Web's green and pleasant land

23rd August 1996 at 01:00
The summer is a good time to catch up on your reading, giving you the chance to browse as you drowse on long August afternoons.

If you're not sure what you want to read or you fancy skimming through a selection of writing, then you might take a look at the huge number of literary sites on the Internet. There are literally thousands of literary links to be explored, ranging from libraries of novels available on-line to literary magazines, academic research and pages created by fans of a particular writer or genre.

If you need somewhere to start, you could try the Literary Hyper-Calendar, which gives you a list of literary events that have occurred on that day in the past. For instance, 207 years ago today, William Blake wrote in a letter: "You say that I want somebody to elucidate my ideas. But you ought to know that what is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men."

Apart from being a useful riposte to any criticism from inspectors, this page can be a starting point for a literary trail. This quote from the rebellious poet is linked to the William Blake page, which has a stack of information about the writer. The most impressive part of this site is the reproduction of Blake's long visionary poem "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell", which you can see complete with Blake's own accompanying drawings.

These pages in turn lead to an even more substantial Internet site dedicated to William Blake. The University of Virginia and the United States Library of Congress are among the partners involved in developing the William Blake Archive, a research project that is building a comprehensive, publicly-available on-line database of Blake-related information. This project, begun last year, is scheduled to be completed in 1998.

Among the most ambitious of the free, on-line libraries, is Project Gutenberg. This has the aim of making 10,000 classic books available on the Internet by the year 2001. Already there are hundreds of titles available, covering a broad swathe of the greatest hits of lit crit, from Chaucer through to Virginia Woolf.

Under the banner "Break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy", Project Gutenberg is amassing an impressive digital library.

You probably wouldn't want to read a novel on screen, but you might want to look something up (using the computer's search tools) or to download a chapter onto your computer or print out a paragraph or two.

Project Gutenberg provides the basic text of novels, but if you want to learn more about a particular author, you should look through some of the sites produced by university literature departments, particularly in the United States. These combine academic quality with a large quantity of information, making them useful for either serious study or casual interest.

For example, the University of Texas has a large Internet site dedicated to Jane Austen, which brings together the text of the novels with critical essays, bibliographies and recent research.

This labyrinthine stockpiling of information has been described as being "Kafkaesque". If you want to check out the real Kafka, then it's worth a visit to Constructing Kafka, an Internet site built by the University of Pittsburgh. As well as carrying information about the writer and his works, there are teaching ideas, with suggestions for writing assignments and classroom exercises.

There's also a Franz Kafka Photo Album, but somehow very appropriately for this patron saint of alienation, whenever I tried to take a look at this cheerful-sounding site all that appeared was a ghostly white screen. Now that's what I call really Kafkaesque.

Literary Hyper-Calendar http:www.yasuda-u.ac.jpLitCalendar.html

William Blake page http:www.aa.neturizenblake.html

William Blake Archive http:jefferson.village.virginia.edublake

Project Gutenberg http:www.promo.netpgConstructing Kafka

http:info.pitt.edukafkaintro.html

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