Today, the American modernist poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) is famous among poetry fans for his vivid, economical poems like “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say.” But for most of his lifetime, he struggled to achieve success comparable to those of his contemporaries Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Toiling away as a physician in working-class neighborhoods in New Jersey, Williams tried to write poems and short stories whenever he could, often typing for a few minutes in between patient visits. In this episode of The History of Literature, Jacke and Mike take a look at Williams’s incredible short story “The Use of Force,” in which a physician wrestles with a young patient determined to preserve her secret at all costs.
NOTE: This is another self-contained episode of The History of Literature! We read the story for you – no need to read it yourself first (unless you want to!).
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It’s a curious but compelling story: it starts in the years just before World War I, when struggling poet Robert Frost (1874-1963) hastily packed up his family and moved to London in search of a friend. Although Frost’s efforts to ingratiate himself with W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound fizzled, he soon found a man, critic Edward Thomas (1878-1917), who championed Frost’s poetry and became one of Frost’s best friends. Frost in turn inspired Thomas to write poetry as well – until something happened on one of their walks in the woods that would forever change them both. Host Jacke Wilson is joined by Professor Bill Hogan of Providence College, who recounts the story of Frost and Thomas: their friendship, their falling out, and how one of Frost’s (and America’s) most famous poems, “The Road Not Taken,” inspired by Frost’s views of Thomas, has been widely misunderstood by generations of readers.
In 1851, a 30-year-old Frenchman named Gustave Flaubert set out to write a novel about a discontented housewife in a style that would melt the stars. After five years of agonizing labor, his book Madame Bovary (1856) changed the world of literature forever. How did Madame Bovary influence authors as different as Ernest Hemingway and Vladimir Nabokov? Host Jacke Wilson takes a special Valentine’s Day look at Flaubert’s innovative novelistic style and his wonderfully compelling heroine, the woman stuck in the provinces who “wanted to die, but who also wanted to live in Paris.”
Embattled and arrogant, the novelist and painter Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) was deeply immersed in Modernism even as he sought to blast it apart. He was the type of person who would rather hate a club than join it – and while his taste for the attack led to his marginalization, his undeniable genius made him impossible to ignore. Eventually, his misanthropic views led him down some dark paths, as the freedom and energy of the early twentieth century gave way to totalitarian regimes and the horrors of modern war. Professor Paul Peppis, an expert in the politics, art, and literature of the Modernist era, joins Jacke for a discussion of Wyndham Lewis and his leadership of the thrilling, doomed artistic revolution known as Vorticism.
China’s T’ang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) valued poets and poetry like no other culture before or since. In this episode, Jacke Wilson takes a look at what may have been the greatest flourishing of poetry in the history of the world. Poets discussed include Ezra Pound (1885-1972), T’ao Ch’ien (365-427), Wang Wei (ca. 699-761), Li Bai (Li Po) (701-762), and Tu Fu (712-770).