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Welcome to Just Listen, a celebration of American and English short stories and poetry for your listening pleasure. High school students will happily find many of their literature book selections recorded here, and students with reading challenges will find a ready assist in the audio recordings.
The characters in Kate Chopin’s stories are usually residents of Louisiana, and many are Creoles of various ethnic or racial backgrounds. Many of her works are set in Natchitoches in north-central Louisiana, a region where she lived.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, also known by her first married name Charlotte Perkins Stetson, lived from July 3, 1860 to August 17, 1935, and witnessed everything from the American Civil War to the Roaring Twenties to the Great Depression.
James Joyce was an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde movement and is regarded as one of the most influential and important writers of the 20th century.
In our last episode, a group of wartime travelers attempts to escape the Prussian-occupied city of Rouen. They includea prostitute named Boule de Suif and are being held hostage at an inn by a Prussian officer who refuses to let them leave the town of Totes, where they are marooned after a snowstorm.
“Boule de Suif,” translated variously as "Dumpling," "Butterball," "Ball of Fat," "Tallow Ball," or "Ball of Lard," is a famous short story by the late 19th-century French writer Guy de Maupassant, first published in 1880.
With a youth full high jinks followed by travels through the Yukon and South Pacific, Jack London became during his lifetime one of the highest paid American writers. His stories are still loved all over the world.
“The Finish of Patsy Barnes” tells the story of the titular character, a poor young African-American boy, who enters a horse race in order to earn the money he needs to pay for his sick mother's treatment.
“Ashputtle,” is one of large number of fairy and folk tales published by the Brothers Grimm – Jacob and Wilhelm. The brothers were Hessian academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers, and authors who together collected and published folklore during the 19th century.
“Two Friends,” by French short story maestro Guy de Maupassant, is a melancholic story about loyalty in which the characters Sauvage and Morissot share far more than a passion for fishing during wartime.
James Grover Thurber, born December 8, 1894, was an American cartoonist, author, humorist, journalist, playwright, and celebrated wit. He was best known for his cartoons and short stories, published mainly in The New Yorker and collected in his numerous books.
The closing years of the French monarchy could scarcely have found a more faithful chronicler, or one better fitted for the task both by training and situation, than Madame Campan. Introduced into the Court of Louis XVas a young girl, she became one of the household of Marie Antoinette immediately after that princess came from Austria to wed the Dauphin, the King’s heir; and followed the fortunes of her royal mistress with unswerving devotion until the prison gates separated them.
"When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" is a long poem written by American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892) as an elegy to President Abraham Lincoln. It was written in the summer of 1865 during a period of profound national mourning in the aftermath of the President's assassination on April 14 earlier that year.
Although Whitman did not consider the poem to be among his best works, it is compared in both effect and quality to several acclaimed works of English literature, including elegies such as John Milton's Lycidas (1637) and Percy Bysshe Shelley's Adonais (1821). To listen to these works, review the Poetry Panoply here on Just Listen. “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”…we begin….
Christina Rossetti's poem Goblin Market is one of her best known. Although it is ostensibly about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, critics have interpreted the piece in a variety of ways, seeing it as an allegory about temptation and salvation, a commentary on Victorian gender roles and female agency, and a work about erotic desire and social redemption.
Christina Georgina Rossetti, born on December 5, 1830, was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems. We begin today with a selection of devotional poems, then turn our attentions toward other topics—love, jealousy, and the burgeoning world of Victorian society.
Today we examine the work of two American poets, Sara Teasdale and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Both poets are featured in a new book by John Dizikes entitled Love Songs: The Lives, Loves, and Poetry of Nine American Women.
A short story cycle is a collection of short stories in which the narratives are specifically composed and arranged with the goal of creating an enhanced or different experience when reading the group as a whole as opposed to its individual parts. Today’s story from the Sherwood Anderson short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio, is entitled “Loneliness,” and concerns the character Enoch Robinson.
