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Essays of Elia

(Sightline Books: The Iowa Series in Literary Nonfiction)

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  362 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Charles Lamb, one of the most engaging personal essayists of all time, began publishing his unforgettable, entertaining Elia essays in the London Magazine in 1820; they were so immediately popular that a book-length collection was published in 1823. Inventing the persona of “Elia” allowed Lamb to be shockingly honest and to gain a playful distance for self-examination. The ...more
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published June 1st 1978 by Oxford University Press (first published 1823)
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Andre Piucci Lamb himself is the Elia of the collection, and his sister Mary is "Cousin Bridget." Charles first used the pseudonym Elia for an essay on the South S…moreLamb himself is the Elia of the collection, and his sister Mary is "Cousin Bridget." Charles first used the pseudonym Elia for an essay on the South Sea House, where he had worked decades earlier; Elia was the last name of an Italian man who worked there at the same time as Charles, and after that essay the name stuck.

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Average rating 3.86  · 
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Elisha Condie
Aug 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
My copy was printed in 1898 and was super cheap on ebay. And whenever I read this book I love holding it in my hands and thinking about how old it is and how sweet and funny it can be even now. I tracked this down because of "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" - it's the book that 2 main characters love. And I can totally see why they did. I loved it too.
However, because it is over 100 years old the printing was tiny - like 6 point font tiny. And I hate to admit that there was a f
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
"I can rise at the Chapel Bell, and dream that it rings for me." —Oxford in the Vacation

"What a place to be in is an old library! . . . I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding sheets . . . I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage, and the odour of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard." —Oxford in the Vacation
". . . what so pleasant as to be reading a book through
Jun 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Re-reading Lamb’s essays, I bow yet again to the man’s unimprovable genius for words. This is some of the very best English, and these are some of the very best essays, you will ever read. The man’s life, too… If I had my way we’d be calling him “Saint Charles Lamb.”
Apr 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
For me the best of all essayists in English, surpassing even Johnson and De Quincey. But to reduce this merely to a book of essays misses, I think, the essential strangeness of the project, one which slyly grapples with fictions and imposture and the nature (or existence) of personal truths while remaining immensely moving, even haunting. A great book, and rather neglected despite its "stature". ...more
Feb 02, 2012 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Suffered from melancholia and nostalgia, gargled gin and water. Sister killed mother with a table knife, then went on to write children's versions of Shakespeare's comedies. He wrote the tragedies. Sold. ...more
Jan 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: over-excited people who need to be calmed down.
Shelves: essays
I give up! I appreciate Lamb's skill but I, a somewhat well-educated and moderately intelligent reader, find him too hard to keep up with. It's not only the outdated allusions, with which any such essays will be replete, and it is not only L----'s use of now-archaic conventions and * * * * * that make it so difficult to read. Several times I found myself reading along like a good citizen of the literary highway and Wham! Out of the blue I realize I have no idea where I am or how I got there. Som ...more
Aug 12, 2013 rated it liked it
This is what happens when you read essays written 200 years ago, in which the author has contemporary readers strictly in mind: complete and utter lack of historical context. The strange thing was, I loved his writing style precisely because it is so old-fashioned and, well, archaic. On the flip side, this anachronistic quality dooms some of his essay to obscurity when he spends dozens of pages waxing long about theatre players whom he obviously expects the reader to have prior knowledge of. The ...more
Anna-karien Otto
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed it. Anne Fadiman put me onto his trail...
Piers Haslam
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
The peaks of these essays are exceptionally high, but one gets one's fair share of plateaus and depths. Elia is at his best when he plays with you. This is in evidence in such classics as 'The South-Sea House' and 'Dream-Children'. 'Mackery End' strikes me as one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking forays into memory I've read. The essays in this vein play with your expectations in such a uniquely flamboyant way, yet there's something melancholic and sweet about how they do so. Then there ar ...more
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics
These essays evoke different reactions based on their topic and especially how Lamb frames the essay itself. I felt that I almost needed a warm up period for this book because it took a couple of pages before I accustomed myself to his language and style of writing. However, once I got going, I truly enjoyed his essays on saying grace before a meal, the two types of races: borrowers and lenders, and the nostalgia of the South Sea House. The essays need to be read slowly and deliberately, as I be ...more
Aug 10, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
"The elders, with whom I was brought up, were of a character not likely to let slip the sacred observance of any old institution; and the ring out of the Old Year was kept by them with circumstances of peculiar ceremony. -In those days the sound of those midnight chimes, though it seemed to raise hilarity in all around me, never failed to bring a train of pensive imagery into my fancy. Yet I then scarce conceived what it meant, or thought of it as a reckoning that concerned me. Not childhood alo ...more
Sometimes I get used to finding literary corners thoroughly well-colonised on goodreads and feel surprised when I find one that is less so, as with this. Anyway, I loved this. It's certainly journalism; the mode is primarily riffs on a superficial theme. Lamb might be a little too affected for some in the way he transitions from the ostensible subject to some other destination or in his conceits; a little too self-consciously quaint perhaps. I didn't really know what to expect, and was a little ...more
Katherine Brown
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took me a while to enjoy Lamb, I confess. At first I was slowed down by the long sentences that seemed unwieldy at first sight, by the vague allusions to a distant past. But suddenly, I'm not quite sure how, he grabbed me. I realized that he was both charming and a genius. Here are a few of my favorite moments. They don't pack the same punch when taken out of context (because part of the delight is the way he uses the essay format to work up to his point), but they are still wonderful.

