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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.
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