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.
Early in her career, novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) wrote a critical essay in which she set forth her views of what fiction can and should do. The essay was called “Modern Fiction” (1919), and it has served critics and readers as a guide to Modernism (and Woolf) ever since. But while it’s easy to follow her arguments about the authors who became giants in the world of literature such as Joyce and Chekhov, it’s less easy to understand her statements about the authors she criticized, contemporary best sellers H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and John Galsworthy. What was behind her savage criticism of these three? What does her animosity tell us about Woolf’s views of fiction? Professor Andrea Zemgulys of the University of Michigan joins Jacke to help him figure this out. Then a pair of children’s book experts (Jacke Wilson Jr. and Jacke Wilson Jr. Jr.) join Jacke in the studio to discuss buying holiday books for children.