Winesburg, Ohio is a 1919 short story cycle by the American author Sherwood Anderson. The book consists of twenty-two stories, with the first story, "The Book of the Grotesque,” serving as an introduction. Our first story from this cycle is entitled “Hands.” In his Memoirs, Sherwood Anderson says that he wrote "Hands" at one sitting on a dark, snowy night in Chicago. It was, he says, his "first authentic tale," so good that he laughed, cried, and shouted out of his boarding house window.
Today’s author Bernard Malamud was an American novelist and short story writer. Along with Saul Bellow, Joseph Heller, and Phillip Roth, he was one of the best known American Jewish authors of the 20th century. His baseball novel The Natural was adapted into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford. Today’s story, “The First Seven Years,” depicts a Polish immigrant’s desire to see his daughter achieve a better life. His notion of that life, however, is not the same as hers.
Samuel Pepys is most famous for the diary he kept from 1660 until 1669, while still a relatively young man. Writing for himself alone, he used a little-known shorthand that was not deciphered until the nineteenth century, when the diary was published more than 200 years later. It provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War, and the Great Fire of London.
Hector Hugh Monroe, also known as Saki, is famous for his tongue-in-cheek commentaries on the upper classes and the quick, startling way in which many of his stories end. As you listen to today’s story, pay special attention to the information the narrator gives you about the two characters’ pasts. The narrator of “The Interlopers” makes us think that events are leading one way--up until the story’s very end. Prepare to be surprised.
Virginia Woolf was born into intellectual and social aristocracy. She was not sent to school, in accordance with the custom of the times. She received a splendid education as an autodidact but remained resentful and offended on this account. Today’s work is one of a number of Virginia’s writings which features a looking glass, and numerous scholars have chosen this image as a focal point for understanding her work.
"The Lagoon" is a short story by Joseph Conrad, a Polish-British writer regarded as one of the greatest novelists to write in the English language. The story is about a white man, referred to as "Tuan" (the equivalent of "Lord" or "Sir"), who is traveling through an Indonesian rainforest and is forced to stop for the night with a distant Malay friend named Arsat. Upon arriving, he finds Arsat distraught, for his lover is dying. Arsat tells the distant and rather silent white man a story of his past.
"Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" is a poem by Thomas Gray, completed in 1750 and first published in 1751. The poem's origins are unknown, but it was partly inspired by Gray's thoughts following the death of the poet Richard West in 1742. The poem embodies a meditation on death, and remembrance after death. It argues that the remembrance can be good and bad, and the narrator finds comfort in pondering the lives of the obscure rustics buried in the churchyard.
“The Invalid’s Story” is a raucous story by Mark Twain about a case of mistaken identities. It is a testament to how olfactory images can truly color a piece of literature. The story details the unfortunate misadventures of two men on a train and their attempts to fight a terrible smell which they mistake for a rotting corpse. In the end, all of their attempts are fruitless.
Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson was a British poet. He was the Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular British poets. Today we examine three of Tennyson’s poems, “Ulysses,” “The Lady of Shalott, and “Tears, Idle Tears.”
"Michael" is a pastoral poem, written by William Wordsworth in 1800 and first published in the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads. The poem is one of Wordsworth's best known poems and the subject of much critical literature. It tells the story of an aging shepherd, Michael, his wife, and his only child Luke.
In March 1941, Virginia Woolf wrote a letter to her husband Leonard. It would be the last letter to her beloved. On the 28th of that month, she filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and walked into the River Ouse, which ran near her home. Her body was not discovered until the following month. Here is Virginia Woolf’s last letter to her husband Leonard. It is a love letter, written in the pain of mental illness and the heavy shadows of despair.
Paul reads "The Canterville Ghost," a story is about an American family who moves to a castle haunted by the ghost of a dead nobleman who killed his wife and was starved to death by his wife's brothers. It was the first of Wilde's stories to be published, appearing in two parts in The Court and Society Review in February and March of l887.
The harsh reality of plague asserts itself not only in Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” but also in Daniel Defoe’s first-person account of the plague ravaging London in the year l665.
