Very few novelists can match the ambition or output of French novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). A pioneer of the great nineteenth-century “realism” tradition, his novel sequence La Comédie Humaine presents a panoramic view of post-Napoleonic France. Containing something like 90 finished novels and novellas, Balzac’s achievement has influenced writers like Hugo, Dickens, Flaubert, and Henry James. In this episode, Jacke talks to contemporary novelist Carlos Allende (Coffee, Shopping, Murder, Love) about his love for Balzac and his works.
It’s the Christina Rossetti episode! Jacke finally musters up the energy to finish what he started, and takes a look at one of the great poets of the Victorian era (and the creator of “Goblin Market,” one of the strangest poems he has ever read. How did this seemingly prim, even matronly woman, known for her religious devotion and for rejecting three suitors on mostly religious grounds, come to write such a bizarre and hedonistic poem? What did she say about posing for the pre-Raphaelites and their paintings? What did John Ruskin and Virginia Woolf say about her? Let’s find out!
Because Jacke could not stop for the scheduled episode topics, a certain poem kindly stopped for him. Luckily it’s one of the greatest poems of all time! It’s by the 19th-century American genius Emily Dickinson, and it packs into seven short stanzas a journey through life, death, and the cosmos.
It’s one of the great mysteries in American history. The “lost colony” of Roanoke Island, where 120 or so men, women, and children living in the first permanent English settlement in North America simply disappeared, leaving behind nothing but a mysterious word carved into a tree trunk. While historians remain baffled, speculation has run rampant, with everything from massacre to relocation to space alien abduction taking their turns as potential theories. What happened to those people? And is there any way to tell their story? In this episode, Jacke talks to author Kimberly Brock about her novel The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare, which extends the mystery of Roanoke and its legacy from the late seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth.
In his lifetime, the Romantic poet and engraver William Blake (1757-1827) was barely known and frequently misunderstood. Today, his genius is widely celebrated and his poems are some of the most famous in the English language – and yet we still struggle to comprehend his unique way of seeing the world. In this episode, Blakean biographer John Higgs, author of the new book William Blake vs. the World, joins Jacke to discuss Blake’s life, art, and visions.
As a devout and passionate religious observer, Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) lived a life that might seem, at first glance, as proper and tame. Even some of her greatest works, devotional poems and verses for children, strike us as just the kind of art a fine upstanding moralist might generate. But there was more to Christina Rossetti than that – and in fact, she produced some of the most passionate and idiosyncratic poems of her era. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at her long narrative poem Goblin Market (1859-1862), about two sisters seduced by the fruits being sold by a pack of river goblins, which is one of the most sensationally bizarre poems Jacke has ever read.
Money. Sex. Power. Family. Those are the conceits at the heart of Henry James’s late-period masterpiece, The Golden Bowl. In this episode, Jacke talks to author Dinitia Smith, whose new novel The Prince reinvigorates this classic story of a wealthy American widower, his doting daughter, her charismatic foreign husband, and the childhood friend whose secret love affairs threaten to jeopardize multiple marriages.
In this episode, we resume our look at Walt Whitman’s life and body of work, focusing in particular on the years 1840-1855. Did Whitman’s teaching career end with him being tarred and feathered by an angry mob, as has long been rumored? What happened during his three months in New Orleans? And how did this printer and hack writer wind up writing the twelve poems in Leaves of Grass (1855), thereby becoming the “true poet” that Ralph Waldo Emerson had been searching for?
In this best-of History of Literature episode, Jacke revisits the topic of war and literature with three guests: Professor Elizabeth Samet (Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point), who teaches literature to military officers in training; Matt Gallagher (Empire City and Youngblood), a veteran who served in Iraq; and Tom Roston (The Writer’s Crusade: Kurt Vonnegut and the Many Lives of Slaughterhouse-Five), who places Kurt Vonnegut’s writing in the context of his POW experiences in WWII and his position as an antiwar prophet to the Vietnam generation.
Full episodes are available at:
143 A Soldier’s Heart (with Elizabeth Samet) Conflict Literature (with Matt Gallagher) 362 Kurt Vonnegut (with Tom Roston)
In 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson called for a new poet who would reflect the spirit and potential of America. In 1855, a then-unknown poet named Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass, his attempt to fulfill Emerson’s wish. In this episode, Jacke looks at Whitman’s early life and career, contrasting Leaves of Grass with the works of a pair of poets that Emerson may have had in mind when he railed against “men of poetical talents…of industry and skill in meter” who nevertheless failed to be what Emerson called “true poets.”