In Our Time: Culture

By BBC Radio 4

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 Jul 14, 2020

Description

Popular culture, poetry, music and visual arts and the roles they play in our society.

Episode Date
The Rosetta Stone
2822
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most famous museum objects in the world, shown in the image above in replica, and dating from around 196 BC. It is a damaged, dark granite block on which you can faintly see three scripts engraved: Greek at the bottom, Demotic in the middle and Hieroglyphs at the top. Napoleon’s soldiers found it in a Mamluk fort at Rosetta on the Egyptian coast, and soon realised the Greek words could be used to unlock the hieroglyphs. It was another 20 years before Champollion deciphered them, becoming the first to understand the hieroglyphs since they fell out of use 1500 years before and so opening up the written culture of ancient Egypt to the modern age. With Penelope Wilson Associate Professor of Egyptian Archaeology at Durham University Campbell Price Curator of Egypt and Sudan at the Manchester Museum And Richard Bruce Parkinson Professor of Egyptology and Fellow of The Queen’s College, University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Feb 11, 2021
The Great Gatsby
3334
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss F Scott Fitzgerald’s finest novel, published in 1925, one of the great American novels of the twentieth century. It is told by Nick Carraway, neighbour and friend of the mysteriously wealthy Jay Gatsby. In the age of jazz and prohibition, Gatsby hosts lavish parties at his opulent home across the bay from Daisy Buchanan, in the hope she’ll attend one of them and they can be reunited. They were lovers as teenagers but she had given him up for a richer man who she soon married, and Gatsby is obsessed with winning her back. The image above is of Robert Redford as Gatsby in a scene from the film 'The Great Gatsby', 1974. With Sarah Churchwell Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of London Philip McGowan Professor of American Literature at Queen’s University, Belfast And William Blazek Associate Professor and Reader in American Literature at Liverpool Hope University Produced by Simon Tillotson and Julia Johnson
Jan 14, 2021
Fernando Pessoa
3006
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Portuguese poet Pessoa (1888-1935) who was largely unknown in his lifetime but who, in 1994, Harold Bloom included in his list of the 26 most significant western writers since the Middle Ages. Pessoa wrote in his own name but mainly in the names of characters he created, each with a distinctive voice and biography, which he called heteronyms rather than pseudonyms, notably Ricardo Reis, Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos and one who was closer to Pessoa's own identity, Bernardo Soares. Most of Pessoa's works were unpublished at his death, discovered in a trunk; as more and more was printed and translated, his fame and status grew. With Cláudia Pazos-Alonso Professor of Portuguese and Gender Studies and Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College, University of Oxford Juliet Perkins Visiting Senior Research Fellow in Portuguese Studies at King’s College London And Paulo de Medeiros Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson
Dec 03, 2020
Albrecht Dürer
3240
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) who achieved fame throughout Europe for the power of his images. These range from his woodcut of a rhinoceros, to his watercolour of a young hare, to his drawing of praying hands and his stunning self-portraits such as that above (albeit here in a later monochrome reproduction) with his distinctive A D monogram. He was expected to follow his father and become a goldsmith, but found his own way to be a great artist, taking public commissions that built his reputation but did not pay, while creating a market for his prints, and he captured the timeless and the new in a world of great change. With Susan Foister Deputy Director and Curator of German Paintings at the National Gallery Giulia Bartrum Freelance art historian and Former Curator of German Prints and Drawings at the British Museum And Ulinka Rublack Professor of Early Modern European History and Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge Studio production: John Goudie
Nov 12, 2020
Piers Plowman
3061
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Langland's poem, written around 1370, about a man called Will who fell asleep on the Malvern Hills and dreamed of Piers the Plowman. This was a time between the Black Death and The Peasants’ Revolt, when Christians wanted to save their souls but doubted how best to do it - and had to live with that uncertainty. Some call this the greatest medieval poem in English, one offering questions not answers, and it can be as unsettling now as it was then. With Laura Ashe Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford Lawrence Warner Professor of Medieval English at King’s College London And Alastair Bennett Lecturer in Medieval Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 29, 2020
Macbeth
3105
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. When three witches prophesy that Macbeth will be king one day, he is not prepared to wait and almost the next day he murders King Duncan as he sleeps, a guest at Macbeth’s castle. From there we explore their brutal world where few boundaries are distinct – between safe and unsafe, friend and foe, real and unreal, man and beast – until Macbeth too is slaughtered. The image above shows Nicol Williamson as Macbeth in a 1983 BBC TV adaptation. With: Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford Kiernan Ryan Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And David Schalkwyk, Professor of Shakespeare Studies and Director of Global Shakespeare at Queen Mary, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 01, 2020
Frankenstein
3309
In a programme first broadcast in May 2019, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Mary Shelley's (1797-1851) Gothic story of a Swiss natural philosopher, Victor Frankenstein, and the creature he makes from parts of cadavers and which he then abandons, horrified by his appearance, and never names. Rejected by all humans who see him, the monster takes his revenge on Frankenstein, killing those dear to him. Shelley started writing Frankenstein when she was 18, prompted by a competition she had with Byron and her husband Percy Shelley to tell a ghost story while they were rained in in the summer of 1816 at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva. The image of Mary Shelley, above, was first exhibited in 1840. With Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Michael Rossington Professor of Romantic Literature at Newcastle University And Jane Thomas Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson This programme is a repeat
Mar 19, 2020
George Sand
3297
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works and life of one of the most popular writers in Europe in C19th, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin (1804-1876) who wrote under the name George Sand. When she wrote her first novel under that name, she referred to herself as a man. This was in Indiana (1832), which had the main character breaking away from her unhappy marriage. It made an immediate impact as it overturned the social conventions of the time and it drew on her own early marriage to an older man, Casimir Dudevant. Once Sand's identity was widely known, her works became extremely popular in French and in translation, particularly her rural novels, outselling Hugo and Balzac in Britain, perhaps buoyed by an interest in her personal life, as well as by her ideas on the rights and education of women and strength of her writing. With Belinda Jack Fellow and Tutor in French at Christ Church, University of Oxford Angela Ryan Senior Lecturer in French at University College Cork And Nigel Harkness Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of French at Newcastle University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Feb 06, 2020
Catullus
3153
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Catullus (c84-c54 BC) who wrote some of the most sublime poetry in the late Roman Republic, and some of the most obscene. He found a new way to write about love, in poems to the mysterious Lesbia, married and elusive, and he influenced Virgil and Ovid and others, yet his explicit poems were to blight his reputation for a thousand years. Once the one surviving manuscript was discovered in the Middle Ages, though, anecdotally as a plug in a wine butt, he inspired Petrarch and the Elizabethan poets, as he continues to inspire many today. The image above is of Lesbia and her Sparrow, 1860, artist unknown With Gail Trimble Brown Fellow and Tutor in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford Simon Smith Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, poet and translator of Catullus and Maria Wyke Professor of Latin at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Jan 09, 2020
Auden
3205
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and poetry of WH Auden (1907-1973) up to his departure from Europe for the USA in 1939. As well as his personal life, he addressed suffering and confusion, and the moral issues that affected the wider public in the 1930s and tried to unpick what was going wrong in society and to understand those times. He witnessed the rise of totalitarianism in the austerity of that decade, travelling through Germany to Berlin, seeing Spain in the Civil War and China during its wars with Japan, often collaborating with Christopher Isherwood. In his lifetime his work attracted high praise and intense criticism, and has found new audiences in the fifty years since his death, sometimes taking literally what he meant ironically. With Mark Ford Poet and Professor of English at University College London Janet Montefiore Professor Emerita of 20th Century English Literature at the University of Kent And Jeremy Noel-Tod Senior Lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia Producer: Simon Tillotson
Dec 19, 2019
Crime and Punishment
3160
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the novel written by Dostoevsky and published in 1866, in which Raskolnikov, a struggling student, justifies his murder of two women, as his future is more valuable than their lives. He thinks himself superior, above the moral laws that apply to others. The police have little evidence against him but trust him to confess, once he cannot bear the mental torture of his crime - a fate he cannot avoid, any more than he can escape from life in St Petersburg and his personal failures. The image above is from a portrait of Dostoevsky by Vasili Perov, 1872. With Sarah Hudspith Associate Professor in Russian at the University of Leeds Oliver Ready Lecturer in Russian at the University of Oxford, Research Fellow at St Antony’s College and a translator of this novel And Sarah Young Associate Professor in Russian at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Nov 14, 2019
Robert Burns
3148
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of the man who, in his lifetime, was called The Caledonian Bard and whose fame and influence was to spread around the world. Burns (1759-1796) was born in Ayrshire and his work as a tenant farmer earned him the label The Ploughman Poet, yet it was the quality of his verse that helped his reputation endure and grow. His work inspired other Romantic poets and his personal story and ideas combined with that, giving his poems a broad strength and appeal - sung by revolutionaries and on Mao's Long March, as well as on New Year's Eve and at Burns Suppers. With Robert Crawford Professor of Modern Scottish Literature and Bishop Wardlaw Professor of Poetry at the University of St Andrews Fiona Stafford Professor of English at the University of Oxford and Murray Pittock Bradley Professor of English Literature and Pro Vice Principal at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 24, 2019
The Time Machine
3115
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas explored in HG Wells' novella, published in 1895, in which the Time Traveller moves forward to 802,701 AD. There he finds humanity has evolved into the Eloi and Morlocks, where the Eloi are small but leisured fruitarians and the Morlocks live below ground, carry out the work and have a different diet. Escaping the Morlocks, he travels millions of years into the future, where the environment no longer supports humanity. The image above is from a painting by Anton Brzezinski of a scene from The Time Machine, with the Time Traveller meeting the Eloi With Simon Schaffer Professor of History of Science at Cambridge University Amanda Rees Historian of science at the University of York And Simon James Professor in the Department of English Studies at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 17, 2019
Lorca
3204
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936), author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, who mixed the traditions of Andalusia with the avant-garde. He found his first major success with his Gypsy Ballads, although Dali, once his close friend, mocked him for these, accusing Lorca of being too conservative. He preferred performing his poems to publishing them, and his plays marked a revival in Spanish theatre. He was captured and killed by Nationalist forces at the start of the Civil War, his body never recovered, and it's been suggested this was punishment for his politics and for being openly gay. He has since been seen as the most important Spanish playwright and poet of the last century. With Maria Delgado Professor of Creative Arts at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London Federico Bonaddio Reader in Modern Spanish at King’s College London And Sarah Wright Professor of Hispanic Studies and Screen Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson
Jul 04, 2019
Sir Thomas Browne
3164
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the range, depth and style of Browne (1605-82) , a medical doctor whose curious mind drew him to explore and confess his own religious views, challenge myths and errors in science and consider how humans respond to the transience of life. His Religio Medici became famous throughout Europe and his openness about his religion, in that work, was noted as rare when others either kept quiet or professed orthodox views. His Pseudodoxia Epidemica challenged popular ideas, whether about the existence of mermaids or if Adam had a navel, and his Hydriotaphia or Urn Burial was a meditation on what matters to humans when handling the dead. In 1923, Virginia Woolf wrote, "Few people love the writings of Sir Thomas Browne, but those that do are the salt of the earth." He also contributed more words to the English language than almost anyone, such as electricity, indigenous, medical, ferocious, carnivorous ambidextrous and migrant. With Claire Preston Professor of Renaissance Literature at Queen Mary University of London Jessica Wolfe Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill And Kevin Killeen Professor of English at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
Jun 06, 2019
A Midsummer Night's Dream
3293
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare's most popular works, written c1595 in the last years of Elizabeth I. It is a comedy of love and desire and their many complications as well as their simplicity, and a reflection on society's expectations and limits. It is also a quiet critique of Elizabeth and her vulnerability and on the politics of the time, and an exploration of the power of imagination. With Helen Hackett Professor of English Literature and Leverhulme Research Fellow at University College London Tom Healy Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Sussex and Alison Findlay Professor of Renaissance Drama at Lancaster University and Chair of the British Shakespeare Association Producer: Simon Tillotson
Apr 18, 2019
Gerard Manley Hopkins
2859
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Hopkins (1844-89), a Jesuit priest who at times burned his poems and at others insisted they should not be published. His main themes are how he, nature and God relate to each other. His friend Robert Bridges preserved Hopkins' poetry and, once printed in 1918, works such as The Windhover, Pied Beauty and As Kingfishers Catch Fire were celebrated for their inventiveness and he was seen as a major poet, perhaps the greatest of the Victorian age. With Catherine Phillips R J Owens Fellow in English at Downing College, University of Cambridge Jane Wright Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Bristol and Martin Dubois Assistant Professor in Nineteenth Century Literature at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Mar 21, 2019
Antarah ibn Shaddad
2999
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life, works, context and legacy of Antarah (525-608AD), the great poet and warrior. According to legend, he was born a slave; his mother was an Ethiopian slave, his father an elite Arab cavalryman. Antarah won his freedom in battle and loved a woman called Abla who refused him, and they were later celebrated in the saga of Antar and Abla. One of Antarah's poems was so esteemed in pre-Islamic Arabia that it is believed it was hung up on the wall of the Kaaba in Mecca. With James Montgomery Sir Thomas Adams's Professor of Arabic at the University of Cambridge Marlé Hammond Senior Lecturer in Arabic Popular Literature and Culture at SOAS, University of London And Harry Munt Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson
Feb 28, 2019
Judith beheading Holofernes
2970
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how artists from the Middle Ages onwards have been inspired by the Bible story of the widow who killed an Assyrian general who was besieging her village, and so saved her people from his army and from his master Nebuchadnezzar. A symbol of a woman's power and the defiance of political tyranny, the image of Judith has been sculpted by Donatello, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and, in the case of Caravaggio, Liss and Artemisia Gentileschi, been shown with vivid, disturbing detail. What do these interpretations reveal of the attitudes to power and women in their time, and of the artists' own experiences? The image of Judith, above is from a tapestry in the Duomo, Milan, by Giovanni or Nicola Carcher, 1555 With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery John Gash Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Aberdeen And Ela Nutu Hall Research Associate at the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, at the University of Sheffield Producer: Simon Tillotson
Feb 14, 2019
Samuel Beckett
2938
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Beckett (1906 - 1989), who lived in Paris and wrote his plays and novels in French, not because his French was better than his English, but because it was worse. In works such as Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Molloy and Malone Dies, he wanted to show the limitations of language, what words could not do, together with the absurdity and humour of the human condition. In part he was reacting to the verbal omnipotence of James Joyce, with whom he’d worked in Paris, and in part to his experience in the French Resistance during World War 2, when he used code, writing not to reveal meaning but to conceal it. With Steven Connor Professor of English at the University of Cambridge Laura Salisbury Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Exeter And Mark Nixon Associate Professor in Modern Literature at the University of Reading and co-director of the Beckett International Foundation Producer: Simon Tillotson
Jan 17, 2019
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
3109
