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Man Nature Conflict Consequences Essays Of Elia

Charles Lamb’s life was marked by tragedy.  His sister, in fit of madness, murdered their parents.  Lamb himself spent time in an asylum.  Lacking in self-confidence, he used a pseudonym “Elia” for many of his essays. 

Lamb, writing in the 18th and 19th centuries, used the character of Elia, a charming London bachelor, as his narratorin these essays.  Elia represented “every man.” Furthermore, because Elia had once been a commoner, he was able to...

Charles Lamb’s life was marked by tragedy.  His sister, in fit of madness, murdered their parents.  Lamb himself spent time in an asylum.  Lacking in self-confidence, he used a pseudonym “Elia” for many of his essays. 

Lamb, writing in the 18th and 19th centuries, used the character of Elia, a charming London bachelor, as his narrator in these essays.  Elia represented “every man.” Furthermore, because Elia had once been a commoner, he was able to bridge class obstacles.

Lamb’s essays focus on the theme of temperament and consciousness of man. Employing personal experience in his writing, Elia [Lamb] uses simple language that is effectual and that the ordinary man can easily understand and apply to his life.

To add dimension to his character, Elia faces life’s experiences and handles them as Lamb thought man should act.  His humorous and leisurely approach to his writing make the reader want more. Lamb’s intention was to enable the average person to internalize his concept and thus make the essay universal.

Widespread truths represent the greater portion of Lamb’s work, yet these truths are not lofty sentiments. Elia prefers the past to the present.  The sensory memories usually speak to the heart of any man who remembers a smell from the kitchen of his mother:

...the odour of that spicy cake came back upon my recollection, and the pleasure. It is in human nature to long for the past. Irrespective of how content a man must be at the present, the past seems more serene.

Lamb’s descriptions subscribe to sensory pleasures. His description of a pork roast brings the reader to the dining table:  

...crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, crackling, the aroma that ‘assailed his nostrils’…all stimulate the tongue, nose and eyes.

Other references are to nature and man connection to it. Holding to the idea that man should be at one with nature, Lamb’s simplistic approach to the natural world both entertains and sends the reader to another place and time. Easily readable, his essays span the test of time. 

A humble clerk with the East India Company for much of his life, Charles Lamb (1775-1834) came into his own writing essays "under the phantom cloud of Elia". This assumed name, borrowed from another clerk, enabled him to put the full resources of his wit at the service of a form to which he was temperamentally suited, and made his own.

Tragic domestic circumstances bound Charles to his sister Mary, with whom he lived "in a sort of double singleness", after she stabbed their mother to death in a fit of madness. Contrasting his tastes in reading with those of his sister, who "must have a story – well, ill, or indifferently told", Lamb confides that "out-of-the-way humours and opinion – heads with some diverting twist in them – the oddities of authorship please me most". Montaigne, whose presence hovers over the Essays of Elia (1823), would have approved.

Lamb's nimble, cadenced prose, with its occasional antiquated turn of phrase, exhibits the same curious mixture of erudition and colloquialism, of seriousness and jest, as that of his French predecessor. For his unruly "little sketches", Lamb, like Montaigne, quarries his own experience, his circle of acquaintances and relatives thinly disguised beneath initials and pseudonyms, just like Elia himself.

Evoked with rare sensuality, the minutiae of everyday life – a card game in "Mrs Battle's Opinions on Whist", the ritual of saying "Grace Before Meat", the perils of lending books in "The Two Races of Men" – are all grist to his mill. Essays of Elia certainly lends itself to repeated reading, and when Lamb's popularity was at its height, his Victorian and Edwardian readers could recite entire passages. Thanks to this elegant new Hesperus edition, Charles Lamb's forgotten masterpiece is ripe for rediscovery.

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