Close Readings is a new multi-series podcast subscription from the London Review of Books exploring different periods of literature through a selection of key works.
A new episode will appear every month from each of our Close Readings series running this year.
Listen to extracts and bonus episodes in the free version of Close Readings:
RUNNING IN 2024:
ON SATIRE with Colin Burrow and Clare Bucknell
Authors covered: Erasmus, John Donne, Ben Jonson, Earl of Rochester, John Gay, Alexander Pope, Laurence Sterne, Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark.
HUMAN CONDITIONS with Adam Shatz, Judith Butler, Pankaj Mishra and Brent Hayes Edwards
Authors covered: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Hannah Arendt, V. S. Naipaul, Ashis Nandy, Doris Lessing, Nadezhda Mandelstam, W. E. B. Du Bois, Aimé Césaire, Amiri Baraka and Audre Lorde.
AMONG THE ANCIENTS II with Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones
Authors covered: Hesiod, Aesop, Herodotus, Pindar, Plato, Lucian, Plautus, Terence, Lucan, Tacitus, Juvenal, Apuleius, Marcus Aurelius.
Plus two bonus series, ad free:
MEDIEVAL LOLs with Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley
POLITICAL POEMS with Mark Ford and Seamus Perry
Also part of the Close Readings subscription, the full series of:
MEDIEVAL BEGINNINGS with Irina Dumitrescu and Mary Wellesley
AMONG THE ANCIENTS with Emily Wilson and Thomas Jones
THE LONG AND SHORT with Mark Ford and Seamus Perry
MODERN-ISH POETS SERIES 1 with Mark Ford and Seamus Perry (originally featured on the LRB Podcast)
Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Political Poems: W.H. Auden's 'Spain 1937'
In their second episode, Mark and Seamus look at W.H. Auden's ‘Spain’. Auden travelled to Spain in January 1937 to support the Republican efforts in the civil war, and composed the poem shortly after his return a few months later to raise money for Medical Aid for Spain. It became a rallying cry in the fight against fascism, but was also heavily criticised, not least by George Orwell, for the phrase (in its first version) of ‘necessary murder’. Mark and Seamus discuss the poem’s Marxist presentation of history, its distinctly non-Marxist language, and why Auden ultimately condemned it as ‘a lie’.
Read more in the LRB:
Seamus Heaney: Sounding Auden
Alan Bennett: The Wrong Blond
Seamus Perry: That's what Wystan says
Among the Ancients II: Aesop
Supposedly an enslaved man from sixth-century Samos, Aesop might not have ever really existed, but the fables attributed to him remain some of the most widely read examples of classical literature. A fascinating window into the ‘low’ culture of ancient Greece, the Fables and the figure of Aesop appear in the work of authors as diverse as Aristophanes, Plato and Phaedrus, serving new purposes in new contexts. Emily and Tom discuss how Aesop’s fables as we know them came to be, make sense of their moral contradictions and unpack some of the fables that are most opaque to modern readers.
Buy Laura Gibbs’s translation: https://lrb.me/aesopcr
Further reading: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v33/n12/tim-whitmarsh/crashing-the-delphic-party
Medieval LOLs: How to Swear in Latin
All teachers know that the best way for students to learn a language is through swear words, and nobody knew this better than Aelfric Bata, a monk from Winchester whose Colloquies, compiled in around the year 1000, instructed pupils to swear in Latin with elaborate and vivid fluency. Mary and Irina work through some of Aelfric’s fruitier dialogues, and ask whether his examples can be taken purely in good humour.
Read more in the LRB:
Human Conditions: 'The Second Sex' by Simone de Beauvoir
Judith Butler joins Adam Shatz to discuss a landmark in feminist thought, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). Dazzling in its scope, The Second Sex incorporates anthropology, psychology, historiography, mythology and biology to ask an ‘impossible’ question: what is a woman? Focusing on three key chapters, Adam and Judith navigate this dense and dizzying book, exploring the nuances of Beauvoir’s original French phrasing and drawing on Judith’s own experiences teaching and writing about the text. They discuss the book’s startling relevance as well as its stark limitations for contemporary feminism, Beauvoir’s refusal to call herself a philosopher, and the radical possibilities released by her claim that one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.
Chapters in focus:
Buy the book: https://lrb.me/beauvoircr
On Satire: John Donne's Satires
In their second episode, Colin and Clare look at the dense, digressive and often dangerous satires of John Donne and other poets of the 1590s. It’s likely that Donne was the first Elizabethan author to attempt formal verse satires in the vein of the Roman satirists, and they mark not only the chronological start of his poetic career, but a foundation of his whole way of writing. Colin and Clare place the satires within Donne’s life and times, and explain why the secret to understanding their language lies in the poet's use of the ‘profoundly unruly parenthesis’.
Read more on John Donne in the LRB:
Catherine Nicholson: Who was John Donne?
Blair Worden: Donne and Milton's Prose
Tobias Gregory: Lecherous Goates
Get in touch: email@example.com
Political Poems: Andrew Marvell's 'An Horation Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland'
In the first episode of their new Close Readings series on political poetry, Seamus Perry and Mark Ford look at ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ by Andrew Marvell, described by Frank Kermode as ‘braced against folly by the power and intelligence that make it possible to think it the greatest political poem in the language’.
Read the poem
Further reading in the LRB:
Blair Worden: Double Tongued
Frank Kermode: Hard Labour
Tom Paulin: O brambles, chain me too
David Norbrook: Political Verse