Is this the greatest man vs. nature story ever? Hard to say. But it just might be the purest.
Kicking off a new HOL feature, producer Emma chooses a short story for Jacke to read and discuss – Jack London’s classic “To Build a Fire.”. Get somewhere warm and let your mind drift to the snowy Yukon for this gripping tale of man vs. nature and man vs. himself.
William Sidney Porter (1862-1910) packed a lot of life into his 47 years, traveling from a childhood in North Carolina to work as a rancher and bank teller in Texas to a desperate escape to Honduras, where he hoped to avoid federal prosecution for embezzlement. Eventually he spent three years in prison, where he began writing short stories under the name “O. Henry.” By the time he emerged he was nationally famous, and his subsequent years in New York City, where he wrote “The Gift of the Magi” among many other popular stories, were highly productive. After his death, his friends started a prize in his name, and today the annual prize – along with the volume of prizewinning short stories – has become a fixture on the American literary landscape.
In this episode, Series Editor Jenny Minton Quigley joins Jacke to discuss O. Henry and the prize in his name, which has been retooled for 2021. Jenny describes the fiction she and her colleagues reviewed, the state of the American short story, and the influence that this year’s guest editor, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, had on the finished product, The Best Short Stories 2021: The O. Henry Prize Winners.
John Marcher has been waiting all his life for something rare and strange to happen to him – something that will leap out of the darkness and attack him like a Beast in a Jungle. His friend May Bartram has agreed to wait with him. Together, the pair have been analyzing and enduring this unusual life-situation for years…until finally the Beast appears, first to her, and then to him.
In this episode, Jacke concludes the three-part series on the Henry James masterpiece “The Beast in the Jungle,” reading the end of the story and relating the tantalizing connections to Henry James’s own relationship with fellow author and close friend Constance Fenimore Woolson. But don’t worry! If you missed the first two parts, you can find them in the archive or just start here – Jacke provides everything you need to know. Enjoy!
In the immediate aftermath of her death at the age of 53, Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894) was considered one of the greatest writers of her day, but her reputation soon faded. A hundred years later, she was little more than a footnote in her friend Henry James’s biography, until scholars began to rediscover her life and works. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at one of her most famous short stories, “Miss Grief,” in which an aspiring writer of artistic ambition seeks out the opinion and assistance of a more established author. The story, written after Woolson had tried unsuccessfully to meet James for the first time, is often viewed as anticipatory of the relationship that she and James went on to have.
Debut novelist A. Natasha Joukovsky (The Portrait of a Mirror) joins Jacke for a discussion of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Ovid’s myth of Narcissus, the fascinating power of recursions, and a life lived in the worlds of literature, business, and art.
THE PORTRAIT OF A MIRROR is a stunning reinvention of the myth of Narcissus as a modern novel of manners, about two young, well-heeled couples whose parallel lives intertwine over the course of a summer, by a sharp new voice in fiction.
A. NATASHA JOUKOVSKY holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She spent five years in the art world, working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before pivoting into management consulting. The Portrait of a Mirror is her debut novel. She lives in Washington, D.C.
In gratitude to Natasha for appearing on The History of Literature Podcast, a donation has been made to the LGBTQ Freedom Fund (lgbtqfund.org).
In this episode, Jacke discusses the life and works of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), including his major themes, the distinction he drew between “romances” and “novels,” his friendship with Herman Melville, his childhood in Salem, and his uneasy relationship with his Puritan ancestors. We also declare a Tweet of the Week (which fits right into our Hawthorne discussion) and look ahead to our deep dive into Hawthorne’s masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter (1850).
In her lifetime, Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549) was known as a benevolent and capable leader, a protectress of free thinkers, and one of the most intelligent women in France. She was also the producer of great literature, as her collection of 72 stories known as The Heptameron picks up where Boccaccio’s Decameron leaves off. In this episode, we look at the life of Marguerite de Navarre and hear one of the stories, affording us insight into what it means to be a leader during a time of moral and religious upheaval.
In 1843, Edgar Allan Poe, desperate for money and terrified that his wife was about to die, “became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.” Fueled by alcohol and despair, he fell into “fits of absolute unconsciousness”–and yet managed to write some of his greatest masterpieces, including “The Black Cat,” which has been shocking readers for more than 150 years. In this first installment of “Edgar Allan Poe Month,” Jacke explores Poe’s life leading up to “The Black Cat” before reading the hair-raising tale of uncontrollable rage, murder, and haunting remorse.
Novelist and screenwriter Tom Perrotta joins Jacke for a discussion of his blue collar New Jersey background, the cultural shock of attending Yale University, and the profound impact that Raymond Carver’s first collection of short stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, had on him as an aspiring young writer trying to find his place in the world.
Friend of the podcast Evie Lee joins Jacke to take a look at Joyce Carol Oates’s classic short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (1966). NOTE TO LISTENERS: This episode contains disturbing descriptions of an attempted abduction by a serial killer. Please exercise discretion in deciding whether to listen.
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