on DDT, the first synthetic insecticide. This inspired a change in American pesticide policy and led to the initiation of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Powerfully, Carson exposes the impact of human mistreatment on the environment and with it, the negative effects of the pesticides. She warns of continued detriment if these chemical companies are not stopped. Before her seminal novel, Carson also wrote a selection of essays including her first publication Under the Sea Wind in 1941. 


Honoré de Balzac 


Honoré de Balzac was born on 20 May 1799 in Tours, France and is known as a towering figure in French literature. His work epitomises the essence of 19th century realism, profoundly influencing the development of the modern novel. Balzac’s career was determined by his unparalleled dedication to writing, as demonstrated by his magnum opus La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy) whom is recognised as one of the most ambitious works ever written. With over ninety interconnected novels and novellas, this novel portrays French society and culture of the time, capturing the nuances of human behaviour, social structures and the struggles of daily life. 


Balzac was further recognised for his innovative portrayal of characters whom he permeated with realism and profundity, previously unseen in literature. Each character in Balzac’s novels possess unique flaws, desires and motivations; from the ambitious Eugéne de Rastignac, to the enigmatic Vautrin (characters both found in The Human Comedy), Balzac’s characters leave an ineradicable mark on the reader’s mind. 


Balzac’s work often explores themes of power, ambition and the human condition. Through his writing, Balzac dissects the moral and social norms of his time, offering the reader insight into the nature of society and the individual’s place within it at the time. His observations of human interactions and societal dynamics continue to resonate with many readers today, making his works timeless classics.

 


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