A podcast about reading and writing about texts like an English professor. Each episode covers a different text, or part of a longer text, and asks: How do literary critics read differently from everyone else? How do we interpret literature? Your host is Michael Ullyot, Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary. Episodes are adapted from lectures for his students, yet they're designed to appeal to curious and intelligent non-specialists.
Readings and interpretations of four poems by the Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats: the rustic simplicity of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”; the tender regret of “When You Are Old”; the evocative weariness of “Adam’s Curse”; and the apocalyptic thrill of “The Second Coming.”
Here is my YouTube video about Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan."
Sprezzatura is the Italian term I mention, for seemingly careless artificiality or "studied carelessness" (OED); it first appeared in The Book of the Courtier (1528) by Baldassare Castiglione.
CORRECTION: At the end, I mistakenly say that the next episode is on Samuel Beckett -- but it is actually on Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse (1927).
Readings and analysis of three poems by Alfred, Lord Tennyson — “Mariana,” “The Lady of Shalott,” and “Ulysses” — that fall into two categories: the lives of women sequestered from a hostile or indifferent world, and the longing of a man to impose his will on the world. As we learn, all three should beware what they wish for.
Readings and analysis of two poems, “To Autumn” and “The Eve of St. Agnes,” whose sensual richness and beauty counter the antipathies and harsh frigidity of their surrounding worlds. They underscore Keats’s claim that “I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of Imagination.”
This episode reads Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” in the context of Romantic poetry. We start with Coleridge’s vision in which “images rose up before him as *things*,” before we turn to Wordsworth: “well pleased to recognize / In nature and the language of the sense / The anchor of my purest thoughts.” The poetry they wrote to capture these things and these thoughts is their legacy — for every reader who feels deeply and struggles to describe those sensations.
The first episode of Season 2 is about two poets in an early-18th-century battle of wits: Alexander Pope, the first professional poet in English; and Anne Finch, an aristocratic poet who rebutted Pope’s attack on women writers.
The grand finale of Milton’s epic: in which we learn the consequences of the fall for Adam and Eve — but also for Satan, Sin, Death, the Son of God, and every human being from the Garden of Eden to the Last Judgement.
The second of two episodes on a 2006 novel by the Ojibwe writer David Treuer, about a translator retelling the story of two lovers, and writing his own story in the process. NB: At 2:55 I wrongly say Eta is 16 and Bimaadiz 12, but in fact she's 12 and he 16.
Four poems of love and friendship that happen to be written by women, including Anne Bradstreet, the first woman to publish a book of original poems in English; Katherine Philips, “the matchless Orinda” and poet laureate of friendship; and the unknown ‘Eliza,’ author of devotional lyrics.
Readings of five poems by the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell, including his best-known carpe diem poem “To his Coy Mistress,” but also a beautiful extended simile of the soul as a dew-drop; a tense argument between a body and a soul who loathe each other; a meditation on the temptations of worldly pleasures; and a lament of the cruelty of fate.
Shakespeare’s 1595 history play tells the story of one king’s abdication, and provokes questions about the difference between legitimate authority and illegitimate power. Richard II isn’t Shakespeare’s best-known play, but it may claim to be his best-written: the only one entirely in verse, it initiates a long series of plays that deal with its fallout.
Catherine Morland — described as “open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise” — completes her journey from impressionable provincial ingenue to contentedly married wife in this followup to Episode 15.
The first of two episodes on Austen’s 1818 novel about heroine Catherine Morland’s character, reading, romantic misadventures, and engagement. References are to David M. Shapard’s annotated edition (New York: Anchor, 2013).
This, the fourth of seven episodes on Milton's epic, covers events preceding the start of the poem's story: the War in Heaven, in which Satan leads a rebellion against God, before the Son defeats him and drives the rebels down to Hell.
Readings and interpretations of seven poems by the 17th-century metaphysical poet John Donne, namely "Elegy: To his Mistress Going to Bed"; "The Good Morrow"; "The Sun Rising"; "Valediction to his Book"; "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"; "The Canonization"; and "The Relic".
Readings are from Colin Burrow’s 2006 Penguin anthology Metaphysical Poetry. Supplemental glosses are from A. J. Smith’s erudite and wonderful Complete English Poems (Penguin, 1971); and from Donald R. Dickson’s John Donne’s Poetry (Norton, 2007).
Continuing from Episode 8 in this series, today’s topic is Part 2 of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1615).
