After being given $700 in Spanish gold by some newspapers, a 25-year-old Stephen Crane set out for Florida, where he planned to travel by boat to Cuba and cover the impending Spanish-American War as a war correspondent. But the steamship he boarded capsized after hitting some sandbars, forcing Crane and 28 shipmates – most of them arms runners friendly to the Cuban insurrectionists – into lifeboats and head into the open sea. Crane was one of the last to leave, and he wound up sharing a dinghy with the ship’s captain and two others. While he didn’t get to cover the war, the story of the four men, who struggled for days to survive without being rescued, helped add to Crane’s growing literary fame. In this episode, Jacke explores (and reads in its entirety) the classic Stephen Crane story of shipwreck, “The Open Boat.”
Jacke takes a look at the first work of literature by an African American author, courtesy of Fictions of America: The Book of Firsts by Uli Baer and Smaran Dayal. Then he turns things over to Storybound, a Podglomerate podcast, for a conversation with author Melissa Chadburn and excerpts from her essay “The Throwaways.”
Melissa Chadburn’s writing has appeared in The LA Times, NYT Book Review, NYRB, Longreads, Paris Review online, and dozens other places. Her essay on food insecurity was published in “Best American Food Writing 2019.” She’s done extensive reporting on the child welfare system and appears in the Netflix docuseries “The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez.” Her debut novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, is forthcoming with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. She is a Ph.D. candidate at USC’s Creative Writing Program.
Storybound is a radio theater program designed for the podcast age. Storybound is hosted by Jude Brewer and brought to you by The Podglomerate and Lit Hub Radio.
Stephen Crane (1871-1900) lived fast, died young, and impressed everyone with his prose style and insight into the human condition. While he’s best known today for his novels The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets (along with some classic short stories like “The Open Boat,” “the Blue Hotel,” and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”), his literary fame during his life was supplemented by his notorious exploits. Shipwrecks, romance, scandal, and high-profile court cases – and he somehow also found time to befriend literary lions like H.G. Wells, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. In this episode, Jacke talks to Crane’s biographer Linda H. Davis, whose new book Badge of Courage: The Life of Stephen Crane goes deep into the life and mind of the man whose own powers of empathy made him a staple of twentieth-century bookshelves and syllabi.
Questioning the nature of the self is a standard trope in literature and one of the hallmarks of the Modernist movement. But no one pushed this to the extreme like Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). While the use of a pseudonym or two is common enough, Pessoa wrote poems as more than a hundred “heteronyms” (as he called them), giving many of them their own richly developed biographies, writing styles, and distinct subject matter. The wild cast of characters, who sometimes argued with one another and who occasionally inserted themselves into Pessoa’s life, fooled many literary critics into thinking that they were individual poets. Although Pessoa was nearly unknown when he died, he left behind a rich body of work to pore through and analyze – and a trunkful of his papers, gathered by later editors intoThe Book of Disquiet, has rendered him essential to a consideration of twentieth-century literature. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at the poet who exploded his self into literary fragments, only to find that he had filled a galaxy with stars.
In 1961, poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath rented their flat to a Canadian poet and his wife, the beautiful, accomplished, and slightly mysterious Assia Wevill. Soon afterward, Ted and Assia began having an affair. Within a year, Assia was pregnant with Ted’s child and Sylvia, after years of suffering from depression, had committed suicide. Six years later, Assia would do the same.
It’s a horribly tragic tale, like something out of Shakespeare, with genius and artistic ambition and love and sex and poetry entangled with themes of power dynamics, infidelity, and mental health problems. The poetic gifts of Ted and Sylvia – and the tragic ending of their marriage – has kept biographers and essay writers busy. But what about the third woman, Assia Wevill, a successful professional with ambition of her own? What did she write? How did she fit into this triangle? In this episode, Professor Julie Goodspeed-Chadwick and Peter Steinberg, editors of The Collected Writings of Assia Wevill, join Jacke for a discussion of the “Other Woman” in the Plath-Hughes marriage.
Ultimately, the marital relationship of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes was filled with pain and ended in tragedy. At the outset, however, things were very different. Within months of their first meeting at Cambridge, they had fallen in love, gotten married, and started having children – all while writing poetry and supporting one another’s art. What did they see in each other as people and as poets? How did they inspire and encourage one another? In this episode, Jacke talks to Plath’s biographer Heather Clark, author of Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath, about the creative partnership of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes.
(A NOTE OF CORRECTION: At one point during this episode, the host mentions the years of Plath’s birth and death and gives her age as “sixty.” That should, of course, have been “thirty.” Please accept our apologies for his singular incompetence.)
Jacke plays a clip from Nabokov discussing his famous novel Lolita, in which the frantic narrator Humbert Humbert recounts his passionate (and illegal, immoral, and illicit) love for a young girl. After hearing from the author, Jacke plays clips from three History of Literature Podcast interviews: Jenny Minton Quigley, Jim Shepard,, and Joshua Ferris.
What narrative techniques did Freud borrow and employ? What was the effect? And what did it mean for the literary critics who followed? Following his look at the life and major works of Sigmund Freud, Jacke describes Freud and his followers’ at-times fraught relationship with fiction and fiction writers, with a particularly close look at Freud’s famous work “Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria.” PLUS a preview of our upcoming episodes featuring Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and Assia Wevill.
Still recovering from his immersion in Sigmund Freud, Jacke looks instead to one of the world’s great literary cities: Odessa. More than 300 writers have lived in, traveled through, and/or written about Ukraine’s “pearl of the Black Sea” – what did they find so compelling? And what did they write about afterwards? PLUS we continue our conversation with Scottish novelist Margot Livesey, who has been reading Boswell’s Life of Johnson, generally considered one of the greatest biographies ever written (and one of Jacke’s favorite books).