154 John Milton

John Milton (1608 – 1674) was a revolutionary, a republican, an iconoclast, a reformer, and a  brilliant polemicist, who fearlessly took on both church and king. And he ranks among the greatest poets of all time, a peer of Shakespeare and Homer. Philip Pullman, the author who named his trilogy (His Dark Materials) after a Miltonic phrase, said, “No one, not even Shakespeare, surpasses him in his command of the sound, the music, the weight and taste and texture of English words.” In this episode of the History of Literature, we look at the life and works of one of the seventeenth-century’s greatest individuals.

For more on Satan as a runaway character in Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost, try Episode 132 – Top 10 Literary Villains.

We covered the OG blind bard Homer all the way back in Episode 3 – Homer.

For another seventeenth-century writer (who isn’t Shakespeare), try Episode 91 In Which John Donne Decides to Write About a Flea.

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 jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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153 Charles Dickens

Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812-1870) was the greatest novelist of the Victorian age. In his 58 years he went from a hardscrabble childhood to a world-famous author, beloved and admired for his unforgettable characters, his powers of observation and empathy, and his championing of the lower classes. He wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of articles and short stories – and also found time to edit a weekly periodical for over 20 years. But that wasn’t all: he also wrote thousands of pages of letters, ran a sizable household, was a tireless reformer, a philanthropist, an amateur theatrical performer, a lecturer, and a traveler, and at times walked 14 miles a day. And he had secrets in his personal life that are still being unearthed today.

How on earth did he get all this done? How was he viewed by his contemporaries? And what do we make of his novels – and his life – today?

For more on Dickens’ classic work A Christmas Carol, try Episode 72 – Top 10 Christmas Stories

For a look at the sentimental in fiction, try Episode 65 – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (with Professor James Chandler)

Does Dickens make you hungry? We explore the phenomenon in Episode 144 – Food in Literature (with Ronica Dhar)

What was Dickens’s favorite book? Find out in Episode 41 – The New Testament (with Professor Kyle Keefer)

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 jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

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152 George Sand

George Sand wrote an astonishing number of novels and plays, and had friendships and affairs with an astonishing range of men and women. She dressed in men’s clothing, and she inspired a host of 19th century authors and artists, including Russian writers like Turgenev and Dostoevsky and British writers like Mary Ann Evans, who adopted the name George, as in George Eliot, out of tribute to her French predecessor. In this episode of the History of Literature, we travel to 19th Century France, for a look at the life and works of the inimitable and indefatigable George Sand.

Help 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.

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151 Viking Poetry – The Voluspa (with Noah Tetzner)


The Vikings! Sure, they had helmets and hammers, but did they also have… poetry? Indeed they did! In this episode, we talk to Noah Tetzner, host of The History of Vikings Podcast, about the collection of Old Norse verses called the Poetic Edda – and in particular, we look at the first of these, the succinct poem known as The Völuspá. Dated to around 1250 A.D., the Völuspá recorded centuries of oral tradition. Today, it serves as one of our best introductions to Viking mythology, affording us a window into a fascinating and mysterious culture.

Help 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.

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150 Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog”

It’s a deceptively simple story: a man and a woman meet, have an affair, are separated, and reunite. And yet, in writing about Anton Chekhov’s story, “The Lady with the Little Dog” (1899), Vladimir Nabokov said, “All the traditional rules have been broken in this wonderful short story…. No problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written.”

What makes this story so good? How does it hold up today? In this episode, Jacke and Mike examine the masterpiece of one of the world’s greatest short story writers. NOTE: This is a self-contained episode of the History of Literature – we read the story itself, so no need to read the story on your own (unless you’d like to).

Help 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.

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149 Raising Readers (aka The Power of Literature in an Imperfect World)

Jacke and Mike respond to an email from a listener who is about to become a father and wondering about the role of literature in the life of a young child.

Works and authors discussed include J.K. Rowling, Phillip Pullman, Andrew Motion, Dr. Seuss, Sandra Boynton, The Great Brain series, Bedtime for Frances, Frog and Toad, Beatrix Potter, Martin Amis, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, The Beatles, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, the Moomintroll books, Nick Hornby.