In a programme first broadcast in 2018, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the jewels of medieval English poetry. It was written c1400 by an unknown poet and then was left hidden in private collections until the C19th when it emerged. It tells the story of a giant green knight who disrupts Christmas at Camelot, daring Gawain to cut off his head with an axe if he can do the same to Gawain the following year. Much to the surprise of Arthur's court, who were kicking the green head around, the decapitated body reaches for his head and rides off, leaving Gawain to face his promise and his apparently inevitable death the following Christmas. The illustration above is ©British Library Board Cotton MS Nero A.x, article 3, ff.94v95 With Laura Ashe Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, University of Oxford Ad Putter Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Bristol And Simon Armitage Poet and Professor of Poetry at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson
Dec 13, 2018
Horace
2937
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Horace (65-8BC), who flourished under the Emperor Augustus. He was one of the greatest poets of his age and is one of the most quoted of any age. Carpe diem, nil desperandum, nunc est bibendum – that’s Horace. He was the son of a freedman from southern Italy and, thanks to his talent, achieved high status in Rome despite fighting on the losing side in the civil wars. His Odes are widely thought his most enduring works, yet he also wrote his scurrilous Epodes, some philosophical Epistles and broad Satires. He’s influenced poets ever since, including those such as Wilfred Owen who rejected his line: ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’. With Emily Gowers Professor of Latin Literature at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s College William Fitzgerald Professor of Latin Language and Literature at King’s College London and Ellen O’Gorman Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Bristol Producer: Simon Tillotson
Nov 15, 2018
Is Shakespeare History? The Romans
2897
In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time's 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today? The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, 1953 With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Catherine Steel Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow And Patrick Gray Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 18, 2018
Is Shakespeare History? The Plantagenets
3087
In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time's 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays. The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name, from 1951 With Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford Gordon McMullan Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre And Katherine Lewis Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 11, 2018
Edith Wharton
2968
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the works of Wharton (1862-1937) such as The Age of Innocence for which she won the Pulitzer Prize and was the first woman to do so, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Her novels explore the world of privileged New Yorkers in the Gilded Age of the late C19th, of which she was part, drawing on her own experiences and written from the perspective of the new century, either side of WW1 . Among her themes, she examined the choices available to women and the extent to which they could ever really be free, even if rich. With Dame Hermione Lee Biographer, former President of Wolfson College, Oxford Bridget Bennett Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds And Laura Rattray Reader in North American Literature at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson
Oct 04, 2018
The Iliad
2882
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great epic poem attributed to Homer, telling the story of an intense episode in the Trojan War. It is framed by the wrath of the Greek hero Achilles, insulted by his leader Agamemnon and withdrawing from the battle that continued to rage, only returning when his close friend Patroclus is killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Achilles turns his anger from Agamemnon to Hector and the fated destruction of Troy comes ever closer. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College London Barbara Graziosi Professor of Classics at Princeton University And Paul Cartledge A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture at Clare College, Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Sep 13, 2018
William Morris
3190
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of William Morris, known in his lifetime for his poetry and then his contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement, and increasingly for his political activism. He felt the world had given in to drudgery and ugliness and he found inspiration in the time before industrialisation, in the medieval life which was about fellowship and association and ways of working which resisted the division of labour and allowed the worker to exercise his or her imagination. Seeing a disconnection between art and society, his solution was revolution which in his view was the only way to reset their relationship. The image above is from the Strawberry Thief wallpaper design by William Morris. With Ingrid Hanson Lecturer in 18th and 19th Century Literature at the University of Manchester Marcus Waithe University Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Magdalene College And Jane Thomas Professor of Victorian and Early 20th Century Literature at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jul 05, 2018
Henrik Ibsen
2991
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Norwegian playwright and poet, best known for his middle class tragedies such as The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, A Doll's House and An Enemy of the People. These are set in a world where the middle class is dominant and explore the qualities of that life, its weaknesses and boundaries and the ways in which it takes away freedoms. It is the women who fare the worst in this society, something Ibsen explored in A Doll's House among others, a play that created a sensation with audiences shocked to watch a woman break free of her bourgeois family life to find her destiny. He explored dark secrets such as incest and, in Ghosts, hereditary syphilis, which attracted the censors. He gave actresses parts they had rarely had before, and audiences plays that, after Shakespeare, became the most performed in the world. With Tore Rem Professor of English Literature at the University of Oslo Kirsten Shepherd-Barr Professor of English and Theatre Studies and Tutorial Fellow, St Catherine's College at the University of Oxford And Dinah Birch Professor of English Literature and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Cultural Engagement at the University of Liverpool Producer: Simon Tillotson.
May 31, 2018
The Mabinogion
2906
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the eleven stories of Celtic mythology and Arthurian romance known as The Mabinogion, most of which were told and retold for generations before being written down in C14th. Among them are stories of Pwyll and Rhiannon and their son Pryderi, of Culhwch and Olwen, of the dream of the Emperor Macsen, of Lludd and Llefelys, of magic and giants and imagined history. With common themes but no single author, they project an image of the Island of Britain before the Anglo-Saxons and Normans and before Edward I's conquest of Wales. They came to new prominence, worldwide, from C19th with the translation into English by Lady Charlotte Guest aided by William Owen Pughe. The image above is of Cynon ap Clydno approaching the Castle of Maidens from the tale of Owain, or the Lady of the Fountain With Sioned Davies Professor in the School of Welsh at Cardiff University Helen Fulton Professor of Medieval Literature at the University of Bristol And Juliette Wood Associate Lecturer in the School of Welsh at Cardiff University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
May 10, 2018
Middlemarch
3109
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what Virginia Woolf called 'one of the few English novels written for grown-up people'. It was written by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans (1819-80), published in 8 parts in 1871-72, and was originally two separate stories which became woven together. One, 'Middlemarch', focused on a doctor, Tertius Lydgate and the other, 'Miss Brooke', on Dorothea Brooke who became the central figure in the finished work. The events are set in a small town in the Midlands, surrounded by farmland, leading up to the Reform Act 1832, and the novel explores the potential to change in matters of religion, social status, marriage and politics, and is particularly concerned with the opportunities available to women to lead fulfilling lives. The image above shows Rufus Sewell and Juliet Aubrey in the BBC adaptation, from 1994 With Rosemary Ashton Emeritus Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London Kathryn Hughes Professor of Life Writing at the University of East Anglia And John Bowen Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Apr 19, 2018
Anna Akhmatova
2923
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work, ideas and life of the Russian poet whose work was celebrated in C20th both for its quality and for what it represented, written under censorship in the Stalin years. Her best known poem, Requiem, was written after her son was imprisoned partly as a threat to her and, to avoid punishment for creating it, she passed it on to her supporters to be memorised, line by line, rather than written down. She was a problem for the authorities and became significant internationally, as her work came to symbolise resistance to political tyranny and the preservation of pre-Revolutionary liberal values in the Soviet era. The image above is based on 'Portrait of Anna Akhmatova' by N.I. Altman, 1914, Moscow With Katharine Hodgson Professor in Russian at the University of Exeter Alexandra Harrington Reader in Russian Studies at Durham University And Michael Basker Professor of Russian Literature and Dean of Arts at the University of Bristol Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jan 18, 2018
Hamlet
3153
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare's best known, most quoted and longest play, written c1599 - 1602 and rewritten throughout his lifetime. It is the story of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, encouraged by his father's ghost to take revenge on his uncle who murdered him, and is set at the court of Elsinore. In soliloquies, the Prince reveals his inner self to the audience while concealing his thoughts from all at the Danish court, who presume him insane. Shakespeare gives him lines such as 'to be or not to be,' 'alas, poor Yorick,' and 'frailty thy name is woman', which are known even to those who have never seen or read the play. And Hamlet has become the defining role for actors, men and women, who want to show their mastery of Shakespeare's work. The image above is from the 1964 film adaptation, directed by Grigori Kozintsev, with Innokenty Smoktunovsky as Hamlet. With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Carol Rutter Professor of Shakespeare and Performance Studies at the University of Warwick And Sonia Massai Professor of Shakespeare Studies at King's College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Dec 28, 2017
Beethoven
3013
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the great composers, who was born into a family of musicians in Bonn. His grandfather was an eminent musician and also called Ludwig van Beethoven. His father, who was not as talented as Beethoven's grandfather, drank heavily and died when Beethoven was still young. It was his move to Vienna that allowed him to flourish, with the support at first of aristocratic patrons, when that city was the hub of European music. He is credited with developing the symphony further than any who preceded him, with elevating instrumental above choral music and with transforming music to the highest form of art. He composed his celebrated works while, from his late twenties onwards, becoming increasingly deaf. (Before the live broadcast, BBC Radio 3's Breakfast programme played selections from Beethoven, with Essential Classics playing more, immediately after, on the same network.) With Laura Tunbridge Professor of Music and Henfrey Fellow, St Catherine's College, University of Oxford John Deathridge Emeritus King Edward Professor of Music at King's College London And Erica Buurman Senior Lecturer in Music, Canterbury Christchurch University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Dec 21, 2017
Moby Dick
3060
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Herman Melville's (1819-1891) epic novel, published in London in 1851, the story of Captain Ahab's pursuit of a great white sperm whale that had bitten off his leg. He risks his own life and that of his crew on the Pequod, single-mindedly seeking his revenge, his story narrated by Ishmael who was taking part in a whaling expedition for the first time. This is one of the c1000 ideas which listeners sent in this autumn for our fourth Listener Week, following Kafka's The Trial in 2014, Captain Cook in 2015 and Garibaldi and the Risorgimento in 2016. With Bridget Bennett Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds Katie McGettigan Lecturer in American Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London And Graham Thompson Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Nottingham Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Dec 07, 2017
Germaine de Stael
2997
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and impact of Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) who Byron praised as Europe's greatest living writer, and was at the heart of intellectual and literary life in the France of revolution and of Napoleon. As well as attracting and inspiring others in her salon, she wrote novels, plays. literary criticism, political essays, and poems and developed the ideas behind Romanticism. She achieved this while regularly exiled from the Paris in which she was born, having fallen out with Napoleon who she opposed, becoming a towering figure in the history of European ideas. With Catriona Seth, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford Alison Finch, Professor Emerita of French Literature at the University of Cambridge and Katherine Astbury, Associate Professor and Reader in French Studies at the University of Warwick. Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Nov 16, 2017
Picasso's Guernica
3257
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the context and impact of Pablo Picasso's iconic work, created soon after the bombing on 26th April 1937 that obliterated much of the Basque town of Guernica, and its people. The attack was carried out by warplanes of the German Condor Legion, joined by the Italian air force, on behalf of Franco's Nationalists. At first the Nationalists denied responsibility, blaming their opponents for creating the destruction themselves for propaganda purposes, but the accounts of journalists such as George Steer, and the prominence of Picasso's work, kept the events of that day under close scrutiny. Picasso's painting has gone on to become a symbol warning against the devastation of war. With Mary Vincent Professor of Modern European History at the University of Sheffield Gijs van Hensbergen Historian of Spanish Art and Fellow of the LSE Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies and Dacia Viejo Rose Lecturer in Heritage in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge Fellow of Selwyn College Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Nov 02, 2017
Aphra Behn
2991
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aphra Behn (1640-1689), who made her name and her living as a playwright, poet and writer of fiction under the Restoration. Virginia Woolf wrote of her: ' All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds'. Behn may well have spent some of her early life in Surinam, the setting for her novel Oroonoko, and there are records of her working in the Netherlands as a spy for Charles II. She was loyal to the Stuart kings, and refused to write a poem on the coronation of William of Orange. She was regarded as an important writer in her lifetime and inspired others to write, but fell out of favour for two centuries after her death when her work was seen as too bawdy, the product of a disreputable age. The image above is from the Yale Center for British Art and is titled 'Aphra Behn, by Sir Peter Lely, 1618-1680' With Janet Todd Former President of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge University Ros Ballaster Professor of 18th Century Literature at Mansfield College, University of Oxford and Claire Bowditch Post-doctoral Research Associate in English and Drama at Loughborough University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Oct 12, 2017
Wuthering Heights (repeat)
2971
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Emily Bronte (1818-1848) and her only novel, published in 1847 under the name 'Ellis Bell' just a year before her death. It is the story of Heathcliff, a foundling from Liverpool brought up in the Earnshaw family at the remote Wuthering Heights, high on the moors, who becomes close to the young Cathy Earnshaw but hears her say she can never marry him. He disappears and she marries his rival, Edgar Linton, of Thrushcross Grange even though she feels inextricably linked with Heathcliff, exclaiming to her maid 'I am Heathcliff!' On his return, Heathcliff steadily works through his revenge on all who he believes wronged him, and their relations. When Cathy dies, Heathcliff longs to be united with her in the grave. The raw passions and cruelty of the story unsettled Emily's sister Charlotte Bronte, whose novel Jane Eyre had been published shortly before, and who took pains to explain its roughness, jealousy and violence when introducing it to early readers. Over time, with its energy, imagination and scope, Wuthering Heights became celebrated as one of the great novels in English. The image above is of Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Cathy on the set of the Samuel Goldwyn Company movie 'Wuthering Heights', circa 1939. With Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford John Bowen Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature at the University of York and Alexandra Lewis Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Aberdeen Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Sep 28, 2017
al-Biruni
2512
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Central Asian polymath al-Biruni and his eleventh-century book the India.Born in around 973 in the central Asian region of Chorasmia, al-Biruni became an itinerant scholar of immense learning, a master of mathematics, medicine, astronomy and many languages. He corresponded with the age's greatest scientist, Avicenna, and made significant contributions to many fields of knowledge.In 1017 al-Biruni became a member of the court of the ruler Mahmud of Ghazna. Over the course of the next thirteen years he wrote the India, a comprehensive account of Hindu culture which was the first book about India by a Muslim scholar. It contains detailed information about Hindu religion, science and everyday life which have caused some to call it the first work of anthropology.With:James MontgomeryProfessor of Classical Arabic at the University of CambridgeHugh KennedyProfessor of Arabic in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of LondonAmira BennisonSenior Lecturer in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of CambridgeProducer: Thomas Morris.