Widely anthologized, and the author's best-known work, "The Most Dangerous Game,” also published as "The Hounds of Zaroff”, is a short story by Richard Connell, first published in Collier's on January 19, 1924.
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death, Prince Prospero attempts to avoid a dangerous plague, known as the Red Death, by hiding in his abbey. He, along with many other wealthy nobles, hosts a masquerade ball within seven rooms of the abbey, each decorated with a different color. In the midst of their revelry, a mysterious figure disguised as a Red Death victim enters and makes his way through each of the rooms.
William Sydney Porter, known to posterity as the author O. Henry, is famous for stories that have surprise endings. A very adventurous life, including an imprisonment of three years for embezzlement, provided O Henry with a wide range of experiences and acquaintances, many of which appear in his numerous short stories. In today’s story, a potential inheritance takes a roundabout way of reaching its owner.
Published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729, “A Modest Proposal” is a satirical essay. It suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. This work is a paradox that forces readers, or listeners, in this case, to question themselves about the human condition and the differences between social classes.
In our last encounter with our protagonist Ichabod Crane, we find him summarily compared to his rival Brom Bones, a rough and rustic practical joker—both of them competing for the hand of the somewhat compelling Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a well-to-do farmer. As our story reopens, we find Ichabod wending his way through a rich autumn landscape en route to the Van Tassels' for an evening of celebration and perhaps – perhaps not - a little romance.
Today’s story, “Winter Dreams,” is considered one of Fitzgerald‘s finest stories and is frequently anthologized. Writing his editor Max Perkins in June 1925, Fitzgerald described “Winter Dreams” as “a sort of first draft of the Gatsby idea.”
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is perhaps the best known of all vampire tales. Today’s story, “Dracula’s Guest,” was excised from the original Dracula manuscript by its publisher because of the length of the original book. It was published as a short story in l9l4, two years after Stoker’s death.
The author of today’s story, HG Wells, wrote a number of novels, most of which fell into two categories: imaginative romances and futuristic fantasies. Known around the world as the father of Science Fiction, his personal life is full of anecdotes and wry sayings and events, such as the following.
Although sharply criticized by his English contemporaries, American author Henry James is now valued for his psychological and moral realism, his masterful creation of character, his low-key but playful humour, and his assured command of the English language.
Two things I find striking and worthy of special note in today’s selection by Willa Cather, “The Sculptor’s Funeral.” One is the sense of place that is keen in the story—that of a frozen, barren plains town in the throes of winter--which harkens back to her injunction, “Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.” The other is the great insight she displays in describing uneasy groups of men in this story—men gathered to receive a coffin in the frozen night and men gathered to mourn one not quite their own.
An English writer nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature four times, H.G. Wells was prolific in many genres, writing dozens of novels, short stories, works of social commentary, satire, biography and autobiography, including even two books on war games. In “The Red Room,” an overly confident visitor seeks to square off against the powerful superstitions of an ancient hour by entering a room with a horrible reputation.
The story of Tom Walker is a variation on the legend of Faust, a l6th-century magician and astrologer who was said to have sold his soul to the devil for wisdom, money, and power. Washington Irving reinvented the tale, setting it in the 1720s in an area of New England settled by Quakers and Puritans. In Irving’s comic retelling of the legend, the writer satirizes people who present a pious public image as they “sell their souls” for money.
In “The Nightingale and the Rose,” the conflict between science and faith that so marked Oscar Wilde’s own era is mirrored in the conflict between love and philosophy as a young man tries to fulfill his dreams.
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (1890) is a short story by the American writer and Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce. The story, which is set during the American Civil War, is known for its irregular time sequence and twist ending. Bierce's abandonment of strict linear narration in favor of the internal mind of the protagonist is an early example of the stream of consciousness narrative mode.
On its surface, “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell appears a simple detective story, but through extensive dialogue between two women, Glaspell slowly reveals the story's true underlying conflict: the struggle of women in a male-dominated society.