Help 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.

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148 Great Literary Hoaxes

What can we count on? What do we know is true? In this episode, host Jacke Wilson takes a look at a motley crew of inventive liars who set out to fool the literary world – and often did, at least for a while. From the ancient pseudo-Sappho to the escapee from a debauched convent, from the  treasure trove of Shakespeare’s lost works to the balloon fraud of Edgar Allen Poe, writers have been generating bogus works for centuries – and an gullible public has gobbled them up and come back for more.

Help 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.

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147 Leo Tolstoy

When asked to name the three greatest novels ever written, William Faulkner replied, “Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina.” Nabokov said, “When you are reading Turgenev, you know you are reading Turgenev. When you read Tolstoy, you are reading because you just cannot stop.”  And finally, there’s this compliment from author Isaac Babel: “If the world could write itself,” he said, “it would write like Tolstoy.”

But who was Leo Tolstoy? How did he become the person who could write War and Peace and Anna Karenina, two of the pinnacles of the novel form – and two of the greatest achievements in the history of human civilization? Why did he stop writing novels, and what did he do with the rest of his life?

In this episode, host Jacke Wilson takes a look at the life and works of Count Leo Tolstoy, one of the most fascinating and revered figures in all of literature.

Links and Other Treats:

More of a Chekhov person? You might like Episode 63, where author Charles Baxter talks about how important Chekhov has been to him.

For a look at Anna Karenina’s “French cousin,” check out Episode 79 – Music That Melts the Stars – Madame Bovary.

Love the Russians? Listen to more in Episode 130 on the great poet Anna Akhmatova and her surprising affair with sculptor Amedeo Modigliani.

Why did Tolstoy hate Shakespeare? Learn more in Episode 104 – King Lear.

Help 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.

FREE GIFTS! The gift-giving continues! This month, we’re giving away a copy of Nabokov’s Lectures on Russian Literature and an Amazon.com gift certificate for the book of your choice. Sign up at patreon.com/literature to be eligible to win. Good luck!

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146 Power Ranking the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize for Literature has a special place in the literary landscape. We revere the prize and its winners – and yet we often find ourselves puzzled by the choices. The list of fantastic writers who never won a Nobel Prize is as long and distinguished as the list of those who did.

In this episode, Jacke and Mike take a look at the Nobel Prizes by decade, attempting to determine which decade had the best (and worst) group of authors. Do we select your favorites? Overlook some hidden gems? Let us know!

For a list of Nobel Prize Winners for Literature by Decade, visit historyofliterature.com/nobel-prizes-by-decade/

Help 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.

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145 Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know – The Story of Lord Byron

The Later Romantic poet George Gordon Byron, once described by Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know,” lived 36 years and became world famous, his astonishing career as a poet matched only by his astonishing record as a breaker of norms, an insatiable lover, a bizarre hedonist, a restless exile, a head-scratching eccentric, a passionate friend, a determined athlete, an ardent revolutionary, and in general, one of the greatest embracers of life the world has ever seen.

Works discussed include Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Fugitive Pieces / Hours of Idleness, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and Don Juan.

For another taste of Romantic poetry, try our episode on Poetry and Ruins, which includes a look at Shelley’s Ozymandias.

Jacke recounts his own attempts to write a Keatsian poem in the Bad Poetry episode.

Byron makes a cameo appearance – he was on the scene when both Frankenstein and vampires were invented – in our Mary Shelley episode.

Want some of the older Romantics? Try our episode on Coleridge and the Person from Porlock.

EXCITING NEWS!!!!

We are giving away a FREE History of Literature Podcast mug and a FREE copy of Ronica Dhar’s book, Bijou Roy, to two lucky Patreon donors! Sign up now at patreon.com/literature to be eligible for this special bonus offer.

If you’d like to purchase a mug instead, or just donate a fiver or two to the show, you can find out how at historyofliterature.com/shop. Learn more about the show at historyofliterature.com or facebook.com/historyofliterature. Contact the host at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com or on Twitter @thejackewilson.

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