The NAB Blog

James Joyce, Milton, Shakespeare and Alice Meet in Oxford…

By Nicolas Soames

3 April 2008

The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival is in full swing. There is a constant stream of literary events – some thirty-five a day – involving such literati as Philip Pullman, Sebastian Faulks, Richard Dawkins as well as TV business pundit millionaire Peter Jones, famed former BBC India correspondent Mark Tully, and author/philosopher Baroness Warnock discussing death – Life’s End – For Better For Worse.

There are food events – an Italian Lover’s Banquet in the Great Hall at Christ Church (the setting for the dining hall of Hogwart’s in Harry Potter). At £45 a head, it was sold out before the Festival started!

And there are four programmes presented by Naxos AudioBooks. We started with an exceptionally enlightening talk by Roger Marsh on James Joyce’s women with Marcella Riordan reading passages from Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.

Presentation Two is David Timson, known best as the Naxos AudioBooks Sherlock Holmes reader… But now he appears in his guise as theatre historian. David, who has directed four of our Shakespeare recordings (Henry V, Twelfth Night, Richard III and Othello), teaches at RADA and, as his audiobook The History of the Theatre shows, is deeply interested in the development of acting styles.

How did Henry Irving’s delivery of the great soliloquies (in the nineteenth century) differ from that of the generations which followed, through John Barrymore, early Gielgud, later Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and on to our own generation of Kenneth Branagh and Anton Lesser? David will explain and illustrate with numerous recorded extracts.

And talking of Anton Lesser – he of Dickens, Hamlet, Homer and more… – he appears on 4 April, in a programme celebrating the quatercentenary of John Milton’s birth. John Carey, Emeritus Merton Professor of English Literature, Oxford University, explains that John Milton re-made the English language. ‘If the Oxford English Dictionary is to be believed, he introduced more words to our tongue than any other writer, including Shakespeare,’ says Professor Carey. He will explain more, and Anton, who has read Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained unabridged for Naxos AudioBooks, will read illustrative extracts.

Finally, on Sunday, the focus shifts to children’s classics. In ‘When the Magic Began’, Nicolette Jones, children’s books editor for The Sunday Times discusses the great stories that fostered our literary imagination: Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Heidi, Alice in Wonderland (which was born in Christ College!) and many more.

Recordings of these talks are now available below for the enjoyment and interest of a wider international audience! It can’t quite match the experience of actually being there – in the grandeur of the Upper Library of Christ Church, with its lines of leather-bound volumes. But it will give an insight into the personalities and works from which springs our audiobook collection!

The private hub of the festival is the Green Room at Christ Church where all the presenters meet before going to their various venues. Stimulated by the unforgettable Joyce presentation by Roger Marsh and Marcella Riordan – you wait until you hear it! – we retired there and bumped into Philip Pullman, about to go and discuss the place of religious satire. I happened to be carrying our box of the unabridged Ulysses – not an inconsiderable package. Philip has been very complimentary about our recordings of Anton Lesser reading Milton, and I could see his eyes alight on the box. I was only too glad to hand it over to him, feeling that James Joyce himself would have been pleased to see his revolutionary novel being taken into a forum on creative freedom lamenting the silencing of religious laughter.

Nicolas Soames


The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, a week-long literary banquet held at various venues in the city, but centred on Christ Church, is one of the leading events of its kind in the UK. Eminent authors of a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, adult and children’s literature give talks, discuss topics and are generally around.

Naxos AudioBooks gave four presentations at this year’s event, highlighting particular aspects of its catalogue, three of them in the elegantly musty environs of the Upper Library, with late afternoon sun streaming in through the end window. These three talks – on James Joyce’s Women, Shakespearean performance and John Milton’s effect on the English language – drew rapt audiences; while the final presentation on classic children’s literature was held in the more informal environment of the Marquee in the Meadows.

If you missed the talks, or if you would like to hear them again, here they are!

James Joyce’s Women

Roger Marsh, director of Naxos AudioBooks James Joyce recordings introduces Ulysses and Finnegans Wake with particular emphasis on Molly Bloom and Anna Livia Plurabelle. With stunning readings by Marcella Riordan.

Download: James Joyce’s Women (MP3, 58 mins, 20.2 MB)

Speak the Speech…

David Timson, director of four Naxos AudioBooks Shakespeare recordings and author of Shakespeare Stories, surveys the changing styles of Shakespeare performance through recordings starting with Henry Irving in the 1890s through to Kenneth Branagh in the twenty-first century.

Download: Speak the Speech… (MP3, 58 mins, 20 MB)
Accompanying notes (PDF, 120 KB)

John Milton and his English Language

John Carey, Emeritus Merton Professor of English Literature in Oxford University, looks at John Milton and his use of the English Language through the main works, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Lycidas, Comus and Samson Agonistes. With exceptional readings from the works by Anton Lesser.

Download: John Milton and his English Language (MP3, 18.1 MB)

When The Magic Began

Nicolette Jones, childrens’ book reviewer for The Sunday Times, discusses classic children’s literature, why it endures in a time of Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling,and introduces some of her favourites through lively and entertaining readings by Teresa Gallagher and Anton Lesser.

Download: When The Magic Began (MP3, 14.8 MB)

 • Latest Entry • The NAB Blog Archive •