Aug 31, 2017
Eugene Onegin
2967
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Alexander Pushkin's verse novel, the story of Eugene Onegin, widely regarded as his masterpiece. Pushkin (pictured above) began this in 1823 and worked on it over the next ten years, while moving around Russia, developing the central character of a figure all too typical of his age, the so-called superfluous man. Onegin is cynical, disillusioned and detached, his best friend Lensky is a romantic poet and Tatyana, whose love for Onegin is not returned until too late, is described as a poetic ideal of a Russian woman, and they are shown in the context of the Russian landscape and society that has shaped them. Onegin draws all three into tragic situations which, if he had been willing and able to act, he could have prevented, and so becomes the one responsible for the misery of himself and others as well as the death of his friend. With Andrew Kahn Professor of Russian Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Edmund Hall Emily Finer Lecturer in Russian and Comparative Literature at the University of St Andrews and Simon Dixon The Sir Bernard Pares Professor of Russian History at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jun 22, 2017
Christine de Pizan
3015
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Christine de Pizan, who wrote at the French Court in the late Middle Ages and was celebrated by Simone de Beauvoir as the first woman to 'take up her pen in defence of her sex.' She wrote across a broad range, and was particularly noted for challenging the depiction of women by famous writers such as Jean de Meun, author of the Romance of the Rose. She has been characterised as an early feminist who argued that women could play a much more important role in society than the one they were allotted, reflected in arguably her most important work, The Book of the City of Ladies, a response to the seemingly endless denigration of women in popular texts of the time. The image above, of Christine de Pizan lecturing, is (c)The British Library Board. Harley 4431, f.259v. With Helen Swift Associate Professor of Medieval French at the University of Oxford and Fellow of St Hilda's College Miranda Griffin Lecturer in French and Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge and Marilynn Desmond Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Binghamton University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jun 08, 2017
Emily Dickinson
2910
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and works of Emily Dickinson, arguably the most startling and original poet in America in the C19th. According to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, her correspondent and mentor, writing 15 years after her death, "Few events in American literary history have been more curious than the sudden rise of Emily Dickinson into a posthumous fame only more accentuated by the utterly recluse character of her life and by her aversion to even a literary publicity." That was in 1891 and, as more of Dickinson's poems were published, and more of her remaining letters, the more the interest in her and appreciation of her grew. With her distinctive voice, her abundance, and her exploration of her private world, she is now seen by many as one of the great lyric poets. With Fiona Green Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College Linda Freedman Lecturer in English and American Literature at University College London and Paraic Finnerty Reader in English and American Literature at the University of Portsmouth Producer: Simon Tillotson.
May 11, 2017
Hokusai
2887
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the Japanese artist whose views of Mt Fuji such as The Great Wave off Kanagawa (pictured) are some of the most iconic in world art. He worked as Japan was slowly moving towards greater contact with the outside world, trading with China and allowing two Dutch ships to dock each year. From these ships he picked up new synthetic colours and illustrations with Western compositions, which he incorporated in his traditional wood block prints. The quality of his images helped drive demand for prints among the highly literate Japanese public, particularly those required to travel to Edo under feudal obligations and who wanted to collect all his prints. As well as the quality of his work, Hokusai's success stems partly from his long life and career. He completed some of his most memorable works in his 70s and 80s and claimed he would not reach his best until he was 110. With Angus Lockyer Lecturer in Japanese History at SOAS University of London Rosina Buckland Senior Curator of Japanese Collections at the National Museum of Scotland And Ellis Tinios Honorary Lecturer in the School of History, University of Leeds Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Mar 30, 2017
North and South
2881
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South, published in 1855 after serialisation in Dickens' Household Words magazine. It is the story of Margaret Hale, who was raised in the South in the New Forest and London's Harley Street, and then moves North to a smokey mill town, Milton, in Darkshire. As well as Margaret's emotional life and her growing sense of independence, the novel explores the new ways of living thrown up by industrialisation, and the relationships between 'masters and men'. Many of Margaret Hale's experiences echo Gaskell's own life, as she was born in Chelsea and later moved to Manchester, and the novel has become valued for its insights into social conflicts and the changing world in which Gaskell lived. With Sally Shuttleworth Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford Dinah Birch Pro-vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of English Literature at the University of Liverpool And Jenny Uglow Biographer of Elizabeth Gaskell Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Mar 09, 2017
Seneca the Younger
3085
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Seneca the Younger, who was one of the first great writers to live his entire life in the world of the new Roman empire, after the fall of the Republic. He was a Stoic philosopher, he wrote blood-soaked tragedies, he was an orator, and he navigated his way through the reigns of Caligula, Claudius and Nero, sometimes exercising power at the highest level and at others spending years in exile. Agrippina the Younger was the one who called for him to tutor Nero, and it is thought Seneca helped curb some of Nero's excesses. He was later revered within the Christian church, partly for what he did and partly for what he was said to have done in forged letters to St Paul. His tragedies, with their ghosts and high body count, influenced Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, and Kyd's Spanish Tragedy. The image above is the so-called bust of Seneca, a detail from Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Rubens. With Mary Beard Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge Catharine Edwards Professor of Classics and Ancient History at Birkbeck, University of London and Alessandro Schiesaro Professor of Classics at the University of Manchester Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Feb 23, 2017
John Clare
2895
In a programme first broadcast in 2017, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Northamptonshire poet John Clare who, according to one of Melvyn's guests Jonathan Bate, was 'the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced'. Clare worked in a tavern, as a gardener and as a farm labourer in the early 19th century and achieved his first literary success with Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery. He was praised for his descriptions of rural England and his childhood there, and his reaction to the changes he saw in the Agricultural Revolution with its enclosures, displacement and altered, disrupted landscape. Despite poor mental health and, from middle age onwards, many years in asylums, John Clare continued to write and he is now seen as one of the great poets of his age. With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Mina Gorji Senior Lecturer in the English Faculty and fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge and Simon Kövesi Professor of English Literature at Oxford Brookes University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Feb 09, 2017
Four Quartets
2911
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Four Quartets, TS Eliot's last great work which he composed, against a background of imminent and actual world war, as meditations on the relationship between time and humanity. With David Moody Emeritus Professor of English and American Literature at the University of York Fran Brearton Professor of Modern Poetry at Queen's University, Belfast And Mark Ford Professor of English and American Literature at University College London Producer: Simon Tillotson Jeremy Irons will be reading TS Eliot's greatest poems, from Prufrock to The Waste Land to Four Quartets, across New Year's Day here on Radio 4.
Dec 22, 2016
The Fighting Temeraire
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This image: Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 (c) The National Gallery, London Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss "The Fighting Temeraire", one of Turner's greatest works and the one he called his 'darling'. It shows one of the most famous ships of the age, a hero of Trafalgar, being towed up the Thames to the breakers' yard, sail giving way to steam. Turner displayed this masterpiece to a public which, at the time, was deep in celebration of the Temeraire era, with work on Nelson's Column underway, and it was an immediate success, with Thackeray calling the painting 'a national ode'. With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery David Blayney Brown Manton Curator of British Art 1790-1850 at Tate Britain and James Davey Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Nov 10, 2016
Epic of Gilgamesh
2812
"He who saw the Deep" are the first words of the standard version of The Epic of Gilgamesh, the subject of this discussion between Melvyn Bragg and his guests. Gilgamesh is often said to be the oldest surviving great work of literature, with origins in the third millennium BC, and it passed through thousands of years on cuneiform tablets. Unlike epics of Greece and Rome, the intact story of Gilgamesh became lost to later generations until tablets were discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 near Mosul and later translated. Since then, many more tablets have been found and much of the text has been reassembled to convey the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk the sheepfold, and Enkidu who the gods created to stop Gilgamesh oppressing his people. Together they fight Humbaba, monstrous guardian of the Cedar Forest, and kill the Bull of Heaven, for which the gods make Enkidu mortally ill. Gilgamesh goes on a long journey as he tries unsuccessfully to learn how to live forever, learning about the Great Deluge on the way, but his remarkable building works guarantee that his fame will last long after his death. With Andrew George Professor of Babylonian at SOAS, University of London Frances Reynolds Shillito Fellow in Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, University of Oxford and Fellow of St Benet's Hall and Martin Worthington Lecturer in Assyriology at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Nov 03, 2016
The 12th Century Renaissance
2963
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changes in the intellectual world of Western Europe in the 12th Century, and their origins. This was a time of Crusades, the formation of states, the start of Gothic architecture, a reconnection with Roman and Greek learning and their Arabic development and the start of the European universities, and has become known as The 12th Century Renaissance. The image above is part of Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière, Chartres Cathedral, from 1180. With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of Oxford Elisabeth van Houts Honorary Professor of European Medieval History at the University of Cambridge and Giles Gasper Reader in Medieval History at Durham University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Oct 20, 2016
Animal Farm
3077
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Animal Farm, which Eric Blair published under his pen name George Orwell in 1945. A biting critique of totalitarianism, particularly Stalinism, the essay sprung from Orwell's experiences fighting Fascists in Spain: he thought that all on the left were on the same side, until the dominant Communists violently suppressed the Anarchists and Trotskyists, and Orwell had to escape to France to avoid arrest. Setting his satire in an English farm, Orwell drew on the Russian Revolution of 1917, on Stalin's cult of personality and the purges. The leaders on Animal Farm are pigs, the secret police are attack dogs, the supporters who drown out debate with "four legs good, two legs bad" are sheep. At first, London publishers did not want to touch Orwell's work out of sympathy for the USSR, an ally of Britain in WW2, but the Cold War gave it a new audience and Animal Farm became a commercial as well as a critical success. With Steven Connor Grace 2 Professor of English at the University of Cambridge Mary Vincent Professor of Modern European History at the University of Sheffield and Robert Colls Professor of Cultural History at De Montfort University Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Sep 29, 2016
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Blake's collection of illustrated poems "Songs of Innocence and of Experience." He published Songs of Innocence first in 1789 with five hand-coloured copies and, five years later, with additional Songs of Experience poems and the explanatory phrase "Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul." Blake drew on the street ballads and improving children's rhymes of the time, exploring the open and optimistic outlook of early childhood with the darker and more cynical outlook of adult life, in which symbols such as the Lamb belong to innocence and the Tyger to experience. With Sir Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford Sarah Haggarty Lecturer at the Faculty of English and Fellow of Queens' College, University of Cambridge And Jon Mee Professor of Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of York Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jun 23, 2016
The Muses
2729
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Muses and their role in Greek mythology, when they were goddesses of poetry, song, music and dance: what the Greeks called mousike, 'the art of the Muses' from which we derive our word 'music.' While the number of Muses, their origin and their roles varied in different accounts and at different times, they were consistently linked with the nature of artistic inspiration. This raised a question for philosophers then and since: was a creative person an empty vessel into which the Muses poured their gifts, at their will, or could that person do something to make inspiration flow? With Paul Cartledge Emeritus Professor of Greek Culture and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge Angie Hobbs Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, University of Sheffield And Penelope Murray Founder member and retired Senior Lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Warwick Producer: Simon Tillotson Image: 'Apollo and the Muses (Parnassus)', 1631-1632. Oil on canvas. Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).
