The nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is well known as the father of existentialism and one of the great Christian thinkers of all time. But it is in his relationship with Regine Olsen – his love for her, their brief engagement, and the horrible breakup, in which he left her for a life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge – where we see his true literary gifts. In this episode, Jacke looks at Kierkegaard’s life and writing, with a special focus on the agonizing relationship with a young woman that perhaps brought out his truest self.
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.
Lauren S. Cardon is Associate Professor of English at the University of Alabama and the author of Fashion and Fiction: Self-Transformation in Twentieth-Century American Literature and The “White Other” in American Intermarriage Stories, 1945-2008.
Love is all around! On podcasts as well as holidays… In this episode, Jacke talks to USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews about her love for the Victorian era and how that fueled her latest work, the historical romance The Siren of Sussex, in which an ambitious equestrienne teams up with a devastatingly handsome half-Indian dressmaker to take London society by storm – unless their professional plans are thwarted by their amorous propensities toward one another. Jacke also checks in with friend of the show Margot Livesey about her first reading of the classic biography Life of Johnson by her fellow Scot, James Boswell – does it still hold up? And finally, Jacke throws a bone to love’s wretched dogs, who might find some company in the misery of ancient Rome’s Catullus, whose love for “Lesbia” placed him on the knife edge between self-loathing and despair.
In the Christmas holidays of 1795-96, a young Irishman named Thomas Lefroy left his legal studies in London to visit some relatives who lived in the countryside. While staying with them, he attended a series of provincial balls that also happened to be attended by the Austens, including the 20-year-old Jane Austen. “I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved,” Jane later wrote to her sister Cassandra. “Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking.” What transpired between these two young people? How did it end? And could it have been the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice, the novel that famously introduced a charming young woman to a mysterious outsider at just such a ball? In this episode, Jacke takes a look at what we know – and what we tantalizingly don’t – about the young Jane Austen and her dalliance with Thomas Lefroy.
Continuing the “Shakespeare on Thursdays” theme for August, Jacke takes a look at Sonnet 116 (“Let me not to the marriage of true minds”), another one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and well known sonnets. What does the poem say about love? How does it fit into the world of weddings? And what does it have for readers today?
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From his earliest days as a popular legend, through many appearances in drama and poetry and fiction and film, the sexual conquistador Don Juan has been the vehicle for authors and artists to wrestle with themes like sexual desire, guilt, honor, gender relations, and the psychology of an unrepentant sinner. Early versions of Don Juan condemned this profligate lover to hell, but as society’s views of morality evolved, so too did Don Juan, with some fascinating results. Host Jacke Wilson takes a look at the many faces of Don Juan, from the character’s earliest stage appearance in 1630 to the recent Jersey Boy incarnation in the film version Don Jon (2013), with stops along the way for Moliere, Mozart, Goldoni, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Malone from Cheers – and of course, the great “satiric epic” Don Juan, written by the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” Lord Byron.
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What does a genius painter reach for when drafting a love letter? Why, the back of one of his canvases, of course. Who has time to look for paper when you are this tormented by love?
I saw you, and you let me kiss you, from that moment I have had no peace from profound turmoil. You will forgive the liberty that a soul tormented by anxiety takes in writing to you. I do not know how to describe to you that liberty that you may find so great, but how could I remain oppressed by this dejection? Is it not better to give expression to an emotion than to conceal it?
It’s the painter’s only known love letter, written when Cezanne was 46. And we know nothing about the woman except her effect on Cezanne.
I was a young father raising a toddler in New York City. I was also a broke, miserable student buried under an avalanche of student loans. In my filthy, sleep-deprived condition I suddenly remembered Thomas Hobbes’s description of life, which I’d read years earlier. What was the line? Life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and…something else. Awful? Horrendous? Ridiculously terrible? Whatever. It all fit.
“Hobbes?” my wife said, shaking her head like someone watching a child board a roller coaster that will be too much for him. “Now you’ve got that in your head?” Continue reading →
Oh, here we go! We’ve taken a look at the youth and the elders in my life (or at least the fictionalized version of it). How about Life’s Sweet Partner! Who else could travel through the world with Jacke at her side. That’s not easy! Deserving of all my gratitude and then some.
I like the way the relationship is portrayed in my book The Race. But for the handful of you who do not own a copy of that massive runaway bestseller (sarcasm), here’s a free story. A ghost story of sorts, in which a very fictionalized significant other has a prominent role. (Really, when life is this absurd, it’s better not to go through it alone!)