Czech novelist Karel Čapek (1890-1938) might be best known as the pioneering science fiction writer who first coined the term “robot.” But readers have long appreciated the transcendent humanity of his works. “There was no writer like him,” Arthur Miller once said, “prophetic assurance mixed with surrealistic humor and hard-edged social satire: a unique combination…a joy to read.” In this episode, Jacke talks to podcast producer Ian Coss about the life of Karel Čapek, his contributions to literature, and how Čapek’s celebrated novel War with the Newts inspired Ian’s audio fiction series Newts, a farcical, yet deadly serious tale about an alternate history of the 1930s, in which the Western world discovers, exploits, educates, arms, and is ultimately overthrown by a species of highly intelligent, three-foot tall salamanders. SPECIAL BONUS CONTENT: We conclude the episode with a trailer for Newts.
The English novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966) was regarded by many as the most brilliant satirical novelist of his time. A self-proclaimed curmudgeon, for whom the Conservative Party was not conservative enough, Waugh converted to Catholicism in his twenties and never looked back. He resisted change in all areas of life, expressing the opinion that he wished he had been born two or three centuries earlier. At his best, he was darkly funny, using his misanthropy like a bright light to illuminate cracks and flaws in society’s foundations, and using his pointed wit to skewer anyone and everyone he encountered, including himself. At his worst, he was a crazy quilt of what George Orwell called “untenable opinions,” with all the racism and anti-semitism one might expect from a self-satisfied man of his era. In this episode, Jacke is joined by author Phil Klay to discuss Waugh’s religion, military background, and his novel A Handful of Dust in particular. The two also discuss Klay’s award-winning fiction, his writing process, what it means to be a Catholic writer in Waugh’s time and our own, and the new podcast American Veteran: Unforgettable Stories, which Klay hosts.
PHIL KLAY is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. His short story collection Redeployment won the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction and was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times. His debut novel, Missionaries, was released in October 2020 with Penguin Press.
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was a man who loved ciphers and a cipher of a man, an Anglo-Irishman who claimed not to like Ireland but became one of its greatest champions. He was viewed as an oddity even by the friends who knew him well and admired him most. And yet, in spite of his obscure origins and curious personal hangups, he became famous for works like Gulliver’s Travels, A Tale of a Tub, and A Modest Proposal, in which his clear and incisive prose skewered institutions, authority figures, and conventional wisdom. A master of sustained irony and deft political satire, he’s been read and admired by high-minded critics and general audiences for three centuries.
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Voltaire was born Francois Marie Arouet in 1694 in Paris, France, the son of a respectable but not particularly eminent lawyer. By the time he died at the age of 83, he was widely regarded as one of the greatest French writers in history, a distinction he still holds today. Astoundingly prolific, he is best known as the author of Candide – but the stories of his life, including the scrapes brought about by his fearless tongue, are perhaps at least as fascinating as anything his razor-sharp pen committed to paper.
Enjoy French literature? Travel to the nineteenth century and visit another incredibly prolific author in Episode 152 George Sand.
Support the show at patreon.com/literature. Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to email@example.com.
Author Jacke Wilson examines the life and works of Aristophanes, whose comic plays included The Clouds, which pokes fun at philosophers such as Socrates, and Lysistrata, where the females of Athens and Sparta go on a sex strike in an attempt to end the war.