May 19, 2016
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
2803
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, originally serialised in The Graphic in 1891 and, with some significant changes, published as a complete novel in 1892. The book was controversial even before serialisation, rejected by one publisher as too overtly sexual, to which a second added it did not publish 'stories where the plot involves frequent and detailed reference to immoral situations.' Hardy's description of Tess as 'A Pure Woman' in 1892 incensed some Victorian readers. He resented having to censor some of his scenes in the early versions, including references to Tess's baby following her rape by Alec d'Urberville, and even to a scene where Angel Clare lifted four milkmaids over a flooded lane (substituting transportation by wheelbarrow). The image above, from the 1891 edition, is captioned 'It Was Not Till About Three O'clock That Tess Raised Her Eyes And Gave A Momentary Glance Round. She Felt But Little Surprise At Seeing That Alec D'urberville Had Come Back, And Was Standing Under The Hedge By The Gate'. With Dinah Birch Professor of English Literature and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact at the University of Liverpool Francis O'Gorman Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leeds And Jane Thomas Reader in Victorian and early Twentieth Century literature at the University of Hull Producer: Simon Tillotson.
May 05, 2016
Aurora Leigh
2812
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Elizabeth Barrett Browning's epic "Aurora Leigh" which was published in 1856. It is the story of an orphan, Aurora, born in Italy to an English father and Tuscan mother, who is brought up by an aunt in rural Shropshire. She has a successful career as a poet in London and, when living in Florence, is reunited with her cousin, Romney Leigh, whose proposal she turned down a decade before. The poem was celebrated by other poets and was Elizabeth Barrett Browning's most commercially successful. Over 11,000 lines, she addressed many Victorian social issues, including reform, illegitimacy, the pressure to marry and what women must overcome to be independent, successful writers, in a world dominated by men. With Margaret Reynolds Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London Daniel Karlin Winterstoke Professor of English Literature at the University of Bristol And Karen O'Brien Professor of English Literature at King's College London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Mar 24, 2016
Rumi's Poetry
2804
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the poetry of Rumi, the Persian scholar and Sufi mystic of the 13th Century. His great poetic works are the Masnavi or "spiritual couplets" and the Divan, a collection of thousands of lyric poems. He is closely connected with four modern countries: Afghanistan, as he was born in Balkh, from which he gains the name Balkhi; Uzbekistan from his time in Samarkand as a child; Iran as he wrote in Persian; and Turkey for his work in Konya, where he spent most of his working life and where his followers established the Mevlevi Order, also known as the Whirling Dervishes. With Alan Williams British Academy Wolfson Research Professor at the University of Manchester Carole Hillenbrand Professor of Islamic History at the University of St Andrews and Professor Emerita of Edinburgh University And Lloyd Ridgeon Reader in Islamic Studies at the University of Glasgow Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Feb 11, 2016
Tristan and Iseult
2712
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Tristan and Iseult, one of the most popular stories of the Middle Ages. From roots in Celtic myth, it passed into written form in Britain a century after the Norman Conquest and almost immediately spread throughout northern Europe. It tells of a Cornish knight and an Irish queen, Tristan and Iseult, who accidentally drink a love potion, at the same time, on the same boat, travelling to Cornwall. She is due to marry Tristan's king, Mark. Tristan and Iseult seemed ideally matched and their love was heroic, but could that excuse their adultery, in the minds of medieval listeners, particularly when the Church was so clear they were wrong? With Laura Ashe Associate Professor of English at Worcester College, University of Oxford Juliette Wood Associate Lecturer in the School of Welsh at Cardiff University And Mark Chinca Reader in Medieval German Literature at the University of Cambridge Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Dec 31, 2015
Emma
2847
"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." So begins Emma by Jane Austen, describing her leading character who, she said, was "a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like." Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss this, one of Austen's most popular novels and arguably her masterpiece, a brilliantly sparkling comedy of manners published in December 1815 by John Murray, the last to be published in Austen's lifetime. This followed Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Mansfield Park (1814), with her brother Henry handling publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (1817). With Janet Todd Professor Emerita of Literature, University of Aberdeen and Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge John Mullan Professor of English at University College, London And Emma Clery Professor of English at the University of Southampton. Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Nov 19, 2015
Holbein at the Tudor Court
2790
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) during his two extended stays in England, when he worked at the Tudor Court and became the King's painter. Holbein created some of the most significant portraits of his age, including an image of Henry VIII, looking straight at the viewer, hands on hips, that has dominated perceptions of him since. The original at Whitehall Palace was said to make visitors tremble at its majesty. Holbein was later sent to Europe to paint the women who might be Henry's fourth wife; his depiction of Anne of Cleves was enough to encourage Henry to marry her, a decision Henry quickly regretted and for which Thomas Cromwell, her supporter, was executed. His paintings still shape the way we see those in and around the Tudor Court, including Cromwell, Thomas More, the infant Prince Edward (of which there is a detail, above), The Ambassadors and, of course, Henry the Eighth himself. With Susan Foister Curator of Early Netherlandish, German and British Painting at the National Gallery John Guy A fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge And Maria Hayward Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Southampton Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Oct 15, 2015
Frida Kahlo
2737
Born near Mexico City in 1907, Frida Kahlo is considered one of Mexico's greatest artists. She took up painting after a bus accident left her severely injured, was a Communist, married Diego Rivera, a celebrated muralist, became friends with Trotsky and developed an iconic series of self-portraits. Her work brings together elements such as surrealism, pop culture, Aztec and Indian mythology and commentary on Mexican culture. In 1938, artist and poet Andre Breton organised an exhibition of her work in New York, writing in the catalogue, "The Art of Frida Kahlo is a ribbon around a bomb." She was not as widely appreciated during her lifetime as she has since become, but is now one of the most recognised artists of the 20th century. With Patience Schell Chair in Hispanic Studies at the University of Aberdeen Valerie Fraser Emeritus Professor of Latin American Art at the University of Essex And Alan Knight Emeritus Professor of the History of Latin America at the University of Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jul 09, 2015
Jane Eyre
2737
The story of Jane Eyre is one of the best-known in English fiction. Jane is the orphan who survives a miserable early life, first with her aunt at Gateshead Hall and then at Lowood School. She leaves the school for Thornfield Hall, to become governess to the French ward of Mr Rochester. She and Rochester fall in love but, at their wedding, it is revealed he is married already and his wife, insane, is kept in Thornfield's attic. When Jane Eyre was published in 1847, it was a great success and brought fame to Charlotte Bronte. Combined with Gothic mystery and horror, the book explores many themes, including the treatment of children, relations between men and women, religious faith and hypocrisy, individuality, morality, equality and the nature of true love. With Dinah Birch Professor of English Literature and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Liverpool Karen O'Brien Vice Principal and Professor of English Literature at King's College London And Sara Lyons Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Jun 18, 2015
Tagore
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Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. He has been called one of the outstanding thinkers of the 20th century and the greatest poet India has ever produced. His Nobel followed publication of Gitanjali, his English version of some of his Bengali poems. WB Yeats and Ezra Pound were great supporters. Tagore was born in Calcutta in 1861 and educated partly in Britain; King George V knighted him, but Tagore renounced this in 1919 following the Amritsar Massacre. A key figure in Indian nationalism, Tagore became a friend of Gandhi, offering criticism as well as support. A polymath and progressive, Tagore painted, wrote plays, novels, short stories and many songs. The national anthems of India and Bangladesh are based on his poems. With Chandrika Kaul Lecturer in Modern History at the University of St Andrews Bashabi Fraser Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Edinburgh Napier University And John Stevens Leverhulme Postdoctoral Fellow at SOAS, University of London Producer: Simon Tillotson.
May 07, 2015
Fanny Burney
2665
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the 18th-century novelist, playwright and diarist Fanny Burney, also known as Madame D'Arblay and Frances Burney. Her first novel, Evelina, was published anonymously and caused a sensation, attracting the admiration of many eminent contemporaries. In an era when very few women published their work she achieved extraordinary success, and her admirers included Dr Johnson and Edmund Burke; later Virginia Woolf called her 'the mother of English fiction'. With Nicole Pohl Reader in English Literature at Oxford Brookes University Judith Hawley Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London and John Mullan Professor of English at University College London. Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Apr 23, 2015
Sappho
2762
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Greek poet Sappho. Born in the late seventh century BC, Sappho spent much of her life on the island of Lesbos. In antiquity she was famed as one of the greatest lyric poets, but owing to a series of accidents the bulk of her work was lost to posterity. The fragments that do survive, however, give a tantalising glimpse of a unique voice of Greek literature. Her work has lived on in other languages, too, translated by such major poets as Ovid, Christina Rossetti and Baudelaire. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College, London Margaret Reynolds Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London and Dirk Obbink Professor of Papyrology and Greek Literature at the University of Oxford Fellow and tutor at Christ Church, Oxford Producer: Simon Tillotson.
Apr 09, 2015
Beowulf
2789
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the epic poem Beowulf, one of the masterpieces of Anglo-Saxon literature. Composed in the early Middle Ages by an anonymous poet, the work tells the story of a Scandinavian hero whose feats include battles with the fearsome monster Grendel and a fire-breathing dragon. It survives in a single manuscript dating from around 1000 AD, and was almost completely unknown until its rediscovery in the nineteenth century. Since then it has been translated into modern English by writers including William Morris, JRR Tolkien and Seamus Heaney, and inspired poems, novels and films. With: Laura Ashe Associate Professor in English at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Worcester College Clare Lees Professor of Medieval English Literature and History of the Language at King's College London Andy Orchard Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at the University of Oxford Producer: Thomas Morris.
Mar 05, 2015
Bruegel's The Fight Between Carnival and Lent
2735
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Pieter Bruegel the Elder's painting of 1559, 'The Fight Between Carnival And Lent'. Created in Antwerp at a time of religious tension between Catholics and Protestants, the painting is rich in detail and seems ripe for interpretation. But Bruegel is notoriously difficult to interpret. His art seems to reject the preoccupations of the Italian Renaissance, drawing instead on techniques associated with the new technology of the 16th century, print. Was Bruegel using his art to comment on the controversies of his day? If so, what comment was he making? CONTRIBUTORS Louise Milne, Lecturer in Visual Culture in the School of Art at the University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh Napier University Jeanne Nuechterlein, Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art, University of York Miri Rubin, Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History and Head of the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London Producer: Luke Mulhall.
Jan 15, 2015
Kafka's The Trial
2598
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Franz Kafka's novel of power and alienation 'The Trial', in which readers follow the protagonist Joseph K into a bizarre, nightmarish world in which he stands accused of an unknown crime; courts of interrogation convene in obscure tenement buildings; and there seems to be no escape from a crushing, oppressive bureaucracy. Kafka was a German-speaking Jew who lived in the Czech city of Prague, during the turbulent years which followed the First World War. He spent his days working as a lawyer for an insurance company, but by night he wrote stories and novels considered some of the high points of twentieth century literature. His explorations of power and alienation have chimed with existentialists, Marxists, psychoanalysts, postmodernists - and Radio 4 listeners, who suggested this as our topic for listener week on In Our Time. GUESTS Elizabeth Boa, Professor Emerita of German at the University of Nottingham Steve Connor, Grace 2 Professor of English at the University of Cambridge Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Professor of the German Language and Literature at the University of Oxford Producer: Luke Mulhall.
Nov 27, 2014
Aesop
2722
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Aesop. According to some accounts, Aesop was a strikingly ugly slave who was dumb until granted the power of speech by the goddess Isis. In stories of his life he's often found outwitting his masters using clever wordplay, but he's best known today as the supposed author of a series of fables that are some of the most enduringly popular works of Ancient Greek literature. Some modern scholars question whether he existed at all, but the body of work that has come down to us under his name gives us a rare glimpse of the popular culture of the Ancient World. WITH Pavlos Avlamis, Junior Research Fellow in Classics at Trinity College at the University of Oxford Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek Literature and Culture at the University of Cambridge Lucy Grig, Senior Lecturer in Classics at the University of Edinburgh Producer: Luke Mulhall.
Nov 20, 2014
Rudyard Kipling
2744
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Rudyard Kipling. Born in Bombay in 1865, Kipling has been described as the poet of Empire, celebrated for fictional works including Kim and The Jungle Book. Today his poem 'If--' remains one of the best known in the English language. Kipling was amongst the first writers in English to develop the short story as a literary form in its own right, and was the first British recipient of a Nobel Prize for Literature. A literary celebrity of the Edwardian era, Kipling's work for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission played a major role in Britain's cultural response to the First World War. Contributors: Howard Booth, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Manchester Daniel Karlin, Winterstoke Professor of English Literature at the University of Bristol Jan Montefiore, Professor of Twentieth Century English Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Luke Mulhall.
