156 The Sonnet

“A sonnet,” said the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “is a moment’s monument.” But who invented the sonnet? Who brought it to prominence? How has it changed over the years? And why does this form continue to be so compelling? In this episode of the History of Literature, we take a brief look at one of literature’s most enduring forms, from its invention in a Sicilian court to the wordless sonnet and other innovative uses.

Professor Bill walked us through a sonnet by Robert Hayden in Episode 97 – Dad Poetry (with Professor Bill).

One of the world’s great sonneteers, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, had her moment in Episode 95 – The Runaway Poets – The Triumphant Love Story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the lovers whose first words to one another magically form a perfect sonnet, found one another in Episode 53 – Romeo and Juliet.

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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155 Plato

“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition,” said Alfred North Whitehead, “is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” We’ve all heard the name of Plato and his famous mentor Socrates, and most of us have encountered the dialogues, a literary-philosophical form he essentially invented. We know the themes he advanced, his general views of metaphysics, and his interest in knowledge and its importance as a virtue. But what do we know about Plato the man? How did this person come to write works that would be read and wrestled with more than two thousand years later? And how do Plato’s literary skills help to deepen his arguments and enrich his narratives?  In this episode of The History of Literature, we look at the fascinating figure of Plato and his great mentor/creation, Socrates.

Like Greek thought and literature? Try Episode 4 – Sappho.

Stop the presses! Go back even further in time to Episode 3 – Homer.

Like philosophy and philosophers? Try Episode 117 – Machiavelli and The Prince.

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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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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