Lessons from a 16th century philosopher’s gap year


In 1571, the French nobleman Michel de Montaigne sold his seat at the Bordeaux parliament, retired from public service and sequestered himself in a circular tower in his family castle, Château de Montaigne. He was 38.

For the next 10 years he occupied this tower on the estate which had a chapel, a bedroom, a study and a library, separated between 3 levels. Montaigne self-isolated here and spent his days reading, meditating and writing. He was living according to his belief that: “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”

It was here that…

How the greatest novel ever written can help you love better

Portrait of a young lady (so-called Anna Karenina) by Aleksei Mikhailovich Kolesov, 1885/Wikipedia

Anna Karenina, despite its age, has much wisdom to impart to modern lovers, from the dangers of idealising a partner, to the pitfalls of Romanticism, the difficulty of marriage and the importance of communication.

Naturally, there are elements of Anna Karenina which do not translate to our own time very well; set in 19th century Russia, the drama unfolds in a society where marriage for love was still contentious, peasants worked the lands for aristocrats and wife’s were expected to stay in the domestic sphere, raising children and obeying…

Bookshelves Can Fuel Prejudice. They Can Also Cure It.

Aneta Pawlik/Unsplash

I just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own; an essay which incisively shows that women’s silence in fiction was down to their social marginalisation; they weren’t allowed the time, resources or the space with which to create masterpieces, and then were judged as creatively inferior on this absence. Upon finishing it, I had a sudden realisation: I noticed that I only had one female author on my bookshelf.

How had I been blind to such a glaring absence for so long? It shocked me, deeply, to realise that I had ignored half the human race’s output for…

The Sitting Women and The Thinker of Cernavoda/beckchris.files.wordpress.com

Auguste Rodin once said that “Art is contemplation.”

In his famous sculpture The Thinker, Rodin combined the two with powerful results. The statue is of a nude male, hunched on a stall, his elbows on his knees and head in hand, in the act of contemplation, something visible in every sinew of the bronze figure’s muscular body.

7000 years earlier, an unknown artist in modern day Romania created a terracotta figure, striking for both its style and subject. Known as The Thinker of Cernavoda due to it’s resemblance to Rodin’s masterpiece, the figure is of a pensive man with a…

Illustration from the Codex/Via Grapheine

Men with arms that shoot bullets, a fornicating couple morphing into a crocodile, trees that uproot themselves and climb out of the ground and fish with broomsticks instead of tails. No, I am not describing a bad LSD trip, but the wacky world of the Codex Seraphinianus, a work difficult to classify which continues to perplex and enchant those who encounter it in equal measure.

Originally published in 1981, the book has achieved cult status, with first edition copies selling for up to 600 euros.

The Codex is an encyclopaedia of an alien and imaginary world. It documents the fauna…

A timeless novel for anyone who has ever said “I don’t understand the new generation”

​​Turgenev’s widely acclaimed novel Fathers and Sons sought to portray the growing schism between the Liberals of the 1830–40's and the generation of young Nihilists which were appearing at the time of authorship.

The Liberals, represented by the aristocratic Nikolay Kirsilov and his brother Pavel, hold Romantic sentiments and value aristocratic principles which the young Nihilists scoff at. The young Nihilist’s reject all authority, something which both offends and perplexes Nikolay and his more combative brother in particular. The book caused a sensation in Russia…

“The line separating good and evil passes… right through every human heart.”

Solzhenitsyn with Heinrich Böll in West Germany, 1974

In The Gulag Archipelago, the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exposes the horrific crimes perpetrated by the Soviet State against its own citizens in the special labour camps, or Gulags, between 1918 and 1956. Part-documentary and part-autobiography, the book consists of legal documents, interviews with witnesses and autobiographical accounts of Solzhenitsyn’s own journey from imprisonment, through interrogation, hard-labour and his eventual exile. Solzhenitsyn would go on to be awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.

Some have dubbed Solzhenitsyn as the man who took down the Soviet Union, and whilst the causes for its downfall were myriad, his book…

Filling in the gaps of our emotional language

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

One of the main appeals of reading for me is seeing others express feelings which for years have eluded me in writing. For example, I remember encountering a passage in Douglas Adam’s book So Long, and Thanks for All The Fish, in which he perfectly describes meta-cognition (Feelings about feelings):

“For a moment he felt good about this. A moment or two later he felt bad about feeling good about it. Then he felt good about feeling bad about feeling good about it and satisfied, drove on into the night.”

Almost everything…

What do Picasso, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Voltaire have in common?

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

In his short book Think Like An Artist… and lead a More Creative, Productive Life, art correspondent Will Gompertz posits that artists steal. It sounds scandalous- as if The Sun has penned a grand expose- but in fact, it is the artists themselves lining up to confess. Albert Einstein remarked: “Creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”. Voltaire, two centuries earlier, stated that “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” The title of this article is an aphorism uttered by Picasso. …

Viktor Frankyl on finding meaning in life, suffering and death

Science and Charity by Pablo Picasso (https://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net/work-11.php)

Just eleven months after being liberated from Auschwitz, which claimed the life of his pregnant wife, brother and parents, the neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl delivered a series of public lectures in Vienna. He later compiled and published these as a book titled “Yes to life, in spite of everything”.

Despite the degradation and dehumanisation that he had endured, Frankl’s lectures set out a life-affirming philosophy. In response to the Eugenics movement and Social Darwinist ideas, Frankl championed every human’s intrinsic worth and defended the the right to life of…

Ross Carver-Carter

Politics graduate and aspiring journalist. Passionate about mental health awareness. Hoarder of odd historical facts.

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