Oct 16, 2014
Mrs Dalloway
2730
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway. First published in 1925, it charts a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a prosperous member of London society, as she prepares to throw a party. Writing in her diary during the writing of the book, Woolf explained what she had set out to do: 'I want to give life and death, sanity and insanity. I want to criticize the social system, and to show it at work at its most intense.' Celebrated for its innovative narrative technique and distillation of many of the preoccupations of 1920s Britain, Mrs Dalloway is now seen as a landmark of twentieth-century fiction, and one of the finest products of literary modernism. With: Professor Dame Hermione Lee President of Wolfson College, Oxford Jane Goldman Reader in English Literature at the University of Glasgow Kathryn Simpson Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Jul 03, 2014
The Bluestockings
2792
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Bluestockings. Around the middle of the eighteenth century a small group of intellectual women began to meet regularly to discuss literature and other matters, inviting some of the leading thinkers of the day to take part in informal salons. In an age when women were not expected to be highly educated, the Bluestockings were sometimes regarded with suspicion or even hostility. But prominent members such as Elizabeth Montagu - known as 'the Queen of the Bluestockings', and author of an influential essay about Shakespeare - and the classicist Elizabeth Carter were highly regarded for their scholarship. Their accomplishments led to far greater acceptance of women as the intellectual equal of men, and furthered the cause of female education. With: Karen O'Brien Vice-Principal and Professor of English at King's College London Elizabeth Eger Reader in English Literature at King's College London Nicole Pohl Reader in English Literature at Oxford Brookes University Producer: Thomas Morris.
Jun 05, 2014
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
2827
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In 1859 the poet Edward FitzGerald published a long poem based on the verses of the 11th-century Persian scholar Omar Khayyam. Not a single copy was sold in the first few months after the work's publication, but after it came to the notice of members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood it became enormously influential. Although only loosely based on the original, the Rubaiyat made Khayyam the best-known Eastern poet in the English-speaking world. FitzGerald's version is itself one of the most admired works of Victorian literature, praised and imitated by many later writers. With: Charles Melville Professor of Persian History at the University of Cambridge Daniel Karlin Winterstoke Professor of English Literature at the University of Bristol Kirstie Blair Professor of English Studies at the University of Stirling Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 22, 2014
The Tale of Sinuhe
2829
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The Tale of Sinuhe, one of the most celebrated works of ancient Egyptian literature. Written around four thousand years ago, the poem narrates the story of an Egyptian official who is exiled to Syria before returning to his homeland some years later. The number of versions of the poem, which is known from several surviving papyri and inscriptions, suggests that it was seen as an important literary work; although the story is set against a backdrop of real historical events, most scholars believe that the poem is a work of fiction. With: Richard Parkinson Professor of Egyptology and Fellow of Queen's College at the University of Oxford Roland Enmarch Senior Lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. Aidan Dodson Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 01, 2014
Tristram Shandy
2845
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Laurence Sterne's novel Tristram Shandy. Sterne's comic masterpiece is an extravagantly inventive work which was hugely popular when first published in 1759. Its often bawdy humour, and numerous digressions, are combined with bold literary experiment, such as a page printed entirely black to mark the death of one of the novel's characters. Dr Johnson wrote that "Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last" - but two hundred and fifty years after the book's publication, Tristram Shandy remains one of the most influential and widely admired books of the eighteenth century. With: Judith Hawley Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London John Mullan Professor of English at University College London Mary Newbould Bowman Supervisor in English at Wolfson College, University of Cambridge. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Apr 24, 2014
The Tempest
2519
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Written in around 1610, it is thought to be one of the playwright's final works and contains some of the most poetic and memorable passages in all his output. It was influenced by accounts of distant lands written by contemporary explorers, and by the complex international politics of the early Jacobean age. The Tempest is set entirely on an unnamed island inhabited by the magician Prospero, his daughter Miranda and the monstrous Caliban, one of the most intriguing characters in Shakespeare's output. Its themes include magic and the nature of theatre itself - and some modern critics have seen it as an early meditation on the ethics of colonialism. With: Jonathan Bate Provost of Worcester College, Oxford Erin Sullivan Lecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham Katherine Duncan-Jones Emeritus Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford Producer: Thomas Morris.
Nov 14, 2013
Pascal
2517
Melvyn Bragg and his guests begin a new series of the programme with a discussion of the French polymath Blaise Pascal. Born in 1623, Pascal was a brilliant mathematician and scientist, inventing one of the first mechanical calculators and making important discoveries about fluids and vacuums while still a young man. In his thirties he experienced a religious conversion, after which he devoted most of his attention to philosophy and theology. Although he died in his late thirties, Pascal left a formidable legacy as a scientist and pioneer of probability theory, and as one of seventeenth century Europe's greatest writers. With: David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York Michael Moriarty Drapers Professor of French at the University of Cambridge Michela Massimi Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Sep 19, 2013
The Invention of Radio
2519
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the invention of radio. In the early 1860s the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell derived four equations which together describe the behaviour of electricity and magnetism. They predicted the existence of a previously unknown phenomenon: electromagnetic waves. These waves were first observed in the early 1880s, and over the next two decades a succession of scientists and engineers built increasingly elaborate devices to produce and detect them. Eventually this gave birth to a new technology: radio. The Italian Guglielmo Marconi is commonly described as the father of radio - but many other figures were involved in its development, and it was not him but a Canadian, Reginald Fessenden, who first succeeded in transmitting speech over the airwaves. With: Simon Schaffer Professor of the History of Science at the University of Cambridge Elizabeth Bruton Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Leeds John Liffen Curator of Communications at the Science Museum, London Producer: Thomas Morris.
Jul 04, 2013
Romance of the Three Kingdoms
2527
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, widely regarded as one of the greatest works of Chinese literature. Written 600 years ago, it is an historical novel that tells the story of a tumultuous period in Chinese history, the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Partly historical and partly legend, it recounts the fighting and scheming of the feudal lords and the three states which came to power as the Han Dynasty collapsed. The influence of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in East Asia has been likened to that of Homer in the West, and this warfare epic remains popular in China today. With: Frances Wood Former Lead Curator of Chinese Collections at the British Library Craig Clunas Professor of the History of Art at the University of Oxford Margaret Hillenbrand University Lecturer in Modern Chinese Literature at the University of Oxford and Fellow of Wadham College Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Jun 27, 2013
Queen Zenobia
2520
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Queen Zenobia, a famous military leader of the ancient world. Born in around 240 AD, Zenobia was Empress of the Palmyrene Empire in the Middle East. A highly educated, intelligent and militarily accomplished leader, she claimed descent from Dido and Cleopatra and spoke many languages, including Egyptian. Zenobia led a rebellion against the Roman Empire and conquered Egypt before being finally defeated by the Emperor Aurelian. Her story captured the imagination of many Renaissance writers, and has become the subject of numerous operas, poems and plays. With: Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King's College, London Kate Cooper Professor of Ancient History at the University of Manchester Richard Stoneman Honorary Visiting Professor in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 30, 2013
Lévi-Strauss
2523
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work of the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss. One of twentieth-century France's most celebrated intellectuals, Lévi-Strauss attempted to show in his work that thought processes were a feature universal to humans, whether they lived in tribal rainforest societies or in the rich intellectual life of Paris. During the 1930s he studied native Brazilian tribes in the Amazonian jungle, but for most of his long career he preferred the study to the field. He was the leading exponent of structuralism, a school of thought which was influential for decades, and was involved in a famous debate with his friend Jean-Paul Sartre, who resisted many of his ideas. His books about the nature of myth, human thought and kinship are now seen as some of the most important anthropological texts written in the twentieth century. With: Adam Kuper Visiting Professor of Anthropology at Boston University Christina Howells Professor of French at Oxford University Vincent Debaene Associate Professor of French Literature at Columbia University Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 23, 2013
Icelandic Sagas
2524
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Icelandic Sagas. First written down in the 13th century, the sagas tell the stories of the Norse settlers of Iceland, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th century. They contain some of the richest and most extraordinary writing of the Middle Ages, and often depict events known to have happened in the early years of Icelandic history, although there is much debate as to how much of their content is factual and how much imaginative. Full of heroes, feuds and outlaws, with a smattering of ghosts and trolls, the sagas inspired later writers including Sir Walter Scott, William Morris and WH Auden. With: Carolyne Larrington Fellow and Tutor in Medieval English Literature at St John's College, Oxford Elizabeth Ashman Rowe University Lecturer in Scandinavian History at the University of Cambridge Emily Lethbridge Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Árni Magnússon Manuscripts Institute in Reykjavík Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 09, 2013
Montaigne
2523
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. Born near Bordeaux in 1533, Montaigne retired from a life of public service aged 38 and began to write. He called these short works 'essais', or 'attempts'; they deal with an eclectic range of subjects, from the dauntingly weighty to the apparently trivial. Although he never considered himself a philosopher, he is often now seen as one of the most outstanding Sceptical thinkers of early modern Europe. His approachable style, intelligence and subtle thought have made him one of the most widely admired writers of the Renaissance. With: David Wootton Anniversary Professor of History at York University Terence Cave Emeritus Professor of French Literature at the University of Oxford Felicity Green Chancellor's Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Apr 25, 2013
The Amazons
2532
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Amazons, a tribe of formidable female warriors first described in Greek literature. They appear in the Homeric epics and were described by Herodotus, and featured prominently in the decoration of Greek vases and public buildings. In later centuries, particularly in the Renaissance, the Amazons became a popular theme of literature and art. After the discovery of the New World, the largest river in South America was named the Amazon, since the warlike tribes inhabiting the river's margins reminded Spanish pioneers of the warriors of classical myth. With: Paul Cartledge A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University Chiara Franceschini Teaching Fellow at University College London and an Academic Assistant at the Warburg Institute Caroline Vout University Senior Lecturer in Classics and Fellow and Director of Studies at Christ's College, Cambridge. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Apr 11, 2013
Chekhov
2523
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Anton Chekhov. Born in 1860, Chekhov trained as a doctor and for most of his adult life divided his time between medicine and writing. Best known for plays including The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters, he is also celebrated today as one of the greatest of short story writers. His works are often powerful character studies and chronicle the changing nature of Russian society in the late nineteenth century. With: Catriona Kelly Professor of Russian at the University of Oxford Cynthia Marsh Emeritus Professor of Russian Drama and Literature at the University of Nottingham Rosamund Bartlett Founding Director of the Anton Chekhov Foundation and former Reader in Russian at the University of Durham. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Mar 14, 2013
Decline and Fall
2518
David Bradshaw, John Bowen and Ann Pasternak Slater join Melvyn Bragg to discuss Evelyn Waugh's comic novel Decline and Fall. Set partly in a substandard boys' public school, the novel is a vivid, often riotous portrait of 1920s Britain. Its themes, including modernity, religion and fashionable society, came to dominate Waugh's later fiction, but its savage wit and economy of style were entirely new. Published when Waugh was 24, the book was immediately celebrated for its vicious satire and biting humour. With: David Bradshaw Professor of English Literature at Worcester College, Oxford John Bowen Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York Ann Pasternak Slater Senior Research Fellow at St Anne's College, Oxford. Producer: Thomas Morris.
Feb 21, 2013
Le Morte d'Arthur
2527
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Thomas Malory's "Le Morte Darthur", the epic tale of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Sir Thomas Malory was a knight from Warwickshire, a respectable country gentleman and MP in the 1440s who later turned to a life of crime and spent various spells in prison. It was during Malory's final incarceration that he wrote "Le Morte Darthur", an epic work which was based primarily on French, but also some English, sources. Malory died shortly after his release in 1470 and it was to be another fifteen years before "Le Morte Darthur" was published by William Caxton, to immediate popular acclaim. Although the book fell from favour in the seventeenth century, it was revived again in Victorian times and became an inspiration for the Pre-Raphaelite movement who were entranced by the chivalric and romantic world that Malory portrayed. The Arthurian legend is one of the most enduring and popular in western literature and its characters - Sir Lancelot, Guinevere, Merlin and King Arthur himself, are as well-known today as they were then; and the book's themes - chivalry, betrayal, love and honour - remain as compelling. With: Helen Cooper Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge Helen Fulton Professor of Medieval Literature and Head of Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York Laura Ashe CUF Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow at Worcester College at the University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Jan 10, 2013
Shahnameh of Ferdowsi
2526
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the epic poem the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, the 'Book of Kings', which has been at the heart of Persian culture for the past thousand years. The poem recounts a legendary history of Iran from the dawn of time to the fall of the Persian Empire in the 7th century and serves, in a sense, as a creation myth for the Persian nation. The Shahnameh took Ferdowsi thirty years to write and, consisting of over 50,000 verses, is said to be the longest poem ever written by a single author. Laced with tragedy, Ferdowsi's epic chronicles battles, romances, family rifts and Man's interior struggle with himself. Although the stories may not always be true they have a profound resonance with Iranians even today, and the poem has been referred to as both the 'encyclopaedia of Iranian culture' and the identity card of the Persian people. With: Narguess Farzad Senior Fellow in Persian at SOAS, University of London Charles Melville Professor of Persian History at Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis Curator of Middle Eastern Coins at the British Museum Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Dec 13, 2012
The Anarchy
2532
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss The Anarchy, the civil war that took place in mid-twelfth century England. The war began as a succession dispute between the Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and her cousin, Stephen of Blois. On Henry's death Stephen seized the English throne and held it for a number of years before Matilda wrestled it from him, although she was chased out of London before she could be crowned. The Anarchy dragged on for nearly twenty years and is so called because of the chaos and lawlessness that characterised the period. Yet only one major battle ever took place, the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, and any other fighting associated with the conflict was fairly localised. This has led historians to question the accuracy of labelling the civil war as The Anarchy, a name only bestowed on the era in the 19th century. But why did Matilda fail to become the monarch, and what impact did it have on the way England was ruled in centuries to come? With: John Gillingham Emeritus Professor of History at the London School of Economics and Political Science Louise Wilkinson Reader in Medieval History at Canterbury Christ Church University David Carpenter Professor of Medieval History at Kings College London. Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Nov 01, 2012
Caxton and the Printing Press
2519
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and influence of William Caxton, the merchant who brought the printing press to the British Isles. After spending several years working as a printer in Bruges, Caxton returned to London and in 1476 set up his first printing press in Westminster, and also imported and sold other printed books. Caxton concentrated on producing popular books that he knew would sell, such as Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' and small liturgical 'books of hours'. The standard of Caxton's printing may have lagged behind that on the continent, but he was a skilful businessman and unusually for printers at the time, he managed not to go bankrupt. The advent of print is now seen as one of the great revolutions in intellectual history - although many scholars believe it was a revolution that took many generations to have an effect. With: Richard Gameson Professor of the History of the Book at the University of Durham Julia Boffey Professor of Medieval Studies in the English Department at Queen Mary, University of London David Rundle Member of the History Faculty at the University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Oct 18, 2012
Gerald of Wales
2526
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval scholar Gerald of Wales. Born around the middle of the twelfth century, Gerald was a cleric and courtier. For much of his life he was close to Henry II and the Church hierarchy, and wrote accounts of official journeys he made around Wales and Ireland in their service. Both Anglo-Norman and Welsh by parentage, he had a unique perspective on the political strife of his age. Gerald's Journey Around Wales and Description of Ireland are among the most colourful and informative chronicles of the Middle Ages, and had a powerful influence on later historians. With: Henrietta Leyser Emeritus Fellow of St Peter's College, University of Oxford Michelle Brown Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London Huw Pryce Professor of Welsh History at Bangor University Producer: Thomas Morris.