A perennial Christmastime favorite, "The Gift of the Magi," written by O. Henry, is about a young husband and wife and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other--with very little money. His wonderful plot twists and surprise endings, as well as his deep insights into human nature, make O. Henry a favorite around the world, where his works have been translated into numerous languages.
Edgar Allan Poe is classified as an American Romantic writer, a detective fiction writer, and a Gothic writer. He is considered by many to be the father of the short story and the first writer of detective fiction. In “The Cask of Amontillado,” a visit to a friend’s wine cellar turns out to have disastrous consequences. Listen to the careful description of revenge in the opening statements and follow along as vengeance finally catches up with Fortunato.
“The New Dress” by Virginia Woolf is perhaps one of the finest examples of stream-of-consciousness writing produced by an American or British author, many of whom dabbled in this genre once or twice in their writing careers, including William Faulkner, Samuel Beckett and Toni Morrison.
Algernon Henry Blackwood, a Commander of the British Empire, was an English short story writer and novelist, one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre. He was also a journalist and a broadcasting narrator. Today’s story, “The Empty House,” is one of his most widely anthologized stories, famous for its suspense. It details the circumstances of an elderly adventuress intent on investigating a house with a terrible reputation.
Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant was a French writer, remembered as a master of the short story form, and as a representative of the naturalist school of writers, who depicted human lives and destinies and social forces in disillusioned and often pessimistic terms. Today’s story, “A Ghost,” relates the tale of a brief haunting that results in a lifelong terror.
In “Theft,” Katherine Anne Porter’s widely-anthologized short story, the protagonist must grapple with a host of emotions and circumstances: loneliness, uncertainty, struggle, trust, independence, love, and loss. Finally, she must discover the truth of her own identity in the midst of so many confusing impressions.
At a railway station an arrogant and overbearing woman, Mrs Quabarl, mistakes the mischievous Lady Carlotta, who has been inadvertently left behind by a train, for the governess, Miss Hope, whom she has been expecting, Miss Hope having erred about the date of her arrival. Saki’s humorous handling of the events and characters in “The Schartz-Metterklume Method” make it an endearing favorite for his readers.
Saki is the pen name of the British writer Hector Hugh Munro, also known as H. H. Munro (1870 - 1916). In"The Open Window," possibly his most famous story, social conventions and proper etiquette provide cover for a mischievous teenager to wreak havoc on the nerves of an unsuspecting guest.
Famous for its surprise ending and the author’s majestic use of irony, “The Necklace” remains a favorite story in anthologies and textbooks for its eminent readability. The moral of Guy de Maupassant's short story is to be happy with what you have.
Louisa May Alcott, most famous for her coming of age novel LittleWomen, wrote in a variety of genres to support her family, including humor. As a child of the famous education reformer Bronson Alcott, she was dragged along to take part in a communal living experiment spearheaded by her father and including such luminaries as Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Hawthorne. “Transcendental Wild Oats” is a satirical account of that tiny community’s first year, taking a tongue-in-cheek look at living an “ideal life.”
Joseph Katz, writing under the pen name of Alexander Godin, immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine with his family in l922. “My Dead Brother Comes to America” was published in 1934 and included as part of The Best Short Stories of the Century. Written at a time of large European immigration to the United States, the story highlights the arrival of immigrants to America through Ellis Island.
The fairy tales of the notorious Oscar Wilde are considered by many to be among his best writings. Today we consider two stories that fall somewhere in the area of fairy tales, love stories, children’s fables, and didactic tales for adults. We begin with “The Happy Prince,” a story about an unlikely friendship between a tiny bird and a beautiful statue.
"The Story of an Hour," by Kate Chopin, was controversial by American standards of the 1890s because it features a female protagonist who feels liberated by the news of her husband's death. In her book Unveiling Kate Chopin, Emily Toth argues that Chopin "'had to have her heroine die' in order to make the story publishable." “The Story of an Hour” is considered by many to be a hallmark of early feminist fiction.