Penguin Classics Newsletter | May / June 2010

The Leavenworth Case

"Whom do you suspect?" "Every one and nobody. It is my job to detect, not suspect," answers Inspector Gryce in The Leavenworth Case. In 1878, the mother of the mystery, Anna Katharine Green, published the first American bestselling detective novel to the delight of a child named Agatha Christie and nine years before the debut of Sherlock Holmes. This Brooklyn-based detective novel sold a million copies in its time and became required reading at law schools as a study of the risks of misinterpreting circumstantial evidence. A must for all mystery and crime buffs, the Penguin Classics edition of The Leavenworth Case includes an introduction and suggestions for further reading by Michael Sims, editor of The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime and Arsene Lupin: Gentleman-Thief. Listen to an interview with Michael Sims about The Leavenworth Case.



Viva Brazil!

We're proud to publish our first Brazilian classic and the bible of Brazilian nationality, Backlands by Euclides da Cunha, newly translated by Elizabeth Lowe and introduced by Ilan Stavans. Backlands is a nonfiction account by writer, engineer, and sociologist da Cunha about the late nineteenth-century battle between a rural separatist group led by a mysterious rebel leader and the Brazilian government and army. A total of five thousand soldiers lost their lives in the battle. On the Canudos side, the entire population—up to 25,000 people—was killed. Backlands, Brazil's foundational text about the clash of race, religion, and region, is an important highlight of our Latin American and world classics lists.


Of Mice and Men and The Moon Is Down

Great summer reading for budding actors or playwrights, this collection of two of John Steinbeck's plays, Of Mice and Men and The Moon Is Down, includes a new foreword by the one and only James Earl Jones. Jones's all-time favorite theatrical role is Lennie from Of Mice and Men. He describes Steinbeck as "a favorite writer of actors" since his sparse dialogue is perfect for acting workshops. Steinbeck fans will be happy to know that everything they love about his novels carries over to his plays, from his ability to unfold the details of a story organically to his knack for revealing the complexities of good and evil. Penguin Classics is happy to publish this addition to our Steinbeck library.


The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories

For ages, people have sat around the campfire or under the covers scaring each other with stories of the unimaginable. And over the generations we have turned that impulse to scare into an art. The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories gathers into one collection the spookiest tales by some of our favorite writers. Featuring Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ambrose Bierce, Edith Wharton, and many more, this will become a favorite source for classic tales of the supernatural. And for a more in-depth look at why we love ghost stories, how they evolved, and what their key elements are, this edition features an introduction by Michael Newton that breaks down the genre into fascinating tidbits that show the breadth of the tradition. With The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, you will be up night after night until your flashlight grows dim.



Countdown to 1,001 Nights!

A major publishing event awaits us this summer, when Penguin Classics publishes the first complete English translation in 125 years of the most famous literary work from the Arab world: The Arabian Nights. We're counting down to when American readers can relive Scheherazade's 1,001 nights in Malcolm and Ursula Lyons' magnificent new translation. Not since Sir Richard Burton set out to translate the tales has an English translation as comprehensive been undertaken, and when it was published in the U.K. last year, it was greeted as a triumph: The TLS said it "ought to become the standard one for the present century"; The Guardian called it "the most ambitious and thorough translation into English of The Arabian Nights since the age of Queen Victoria and the British Empire"; and The Sunday Times declared simply, "this new Penguin edition is the one to have." We're publishing in three volumes, and they'll be available in June.




Penguin Classics Book Club!

Join the Penguin Classics Book Club hosted by Kathy Gursky, our Penguin Classics Librarian. Kathy's popular book club discussion and blog has just launched on the Penguin Classics homepage. Kathy's first selection is the recently released Penguin Classics edition of Celestina by Fernando de Rojas. Celestina is a racy and irreverent Spanish tragicomedy that is considered the first European novel. Published in 1499 this Spanish Romeo and Juliet became Spain's first-ever bestseller, and Fernando de Rojas's mix of street wit, obscenity, and culture paved the way for Cervantes. The Penguin Classics edition is translated by award-winning translator Peter Bush and features an introduction by Spain's greatest living writer, Juan Goytisolo. Join the club!



Mother's Day, Father's Day, Graduation—Give the Gift of Penguin Classics Hardbacks

What lasts longer than flowers, with pattern designs more handsome than any necktie, and offers journeys to last a lifetime? Penguin Classics hardback editions! Designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith, they make the perfect gift for any occasion. New spring titles include Emma, Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Odyssey, and Treasure Island. No gift-wrap required!



What Makes An African American Classic?

Penguin Classics, in conjunction with Barnes & Noble, hosted a panel discussion on February 22nd in New York City with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Farrah Jasmine Griffin, and Dayo Olopade. These premier voices in African American literature discussed Iola Leroy and other books as a way to explore the meaning of a classic and, more importantly, the meaning of a classic in African American history.