Oct 04, 2012
The Druids
2520
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Druids, the priests of ancient Europe. Active in Ireland, Britain and Gaul, the Druids were first written about by Roman authors including Julius Caesar and Pliny, who described them as wearing white robes and cutting mistletoe with golden sickles. They were suspected of leading resistance to the Romans, a fact which eventually led to their eradication from ancient Britain. In the early modern era, however, interest in the Druids revived, and later writers reinvented and romanticised their activities. Little is known for certain about their rituals and beliefs, but modern archaeological discoveries have shed new light on them. With: Barry Cunliffe Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at the University of Oxford Miranda Aldhouse-Green Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University Justin Champion Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas at Royal Holloway, University of London Producer: Thomas Morris.
Sep 20, 2012
Annie Besant
2518
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life of the prominent 19th-century social reformer Annie Besant. Born in 1847, Annie Besant espoused a range of causes including secularism, women's rights, Socialism, Irish Home Rule, birth control and better conditions for workers. Described by Beatrice Webb as having "the voice of a beautiful soul", Besant became an eloquent public speaker as well as writing numerous campaigning articles and pamphlets. She is perhaps most famous for the key role she played in the successful strike by female workers at the Bryant and May match factory in East London in 1888, which brought the appalling working conditions of many factory workers to greater public attention. Later in life she became a follower of theosophy, a belief system bringing together elements of Hinduism, Buddhism and other Eastern religions. She moved to India, its main base, and took on a leading role in the Indian self-rule movement, being appointed the first female president of the Indian National Congress in 1917. With: Lawrence Goldman Fellow in Modern History at St Peter's College, University of Oxford David Stack Reader in History at the University of Reading Yasmin Khan Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. Producer: Victoria Brignell.
Jun 21, 2012
James Joyce's Ulysses
2525
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss James Joyce's novel Ulysses. First published ninety years ago in Paris, Joyce's masterpiece is a sprawling and startlingly original work charting a single day in the life of the Dubliner Leopold Bloom. Some early readers were outraged by its sexual content and daringly scatalogical humour, and the novel was banned in most English-speaking countries for a decade after it first appeared. But it was soon recognised as a genuinely innovative work: overturning the ban on its publication, an American judge described Ulysses as "a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind."Today Ulysses is widely regarded as the greatest example of literary modernism, and a work that changed literature forever. It remains one of the most discussed novels ever written.Steven ConnorProfessor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck, University of LondonJeri JohnsonSenior Fellow in English at Exeter College, OxfordRichard BrownReader in Modern English Literature at the University of LeedsProducer: Thomas Morris.
Jun 14, 2012
Voltaire's Candide
2527
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Voltaire's novel Candide. First published in 1759, the novel follows the adventures of a young man, Candide, and his mentor, the philosopher Pangloss. Candide was written in the aftermath of a major earthquake in Lisbon and the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, events which caused such human suffering that they shook many people's faith in a benevolent God. Voltaire's masterpiece piles ridicule on Optimism, the fashionable philosophical belief that such disasters are part of God's plan for humanity - that 'all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds'.Often uproariously funny, the novel is a biting satire whose other targets include bad literature, extremist religion and the vanity of kings and politicians. It captivated contemporary readers and has proved one of French literature's most enduring classics.With:David WoottonAnniversary Professor of History at the University of YorkNicholas CronkProfessor of French Literature and Director of the Voltaire Foundation at the University of OxfordCaroline WarmanLecturer in French and Fellow of Jesus College at the University of Oxford.Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 03, 2012
Moses Mendelssohn
2538
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the work and influence of the eighteenth-century philosopher Moses Mendelssohn. A prominent figure at the court of Frederick the Great, Mendelssohn was one of the most significant thinkers of his age. He came from a humble, but culturally rich background and his obvious intelligence was recognised from a young age and nurtured by the local rabbi where he lived in the town of Dessau in Prussia. Moses's learning earned him the sobriquet of the 'German Socrates' and he is considered to be one of the principal architects of the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, and widely regarded as having helped bring Judaism into the mainstream of European culture. Mendelssohn is perhaps best remembered today for his efforts to bring Jewish and German culture closer together and for his plea for religious toleration.With:Christopher ClarkProfessor of Modern European History at the University of CambridgeAbigail GreenTutor and Fellow in History at the University of OxfordAdam SutcliffeSenior Lecturer in European History at King's College, London Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Mar 22, 2012
Benjamin Franklin
2520
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of Benjamin Franklin. A printer, statesman, diplomat, writer and scientist, Franklin was one of the most remarkable individuals of the eighteenth century. His discoveries relating to the nature of electricity, and in particular a celebrated experiment which involved flying a kite in a thunderstorm, made him famous in Europe and America. His inventions include bifocal spectacles, and a new type of stove. In the second half of his life he became prominent as a politician and a successful diplomat. As the only Founding Father to have signed all three of the fundamental documents of the United States of America, including its Declaration of Independence and Constitution, Benjamin Franklin occupies a unique position in the history of the nation. With:Simon MiddletonSenior Lecturer in American History at the University of SheffieldSimon NewmanSir Denis Brogan Professor of American History at the University of GlasgowPatricia FaraSenior Tutor at Clare College, University of Cambridge.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Mar 01, 2012
The Kama Sutra
2527
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Kama Sutra, one of the most celebrated and often misunderstood texts of Indian literature. Probably composed during the reign of the Gupta dynasty around 1800 years ago, the work is a collection of writings about the art of love and sensual pleasure. Although it is best known today for a single chapter devoted to sexual pleasure, this important Sanksrit collection contains much besides. In particular it teaches the attainment of Kama (pleasure), one of the central goals of Hinduism. The Kama Sutra is a manual to a life of fulfilment, offering advice on such subjects as finding a spouse and how to behave in marriage; it has had a profound influence on Indian culture and thought. With:Julius LipnerProfessor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of CambridgeJessica FrazierLecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Kent and Research Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu StudiesDavid SmithReader in South Asian Religions at the University of Lancaster.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Feb 02, 2012
The Safavid Dynasty
2528
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Safavid Dynasty, rulers of the Persian empire between the 16th and 18th centuries.In 1501 Shah Ismail, a boy of fifteen, declared himself ruler of Azerbaijan. Within a year he had expanded his territory to include most of Persia, and founded a ruling dynasty which was to last for more than two hundred years. At the peak of their success the Safavids ruled over a vast territory which included all of modern-day Iran. They converted their subjects to Shi'a Islam, and so created the religious identity of modern Iran - although they were also often ruthless in their suppression of Sunni practices. They thrived on international trade, and their capital Isfahan, rebuilt by the visionary Shah Abbas, became one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Under Safavid rule Persia became a cultural centre, producing many great artists and thinkers. With:Robert GleaveProfessor of Arabic Studies at the University of ExeterEmma LoosleySenior Lecturer at the School of Arts, Histories and Cultures at the University of ManchesterAndrew NewmanReader in Islamic Studies and Persian at the University of Edinburgh.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Jan 12, 2012
Robinson Crusoe
2524
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe. Published in 1719, it was an immediate success and is considered the classic adventure story. There are several incidents that may have inspired the tale, although none of them exactly mirrors Defoe's thrilling yet didactic narrative. The plot is now universally known - the sailor stranded on a desert island who learns to tame the environment and the native population. The character of Friday, Crusoe's trusty companion and servant, has become almost as famous as Crusoe himself and their master-servant relationship forms one of the principal themes in the novel. Robinson Crusoe has been interpreted in myriad ways, from colonial fable to religious instruction manual to capitalist tract; although arguably above all of these, it is perhaps best known today as a children's story. With:Karen O'BrienPro-Vice Chancellor for Education at the University of Birmingham Judith HawleyProfessor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonBob OwensEmeritus Professor of English Literature at the Open UniversityProducer: Natalia Fernandez.
Dec 22, 2011
Christina Rossetti
2512
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and work of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. Rossetti was born into an artistic family and her siblings included Dante Gabriel, one of the leading lights of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, to whose journal, 'The Germ', Christina contributed poems. She was a devout Anglican all her life and her religious beliefs are a recurring theme in her work. Christina never married, although she was engaged twice - one of her fiancés was the Pre-Raphaelite painter, James Collinson. She spent her time writing and volunteering for charitable works. It is said she even considered going to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale, but in the end ill health prevented her from doing so. Best known for her ballads and long narrative poems, she also wrote some prose and children's verses. Christina was admired by contemporaries including Swinburne, Tennyson and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her work was to have an influence on later writers such as Virginia Woolf and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rossetti's poetry has a spirituality and sensitivity that has led to her redisovery in recent decades, not least by feminist critics who praise her powerful and independent poetic voice. With:Dinah BirchProfessor of English Literature and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Liverpool University Rhian WilliamsLecturer in Nineteenth-Century English Literature at the University of GlasgowNicholas ShrimptonEmeritus Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Dec 01, 2011
Tennyson's In Memoriam
2526
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Alfred, Lord Tennyson's long poem In Memoriam.In 1850, shortly before his appointment as Poet Laureate, Tennyson published a work which many critics regard as his masterpiece. In Memoriam A.H.H. was written in tribute to a close friend, Arthur Hallam, who had died seventeen years earlier. The two had met while at university in Cambridge; during one summer when Hallam was visiting Tennyson he had fallen in love with and become engaged to Tennyson's sister, Emily. When Hallam died suddenly at the age of 22 Tennyson was torn apart by grief. He started to write verses for In Memoriam almost straight away, but it was only later that he assembled these fragments into one long poem. The work is a farewell not just to Hallam but to an entire system of thought. New geological discoveries meant that Biblical certainties, such as the age of the Earth, were suddenly thrown into question. Tennyson realised that the advent of new scientific certainties meant the death of old religious ones. The work was enormously successful; one early reader was Queen Victoria, who after the death of Prince Albert wrote: "Next to the Bible, In Memoriam is my comfort".With: Dinah BirchProfessor of English Literature and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Liverpool UniversitySeamus PerryFellow and Tutor in English at Balliol College, University of OxfordJane WrightLecturer in English at the University of Bristol. Producer: Natalia Fernandez.
Jun 29, 2011
The Anatomy of Melancholy
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Robert Burton's masterpiece The Anatomy of Melancholy.In 1621 the priest and scholar Robert Burton published a book quite unlike any other. The Anatomy of Melancholy brings together almost two thousand years of scholarship, from Ancient Greek philosophy to seventeenth-century medicine. Melancholy, a condition believed to be caused by an imbalance of the body's four humours, was characterised by despondency, depression and inactivity. Burton himself suffered from it, and resolved to compile an authoritative work of scholarship on the malady, drawing on all relevant sources.Despite its subject matter the Anatomy is an entertaining work, described by Samuel Johnson as the only book 'that ever took him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished to rise.' It also offers a fascinating insight into seventeenth-century medical theory, and influenced many generations of playwrights and poets.With:Julie SandersProfessor of English Literature and Drama at the University of NottinghamMary Ann LundLecturer in English at the University of LeicesterErin SullivanLecturer and Fellow at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham.Producer: Thomas Morris.
