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.
How to Read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
An introduction to the twentieth century’s most beautiful novel — with a simple plot but an astonishingly complex, even disorienting style. Ten characters spend two ordinary days, ten years apart, at a summer cottage in the western isles of Scotland. But it’s their interior thoughts, impressions, and emotions, rather than exterior events, that carry the narrative forward. Woolf turns tiny details into questions as grand as the nature of love, the habit of art, and (yes) even the meaning of life.
How to Read W. B. Yeats
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).
How to Read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
The novel of a beautiful young English aristocrat whose painted portrait ages and declines while he himself stays eternally young, exhibiting no outward signs of his inward moral decay.
How to Read Alfred Tennyson
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.
How to Read John Keats
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.”
How to Read William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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.