First published in 1892, Iola Leroy is a stirring novel by the great writer and activist Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.  It tells the story of the young daughter of a wealthy Mississippi planter who travels to the North to attend school, only to be sold into slavery in the South when it is discovered that she has Negro blood. After she is freed by the Union army, she works to reunify her family and embrace her heritage, committing herself to improving the conditions for blacks in America.

Through her fascinating characters—including Iola's brother, who fights at the front in a colored regiment—Harper weaves a vibrant and provocative chronicle of the Civil War and its consequences through African American eyes in this critical contribution to the nation's literature.



Campus Classic: Sophocles' Oedipus the King

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Inspired by the Ten Essential Penguin Classics video, Christopher Syrnyk sought out Robert Fagles' translation of Oedipus the King in the Penguin Classics edition of Sophocles' Three Theban Plays as the second text in his Introduction to Literature course.

We bridged genres, from epic poetry to dramatic tragedy, by noting that if The Odyssey represents a lengthy fatalistic voyage that would comprise the very definition of improbability, then Oedipus the King surely stands, in its perfect brevity, as the preeminent, fatalistic ménage à trois we hope would never become a possibility.

The class and I marveled at how well Fagles' translation of Sophocles' play preserved the symbols and themes of eyes, of sight and insight, ideas of vision-earthly and prophetic-and the attendant themes of darkness and light. All the while, Fagles' rendition pulls his readers in the undertow of the stirring plot line that draws us away from the safer shores of the characters' perceived knowledge, to the unfamiliar, open waters of a wholly terrible and (un)desired knowledge. As we reflected on the lessons of Oedipus, we focused on the human capacity to take control of our destinies. Thanks to the informative and thoughtful Introduction by Bernard Knox, we were able to address Protagoras' lesson that humans stand as "the measure of all things." I reminded students, however, that we humans, taking a cue from John Berryman, also possess an unlimited capacity to become "a huddle of need." Oedipus the King remains relevant because it embraces the many guises of human need, and the human penchant to live life on a profoundly, and at times damnable, need-to-know basis, sometimes, at any costs.

Regarding this second "required" text from the Ten Essential Penguin Classics, the students unanimously agreed that Oedipus the King remains a timeless and timely play. We reached this unanimous point through a lively set of group discussions of whether Oedipus was truly a good king, and whether he deserved our sympathy. Many empathized with Oedipus, seeing his life for its fated tragic proportions, ultimately regarding him, in the words of Billy Joel, as antiquity's prime "victim of circumstance." Others felt he willed along his own destruction, in a very un-kingly manner. Regardless, we arrived at an appreciation for Sophocles' problematic depiction of whether one can ever hope to successfully navigate between free will and fate.

For "inspired" texts, we viewed Scene 16, Act 2, "Trivium, Trivium," from the Stravinsky opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1993), based on the poem after Sophocles by Jean Cocteau (conducted by Seiji Ozawa). I wanted the class to view a production that was larger-than-life, and in a modern idiom, arguing that this rendition would approximate how the 5th-century Greeks might have experienced the magnitude of the chorus, and the presumably sizable Greek costumes. We also briefly discussed the idea of the oracle in antiquity, especially in light of William J. Broad's recent work, The Oracle: Ancient Delphi and the Science Behind Its Lost Secrets. Lastly, we also listened to American humorist Tom Lehrer's song "Oedipus Rex" (1959), and it was rewarding to see the smiles blooming on the students' faces—I felt we bonded as a class over Oedipus the King, so to speak.

Christopher Syrnyk
Instructor of English, Liberal Arts Transfer Program
Madison Area Technical College
Course: Introduction to Literature





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Reading the Classics from A to Z
Marathon 2


With one complete cycle under his belt, Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing and Sales, embarks on yet another Penguin Classics reading marathon of one book by an author per letter of the alphabet. Check out the Penguin Classics website for Alan's latest blog entry (I), as well as his entire first marathon.

Listen and enjoy Penguin Classics On Air, a new online audio program from The Publisher's Office at Written, produced, and hosted by the Penguin Classics staff, Penguin Classics On Air presents episodes on African American classics, the life and legacy of artist Keith Haring, the first Mexican American novelist, vampires, philosophy with jokes, the Swedish Gone with the Wind, Tolstoy's last days, and many more. Enjoy interviews with specialists and scholars, excerpts from Alan Walker's Reading the Classics from A to Z blog, and First Pages with Editor in Chief Stephen Morrison.



The Ten Essential Penguin Classics

It's SNL meets PBS! Watch our new homemade video, The Ten Essential Penguin Classics, written, directed, and starring Penguin Classics staffers. Visit the minisite to read the roundtable discussion about the top ten selection, enter into the sweepstakes, and read more about each of the titles. Wonder what made the top ten? Watch and enjoy.

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