May 12, 2011
The Medieval University
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the medieval universities.In the 11th and 12th centuries a new type of institution started to appear in the major cities of Europe. The first universities were those of Bologna and Paris; within a hundred years similar educational organisations were springing up all over the continent. The first universities based their studies on the liberal arts curriculum, a mix of seven separate disciplines derived from the educational theories of Ancient Greece. The universities provided training for those intending to embark on careers in the Church, the law and education. They provided a new focus for intellectual life in Europe, and exerted a significant influence on society around them. And the university model proved so robust that many of these institutions and their medieval innovations still exist today.With:Miri RubinProfessor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary, University of LondonIan WeiSenior Lecturer in Medieval European History at the University of BristolPeter DenleyReader in History at Queen Mary, University of London.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Mar 17, 2011
Aristotle's Poetics
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Aristotle's Poetics. The Poetics is, as far as we know, the first ever work of literary theory. Written in the 4th century BC, it is the work of a scholar who was also a biologist, and treats literary works with the detached analytical eye of a scientist. Aristotle examines drama and epic poetry, and how they achieve their effects; he analyses tragedy and the ways in which it plays on our emotions. Many of the ideas he articulates, such as catharsis, have remained in our critical vocabulary ever since. The book also contains an impassioned defence of poetry, which had been attacked by other thinkers, including Aristotle's own teacher Plato.Translated by medieval Arab scholars, the Poetics was rediscovered in Europe during the Renaissance and became a playwriting manual for many dramatists of the era. Today it remains a standard text for would-be Hollywood screenwriters.With:Angie HobbsAssociate Professor of Philosophy and Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of WarwickNick LoweReader in Classical Literature at Royal Holloway, University of LondonStephen HalliwellProfessor of Greek at the University of St AndrewsProducer: Thomas Morris.
Jan 27, 2011
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss Byron's poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.In 1812 the 24-year-old Lord Byron published the first part of a long narrative poem. It caused an instant sensation. "I awoke one morning and found myself famous", wrote Byron in his memorandum book, and the first edition sold out in three days. The poem narrates the life of an aristocrat on a grand tour of Europe. Its central character is the first Byronic hero, a flawed but charismatic young man modelled on the poet.As well as offering a self-portrait of Byron as a young man, Childe Harold is a fascinating snapshot of Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a place ravaged by revolution and war; the poem also gives us an insight into the political and intellectual concerns of its author.With:Jonathan BateProfessor of English Literature at the University of WarwickJane StablerReader in Romanticism at the University of St AndrewsEmily Bernhard JacksonAssistant Professor in Nineteenth-Century English Literature at the University of Arkansas.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Jan 06, 2011
History of Metaphor
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of metaphor. In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques declares: "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players." This is a celebrated use of metaphor, a figure of speech in which one thing is used to describe another. Metaphor is a technique apparently as old as language itself; it is present in the earliest surviving work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Homer developed it into an art form, and his invention of the epic simile was picked up by later writers including Milton. In the Middle Ages the device of allegory underpinned much of French and English writing, while the Metaphysical poets employed increasingly elaborate metaphorical conceits in the sixteenth century. In the age of the novel the metaphor once again evolved, while the Modernist writers used it to subvert their readers' expectations. But how does metaphor work, and what does this device tell us about the way our minds function?With:Steven ConnorProfessor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck, University of LondonTom HealyProfessor of Renaissance Studies at the University of SussexJulie SandersProfessor of English Literature and Drama at the University of NottinghamProducer: Thomas Morris.
Nov 25, 2010
The Unicorn
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the unicorn. In the 5th century BC a Greek historian, Ctesias, described a strange one-horned beast which he believed to live in a remote area of India. Later classical scholars, including Aristotle and Pliny, added to his account of this animal which they called the monoceros, a vicious ass-like creature with a single horn in the middle of its forehead.For centuries the monoceros or unicorn was widely accepted to be a real - if rarely seen - beast. It appears in the Bible, and in the Middle Ages became a powerful Christian symbol. It continued to be represented in art and literature throughout the Renaissance, when 'unicorn horn' became one of the most valuable commodities on earth, thanks to its supposed properties as an antidote to poison. As late as the seventeenth century, scientists believed they had found conclusive proof of the existence of unicorns. It was some time before the animal was shown to be a myth; four hundred years on, the unicorn retains much of its fascination and symbolic power.With:Juliette WoodAssociate Lecturer in Folklore at Cardiff UniversityLauren KassellLecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of CambridgeDavid EkserdjianProfessor of the History of Art and Film at the University of Leicester.Producer: Thomas Morris.
Oct 28, 2010
Sturm und Drang
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Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the artistic movement known as Sturm und Drang.In the 1770s a small group of German writers started to produce plays, poetry and novels which were radically different from what had gone before. These writers were all young men, and they rejected the values of the Enlightenment, which they felt had robbed art of its spontaneity and feeling. Their work was passionate, ignored existing conventions and privileged the individual's free will above the constraints of society.The most prominent member of the movement was Johann von Goethe, whose novel The Sorrows of Young Werther became its most notable success, translated into more then thirty languages. Despite this and other successes including Schiller's play The Robbers, the Sturm und Drang disappeared almost as quickly as it had emerged; by the mid-1780s it was already a thing of the past.With:Tim BlanningEmeritus Professor of Modern European History at Cambridge UniversitySusanne KordProfessor of German at University College, LondonMaike Oergel Associate Professor of German at the University of NottinghamProducer: Thomas Morris.
Oct 14, 2010
Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists
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Melvyn Bragg discusses 'Lives of the Artists' - the great biographer Giorgio Vasari's study of Renaissance painters, sculptors and architects. In 1550 a little known Italian artist, Giorgio Vasari, published a revolutionary book entitled 'Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, from Cimabue to Our Times'. In it he chronicled the evolution of Italian art from the early pioneer Giotto to the perfection of Michelangelo.For the first time, Vasari set out to record artists' eccentricities and foibles as well as their artistic triumphs. We learn that the painter Piero di Cosimo was scared of the sound of bells, and witness Donatello shouting at his statues. But amongst these beguiling stories of human achievement, Vasari also explained his own theory of what made great art.In more recent decades, Vasari has been criticised for not allowing factual accuracy to get in the way of a good story. Nonetheless, the influence of his work has been unparalleled. It has formed and defined the way we think about Renaissance art to this day and some credit him with being the founder of the discipline of the history of art. Few artists that Vasari criticised have been comprehensively rehabilitated and Vasari's semi-divine trio of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo are still seen as the apotheosis of artistic perfection. With:Evelyn WelchProfessor of Renaissance Studies and Academic Dean for Arts at Queen Mary, University of LondonDavid EkserdjianProfessor of History of Art and Film at the University of LeicesterMartin KempEmeritus Professor in the History of Art at the University of OxfordProducer: Thomas Morris.
May 27, 2010
Roman Satire
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Roman Satire. Much of Roman culture was a development of their rich inheritance from the Greeks. But satire was a form the Romans could claim to have invented. The grandfather of Roman satire, Ennius, was also an important figure in early Roman literature more generally. Strikingly, he pioneered both epic and the satirical mockery of epic.But the father of the genre, Lucilius, is the writer credited with taking satire decisively towards what we now understand by the word: incisive invective aimed at particular personalities and their wrongs.All this happened under the Roman Republic, in which there was a large measure of free speech. But then the Republic was overthrown and Augustus established the Empire.The great satirist Horace had fought to save the Republic, but now reinvented himself as a loyal citizen of the Imperium. His satirical work explores the strains and hypocrisies of trying to maintain an independent sense of self at the heart of an autocracy.This struggle was deepened in the work of Persius, whose Stoicism-inflected writing was a quietist attempt to endure under the regime without challenging it.The work of the last great Roman satirist, Juvenal, was famously savage - yet his targets were either generic or long dead. So was satire a conservative or a radical genre? Was it cynical or did it aim to 'improve' people? Did it have any real impact? And was it actually funny?With:Mary BeardProfessor of Classics at Cambridge UniversityDenis FeeneyProfessor of Classics and Giger Professor of Latin at Princeton UniversityDuncan KennedyProfessor of Latin Literature and the Theory of Criticism at the University of BristolProducer: Phil Tinline.
Apr 22, 2010
Munch and The Scream
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Melvyn Bragg and guests David Jackson, Dorothy Rowe and Alastair Wright discuss the work of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, focusing on his most famous painting, The Scream.First exhibited in 1893 in Berlin, The Scream was the culmination of Munch's magnum opus, a series of paintings called The Frieze of Life. This depicted the course of human existence through burgeoning love and sexual passion to suffering, despair and death, in Munch's highly original, proto-expressionist style. His titles, from Death in the Sickroom, through Madonna to The Vampire, suggest just how directly and unironically he sought to depict the anxieties of late-19th century Europe.But against all Munch's images, it is The Scream which stands out as the work which has seared itself into the Western imagination. It remains widely celebrated for capturing the torment of existence in what appeared to many in Munch's time to be a frightening, godless world.Munch himself endured a childhood beset by illness, madness and bereavement. At 13, he was told by his father that his tuberculosis was fatal. But he survived and went on to become a major figure first in the Norwegian, then the European, avant-garde. He became involved with two of the great playwrights of the period. He collaborated with his fellow countryman Henrik Ibsen and became a close friend of the tempestuous Swede August Strindberg. He admired the work of Post-Impressionist painters such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, all of whom influenced his art. Munch's own influence resonated through the 20th century, from German Expressionism to Andy Warhol and beyond. His work, particularly The Scream, remains powerful today.David Jackson is Professor of Russian and Scandinavian Art Histories at the University of Leeds; Dorothy Rowe is Senior Lecturer in the History of Art at the University of Bristol; Alastair Wright is University Lecturer in the History of Art at St John's College, University of Oxford.
Mar 18, 2010
Silas Marner
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Melvyn Bragg and guests Rosemary Ashton, Dinah Birch and Valentine Cunningham discuss George Eliot's novel Silas Marner.Published in 1861, Silas Marner is by far Eliot's shortest and seemingly simplest work. Yet beneath the fairytale-like structure, of all her novels it offers the most focused expression of Eliot's moral view. Influenced by the deconstruction of Christianity pioneered by leading European thinkers including Auguste Comte and Ludwig Feuerbach, Silas Marner is a highly sophisticated attempt to translate the symbolism of religion into purely human terms.The novel tells the story of Silas, a weaver who is thrown out of his religious community after being falsely charged with theft. Silas is embittered and exists only for his work and his precious hoard of money - until that money is stolen, and an abandoned child wanders into his house.By the end of her lifetime, George Eliot was the most powerful female intellectual in the country. Her extraordinary range of publications encompassed novels, poetry, literary criticism, scientific and religious texts. But beneath her fierce intellecualism was the deep convinction that for society to continue, humans must connect with their fellow humans. And it is this idea that forms the core of her writing.Rosemary Ashton is Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College, London; Dinah Birch is Professor of English at Liverpool University; And Valentine Cunningham is Professor of English Language and Literature at Corpus Christi, University of Oxford.
Jan 28, 2010
The Samurai
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Melvyn Bragg and guests Gregory Irvine, Nicola Liscutin and Angus Lockyer discuss the history of the Samurai and the role of their myth in Japanese national identity.The Samurai have a fearsome historical reputation as a suicidally brave caste of Japanese warriors. During World War Two, kamikaze pilots were photographed climbing into their cockpits with Samurai swords, encapsulating the way the myth of the Samurai's martial ethos kept its power long after their heyday. But the Samurai's role in Japanese culture is much more complex than that. They were deeply engaged with Zen Buddhism and Noh Theatre, and sponsored haiku poetry. After their role in Japan's century of civil war, ending in the early 1600s, they became part of the country's civil service. A 250-year peace toppled them into identity crisis.In the 19th century, with the arrival of the West, they played an important role in the establishment of a Japanese nation-state, not least by restoring the Emperor to power. And in the 20th century the mythological version of the Samurai, designed in part for Western consumption, became integral to a newly forged national identity.Nicola Liscutin is Programme Director of Japanese Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; Gregory Irvine is Senior Curator Japan at the Victoria and Albert Museum; Angus Lockyer is Lecturer in Japanese History and Chair of the Japan Research Centre at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
Dec 24, 2009
Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
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Melvyn Bragg and guests Roy Foster, Jeri Johnson and Katherine Mullin discuss A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce's groundbreaking 1916 novel about growing up in Catholic Ireland.Many novelists choose their own young life as the subject for their first book. But very few have subjected themselves to the intense self-scrutiny of the great Irish novelist James Joyce. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916, Joyce follows his alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, from babyhood to young adulthood. He takes us from Stephen wetting the bed, through a teenage visit to a prostitute, and on through religious terrors to the prospect of freedom. When it was published, the book met with shock at its graphic honesty. Joyce shows Stephen wrestling with the pressures of his family, his Church and his nation. Yet this was far from being a straightforward youthful tirade. Joyce's novel is also daringly experimental, taking us deep into Stephen's psyche. And since its publication almost a century ago, it has had a huge influence on novelists across the world.With: Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History and Fellow of Hertford College, OxfordJeri Johnson, Senior Fellow in English at Exeter College, OxfordKatherine Mullin, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Leeds.
Nov 26, 2009
Elizabethan Revenge
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Melvyn Bragg and guests Jonathan Bate, Julie Sanders and Janet Clare discuss Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge tragedy. From Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy to Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Elizabethan stage was awash with the bloody business of revenge. Revenge was dramatic, theatrical and hugely popular. It also possessed a fresh psychological depth in the way vengeful minds were portrayed through a new dramatic device: the soliloquy. But these tales of troubled individuals, of family wrongs and the iniquities of power also spoke to an audience for whom the vengeful codes of medieval England were being replaced by Tudor legal systems, by bureaucracy and the demands of the state above those of the individual. Therefore, the heady brew of hatred, madness, violence, evil deeds and righteous anger found on stage reflected the passing of something off stage.Jonathan Bate is Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick; Julie Sanders is Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham; Janet Clare is Professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of Hull.