On a su
J.A.A. Purves
May 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
This essay collection was stupid because Lamb keeps referring to all these people and events that happened in the 1800s. Didn’t he know that writing about his lifetime would make all his writing outdated and not worth reading anymore? Also he uses big words and quotes in Latin even though he should of known that readers like me, with a modern “education,” would be too lazy and stubborn to look them up. I realize I wouldn’t even have to open a dictionary but could just use the internet, but still ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
Well, I wouldn't normally have picked this book up to read--it's just not the type that usually appeals to me. But I'm endeavoring to broaden my horizons and have challenged myself to read straight across our bookshelf instead of picking and choosing only what jumps out at me. This book was next in line, so I faithfully read it all the way through, but I wasn't too impressed with it. Some parts were drily humorous--just enough to make me keep reading--but aside from being mildly entertaining, it ...more
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: no one
I started out enjoying these essays, but as I continued I began to feel as though this writer wasn't a very compassionate or sympathetic person. Really got turned off and decided not to waste my time continuing to force myself myself to continue. ...more
May 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Funny that in depth descriptions of actors and criticisms about theatre hasn't changed in about two-hundred years. Some interesting phrases but very few even entire sentences that aren't kind of "are you done yet?" and the ideas running through aren't exactly compelling. ...more
Jennifer Kepesh
Sep 30, 2017 rated it liked it
To read Charles Lamb in Elia persona requires a willingness to buy into the persona wholeheartedly. Elia is intended to be a fusty old man with deliberately old-fashioned language usage, as Trollope sometimes did but to an even greater degree. At this remove, with all of his contemporaneous references and in-jokes needing a good deal of footnoting, this particular affectation of the character is something for the reader to tolerate rather than smile at. The copy of Essays of Elia that I was able ...more
Jane Hoppe
May 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
I have wanted to read Charles Lamb's essays ever since Dawsey Adams fell in love with him in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Now that I have read some of the Essays of Elia, I laud Dawsey's intellect and perspicacity. I loved Lamb's language but was not astute enough to find his meaning.

Of the essays I read, my favorite expression was Lamb's definition of a scrivener: "one that sucks his sustenance through a quill." Many of the essays seemed to be little more than descriptions
Sophie Muller
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, thick language. Deep and lovely. I found myself studying this rather than reading it.

"It moves my spleen to see things in books clothing perched up on shelves like false saints, intruders into the sanctuary of bookshelves. To reach down a well bound volume and hope it is some kind hearted play then opening what seem it's leaves to come bolt upon a withering essay. "

"Books look best a little torn and dog eared. How beautiful to a genuine lover of reading are the sullied leaves!"

"I saw t
Gable Roth
Dec 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
I didn't finish reading this book. I couldn't really get into it. I have read other works of this era and I didn't struggle as much. I just found it kind of dry and hard to follow. Maybe I will try again someday but for now I will chalk it up to experience and now I have a general understanding of what this book is like. ...more
Mar 31, 2020 rated it it was ok
Couldn’t finish it, sure there was some cleverly wrought sentences here and there, but reading Lamb makes me think it would be better read by his contemporaries or someone steeped in the culture and class of his time. Maybe I’ll try again sometime to appreciate his work.
Chenlu Qin
Jul 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Genuine and elegant.
Dec 07, 2019 marked it as to-read
Recommended in Slightly Foxed No. 64 Winter 2019
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Omg, one the best essay collections of all time. I read this and David lazar's essay on new year every January first. ...more
Abdul Qadeer
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Autobiographical Essays of Lamb. He broadly illustrates the Psychological Insights of Children, His own reverie: in Dream Children, and the element of Child labor: in the essay Chimney Sweepers.
Jmaes Flaim
Feb 21, 2021 rated it really liked it
like Montaigne meets Sir Thomas Browne...need I say more
Laura Anne
Essays tend to be a bit all over the place. It’s like having several conversations with the author about very different subjects. My favorite essay was Witches, and Other Night Fears.
Andre Piucci
Dec 05, 2018 rated it liked it

#-#-# TO READ #-#-#

Bryan Szabo
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars.

When Lamb writes about subjects still of interest to the modern reader (i.e., me), he is as charming and witty as they come. For the most part, though, he is addressing his contemporaries, which makes this something less than a timeless piece of literature. His essays on visiting Oxford and on the roast pig are delightful, and ever so quotable. His essays on the recent developments on the English stage are nearly unreadable. I encourage the reader to pick this up, but don't be too pre
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Charles Lamb was an English essayist with Welsh heritage, best known for his "Essays of Elia" and for the children's book "Tales from Shakespeare", which he produced along with his sister, Mary Lamb (1764–1847).


Other books in the series

Sightline Books: The Iowa Series in Literary Nonfiction (1 - 10 of 33 books)
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  • The Body of Brooklyn
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  • Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy
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  • Embalming Mom: Essays in Life
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