A Spanish aristocrat, imitating the wandering knights of medieval romance, undertakes his continuing adventures. Along the way, he meets those who have read an unauthorized continuation of Part 1 recounting false adventures, and takes pains to refute them. Finally Quixote returns to his village, repudiates his beliefs in chivalric romances, and dies -- prompting us to recognize that novels, unlike romances, end in any way that the novelist determines.
A study of the rise and fall of Iago, from Shakespeare's Othello: focusing on his motives, his rhetoric, and the role of a villain in a tragedy. This episode, the last in a three-part series on Shakespeare's villains, includes readings of Iago's key speeches and conversations.
A study of the rise and fall of Aaron, from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus: focusing on his motives, his rhetoric, and the role of a villain in a tragedy. This episode, the second in a three-part series on Shakespeare's villains, includes readings of Aaron's key speeches.
A study of the rise and fall of Richard of Gloucester, from Shakespeare's 3 Henry VI and Richard III: focusing on his motives, his rhetoric, and the role of a villain in a history-play. This episode, the first in a three-part series on Shakespeare's villains, includes readings of Richard's key speeches.
An introduction to four metaphysical nature-poems: George Herbert’s “Life”; Henry King’s “A Contemplation upon Flowers”; and Andrew Marvell’s “Bermudas” and “The Garden.”
These poems share natural subjects, yet each uses flowers and plants and fruits to raise various spiritual themes: including death (most prominently); divine providence; and the contentment that derives from solitude.
Today’s topic is the first part of the first novel ever written, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605): in which a mild-mannered Spanish aristocrat, bored with his life, decides to imitate the wandering knights of medieval romance.
This is the 3rd episode on Milton’s epic poem, covering Book 4: in which Satan arrives at the Garden of Eden; Milton describes the garden and its human and animal inhabitants; and the good angels discover Satan trying to influence Eve, whispering in her ear while she dreams.
Today’s topic is bibliotherapy, or “literary remedies for the mind and body,” as Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin write. They’re the authors of The Novel Cure (published 2013), a clever reference book of mental and physical ailments that readers can treat by reading novels, which offer either cure or consolation.
There are three parts of this episode, which follows Episode 3 of this season:
First, we’ll consider how Milton, the blind poet, deals with the difficulty of describing indescribable things;
then we’ll resume the story with the debate in Hell, and discover how the Oxford English Dictionary can illuminate its terms;
and finally we’ll eavesdrop on a conversation between God and his Son, to consider how God can know what will happen without causing it to happen, and how God and Milton endow characters with traits to respond to their circumstances.
As ever, the source of my quotations from Paradise Lost is Gordon Teskey’s 2005 Norton edition.
The three parts of today’s episode surround each other like the concentric rings of hell. (Maybe not the best metaphor?)
First I’ll briefly describe the story of Dante’s Inferno;
and then I’ll guide you toward the second circle of Hell, where our narrator meets those spirits punished for lust;
and finally I’ll introduce you to Paulo and Francesca, the adulterous lovers who were seduced by a book to seduce each other.
My source of all quotations from Dante in this episode are from the translation of Robert and Jean Hollander, published by Doubleday in 2000.
The first in a projected 7-episode series on Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost (1667, 1674).
Covering how to read Milton's language; his Christian subject and epic genre; and what happens in Book 1 of 12.
This episode is about written language, as the Greek philosopher Plato describes it in his dialogue Phaedrus.
The Latin proverb I cite is Verba volant, scripta manent; and the Greek word that means both 'cure' and 'poison' is pharmakon.
The quotation from John Milton is from Areopagitica (1644).
Selections from Plato’s Phaedrus are from Benjamin Jowett’s 1892 translation, as cited in the anthology Critical Theory Since Plato, 3rd edition of 2005, edited by Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle.
In this inaugural episode, I describe the podcast's coverage and format, and then introduce myself and my motives for hosting the series. I conclude: "Think of the episodes in this series as a set of exploratory essays, of varying lengths, gathering evidence from sources on some central topic. The topics will vary, but each episode of Open Book will (I hope) do just what it says on the tin: open a book to your mind."
Here are the five book titles I'll cover this season:
Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (Part 1, 1605; Part 2, 1615; we’re reading selections from the 2003 Edith Grossman translation);
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1803; we’re using the 2013 David M. Shapard edition);
David Treuer’s The Translation of Dr Apelles (2006);
John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667; in the 2005 Norton edition of Gordon Teskey; the more recent 2020 edition appeared too late for this series); and
selections from Metaphysical Poetry (Colin Burrow’s 2006 Penguin anthology).