Jun 18, 2009
The Whale - A History
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Melvyn Bragg and guests Steve Jones, Bill Amos and Eleanor Weston discuss the evolutionary history of the whale. The ancestor of all whales alive today was a small, land-based mammal with cloven hoofs, perhaps like a pig or a big mole. How this creature developed into the celebrated leviathan of the deep is one of the more extraordinary stories in the canon of evolution. The whale has undergone vast changes in size, has moved from land to water, lost its legs and developed specialised features such as filter feeding and echo location. How it achieved this is an exemplar of how evolution works and how natural selection can impose extreme changes on the body shape and abilities of living things. How the story of the whales was pieced together also reveals the various forms of evidence - from fossils to molecules - that we now use to understand the ancestry of life on Earth.Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London; Eleanor Weston is a mammalian palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, London; Bill Amos is Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at Cambridge University.
May 21, 2009
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
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Melvyn Bragg and guests David Bradshaw, Daniel Pick and Michele Barrett discuss Aldous Huxley's dystopian 1932 novel, Brave New World. In Act V Scene I of Shakespeare's The Tempest, the character Miranda declares 'O wonder! How many Godly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O Brave new world! That has such people in it!'. It is perhaps the only line of Shakespeare to be made famous by someone else, for Brave New World is not associated with Prospero's Island of sprites, magic and wondrous noises, but with Aldous Huxley's dystopia of eugenics, soma and zero gravity tennis. A world, incidentally, upon which literary references to Shakespeare would be entirely lost. Brave New World is a lurid, satirical dystopia in which the hopes and fears of the 1930s are writ large and yet the book seems uncannily prescient about our own time. But why did Huxley feel the need to write it and is Brave New World really as dystopian as we are led to believe?
Apr 09, 2009
The School of Athens
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The School of Athens – the fresco painted by the Italian Renaissance painter, Raphael, for Pope Julius II’s private library in the Vatican. The fresco depicts some of the most famous philosophers of ancient times, including Aristotle and Plato, engaged in discussion amidst the splendour of a classical Renaissance chamber. It is considered to be one of the greatest images in Western art not only because of Raphael’s skill as a painter, but also his ability to have created an enduring image that continues to inspire philosophical debate today. Raphael captured something essential about the philosophies of these two men, but he also revealed much about his own time. That such a pagan pair could be found beside a Pope in private tells of the complexity of intellectual life at the time when classical learning was reborn in what we now call the Renaissance.With Angie Hobbs, Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Warwick; Valery Rees, Renaissance scholar and senior member of the Language Department at the School of Economic Science; Jill Kraye, Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute at the University of London
Mar 26, 2009
The Waste Land and Modernity
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Melvyn Bragg and guests, including Steve Connor and Lawrence Rainey, discuss TS Eliot's seminal poem The Waste Land and its ambivalence to the modern world of technology, democracy and capitalism that was being forged around it.
Feb 26, 2009
The Brothers Grimm
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Melvyn Bragg discusses the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm with Juliette Wood, Marina Warner and Tony Phelan. The German siblings who in 1812 published a collection of fairy tales including Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Rumpelstiltskin. But the Grimm versions are surprisingly, sometimes shockingly, different. Cinderella has no fairy godmother, her ugly sisters are not ugly but they do have their eyes pecked out by pigeons. Sleeping Beauty does not have an evil stepmother, Rapunzel is pregnant and Frog Princes do not get kissed but thrown against walls. They may not be the fairy tales as we know them, but without the Brothers Grimm we might not know them at all. But why did two respectable German linguists go chasing after fairy stories, what do the stories tell us about German culture and romantic nationalism at the time and why do these ever-evolving tales of horror, wonder and fantasy continue to hold us in thrall?With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in Folklore at Cardiff University; Marina Warner, Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex; Tony Phelan, Professor in German at Keble College, Oxford.
Feb 05, 2009
Swift's A Modest Proposal
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most brilliant and shocking satires ever written in English – Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. Masquerading as an attempt to end poverty in Ireland once and for all, a Modest Proposal is a short pamphlet that draws the reader into a scheme for economic and industrial horror. Published anonymously but written by Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal lays bare the cruel presumptions, unchecked prejudice, the politics and the poverty of the 18th century, but it also reveals, perhaps more than anything else, the character and the mind of Swift himself.With John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Judith Hawley, Professor of 18th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London and Ian McBride, Senior Lecturer in the History Department at King’s College London.
Jan 29, 2009
The Baroque Movement
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the culture of the Baroque. What do the music of Bach, the Colonnades of St Peter’s, the paintings of Caravaggio and the rebuilding of Prague have in common? The answer is the Baroque – a term used to describe a vast array of painting, music, architecture and sculpture from the 17th and 18th centuries.Baroque derives from the word for a misshapen pearl and denotes an art of effusion, drama, grandeur and powerful emotion. Strongly religious it became the aesthetic of choice of absolute monarchs. But the more we examine the Baroque, the more subtle and mysterious it becomes. It is impossible to discuss 17th century Europe without it, yet it is increasingly hard to say what it is. It was coined as a term of abuse, denounced by thinkers of the rational Enlightenment and by Protestant cultures which read into Baroque the excess, decadence and corruption they saw in the Catholic Church. With Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge; Nigel Aston, Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Leicester and Helen Hills, Professor of Art History at the University of York
Oct 23, 2008
Dante's Inferno
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Dante’s ‘Inferno’ - a medieval journey through the nine circles of Hell. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. This famous phrase is written above the gate of Hell in a 14th century poem by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri. The poem is called the ‘Divine Comedy’ and Hell is known as ‘Dante’s Inferno’. It is a lurid vision of the afterlife complete with severed heads, cruel and unusual punishments and devils in frozen lakes. But the inferno is much more than a trip into the macabre - it is a map of medieval spirituality, a treasure house of early renaissance learning, a portrait of 14th century Florence, and an acute study of human psychology. It is also one of the greatest poems ever written. With, Margaret Kean, University Lecturer in English and College Fellow at St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford; John Took, Professor of Dante Studies at University College London and Claire Honess, Senior Lecturer in Italian at the University of Leeds and Co-Director of the Leeds Centre for Dante Studies.
Jul 03, 2008
The Music of the Spheres
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the music of the spheres, the elegant and poetic idea that the revolution of the planets generates a celestial harmony of profound and transcendent beauty. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice the young Lorenzo woos his sweetheart with talk of the stars: “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’stBut in his motion like an angel sings,Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;Such harmony is in immortal souls;But whilst this muddy vesture of decayDoth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.”The idea of music of the spheres ran through late antiquity and the medieval period into the Renaissance and its echoes could be heard in astrology and astronomy, in theology, and, of course, in music itself. Influenced by Pythagoras and Plato, it was discussed by Cicero, Boethius, Marcello Ficino and Johannes Kepler It affords us a glimpse into minds for which the universe was full of meaning, of strange correspondences and grand harmonies.With Peter Forshaw, Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London; Jim Bennett, Director of the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford and Angela Voss, Director of the Cultural Study of Cosmology and Divination at the University of Kent, Canterbury.
Jun 19, 2008
The Metaphysical Poets
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Metaphysical poets, a diffuse group of 17th century writers including John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert. Mourning the death of a good friend in 1631, the poet Thomas Carew declared: “The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds O'erspread, was purg'd by thee; the lazy seeds Of servile imitation thrown away, And fresh invention planted.”The gardener in question was a poet, John Donne, and from his fresh invention blossomed a group of 17th century writers called the metaphysical poets. Concerned with sex and death, with science and empire, the metaphysical poets challenged the conventions of Elizabethan poetry with drama and with wit. And they showed that English, like Italian and French, was capable of true poetry.Unashamedly modern, they were saluted by another great modernist, T.S. Eliot, who admired their genius for imagery, the freshness of their language and the drama of their poetic character. But what do we mean by metaphysical poetry, how did it reflect an age of drama and discovery and do poets as different as John Donne, Andrew Marvell and George Herbert really belong together in the canon of English literature? With Tom Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London; Julie Sanders, Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham; and Tom Cain, Professor of Early Modern Literature at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Jun 19, 2008
The Riddle of the Sands
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discusses the prescient thriller ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ about the decline Anglo-German relations before the First World War. In 1903 an Englishman called Charles Caruthers went sailing in the North Sea and stumbled upon a German military plot. The cunning plan was to invade the British Isles from the Frisian Islands using special barges. The plucky Caruthers foiled the plot and returned to his sailing holiday.This is not history but fiction, an immensely popular book called ‘The Riddle of the Sands’ by Erskine Childers. It was a prescient vision of two nations soon to fight the First World War but it went against the spirit of the previous century. Brits and Germans had fought together at Waterloo and had influenced profoundly each other’s thought and art. They even shared a royal family. Yet somehow victory at Waterloo and the shared glories of Romanticism became the mutual tragedy of the Somme.With Richard Evans, Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London and Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European history at The University of Cambridge.
Jun 12, 2008
The Library at Nineveh
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Library at Nineveh, a treasure house of Assyrian ideas from the 7th Century BC. In 1849 a young English adventurer called Henry Layard started digging into a small hill on the banks of the River Tigris in Northern Iraq. Underneath it he found the ancient city of Nineveh. Layard unearthed extraordinary things - wonderful carved reliefs, ancient palace rooms and great statues of winged bulls. He also found a collection of clay tablets, broken up, jumbled around and sitting on the floor of a toilet. It was the remnants of a library and although Layard didn’t know it at the time, it was one of the greatest archaeological finds ever made.Conceived to house the sum of all human knowledge the library was built in the 7th century BC as the grand Assyrian Empire entered its last years. The clay tablets have proved to be a window into all aspects of Assyrian life, its literature, politics, religion and medicine – practises that are both deeply alien to us and alluringly familiar. With Eleanor Robson, Senior Lecturer at Cambridge University and Vice-Chair of the British Institute for the Study of Iraq; Karen Radner, Lecturer in the Ancient Near Eastern History at University College London; Andrew George, Professor of Babylonian at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London
May 15, 2008
Yeats and Irish Politics
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the poet W.B. Yeats and Irish politics. Yeats lived through a period of great change in Ireland from the collapse of the home rule bill through to the Easter Rising of 1916 and the partitioning of the country. In May 1916, 15 men were shot by the British government. They were the leaders of the Easter Rising – a doomed attempt to overthrow British rule in Ireland - and they were commemorated by W.B. Yeats in a poem called Easter 1916. It ends with the following lines: MacDonagh and MacBrideAnd Connolly and PearseNow and in time to be,Wherever green is worn,Are changed, changed utterly:A terrible beauty is born.Yeats lived through decades of turbulence in Ireland. He saw the suspension of home rule, civil war and the division of the country, but how did the politics of the age imprint themselves on his poetry, what was the nature of Yeats’ own nationalism, and what did he mean by that most famous of phrases ‘a terrible beauty is born’?With Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford University and Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford; Fran Brearton, Reader in English at Queen’s University, Belfast and Assistant Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry; Warwick Gould, Director of the Institute of English Studies in the School of Advanced Study, University of London
Apr 17, 2008
The Greek Myths
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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek myths from Achilles to Zeus. Are you a touch narcissistic? Do you have the body of an Adonis? Are you willing to undertake Herculean tasks or Promethean ventures? Perhaps you have an Oedipus complex? If you answer to any or perhaps all of these you owe something to the Greek myths, a collection of weird and wonderful stories that, like Penelope’s shroud or the needlework of Arachne, were constantly woven and unpicked across centuries of Greek and Roman civilisation. The myths have a cast of thousands including mighty Zeus, Jason and the Argonauts, wily Odysseus, beautiful Aphrodite and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. They are funny, shocking, quirky and epic and have retained their power and their wisdom from the ancient world to the modern. With Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Richard Buxton, Professor of Greek Language and Literature at the University of Bristol; Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge University
Mar 13, 2008
Lear
2534
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss King Lear. Around the turn of 1606, a group of London theatre-goers braved the plague to take in a new play by the well-known impresario, Mr William Shakespeare. Packed into the Globe Theatre, they were treated to a tale of violence, hatred and betrayal so upsetting that it thereafter languished among Shakespeare’s less popular plays.The story of Lear – of a man who divides up his property and loses the love of a daughter - is an ancient and ultimately happy one. But in the hands of William Shakespeare it became a shocking and violent vision of a broken family in a godless universe. So shocking that after the playwright’s death it was shunned and rewritten with a happy ending. Only in the 19th and 20th centuries did Shakespeare’s bleak, experimental and disorientating drama attain the status it has now. But why did Shakespeare take a story from the deep history of Britain and make it so shockingly his own and when, from the Civil War to the Second World War, did this powerful and confusing tragedy emerge as Shakespeare’s greatest? With Jonathan Bate, Professor of English Literature at the University of Warwick; Katherine Duncan-Jones, Tutorial Fellow in English at Somerville College, Oxford; Catherine Belsey, Research Professor in English at the University of Wales, Swansea
Feb 28, 2008
Rudolph II
2536
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the coterie of brilliant thinkers gathered in 16th century Prague by the melancholic emperor Rudolph II. In 1606 the Archdukes of Vienna declared: “His majesty is interested only in wizards, alchemists, Kabbalists and the like, sparing no expense to find all kinds of treasures, learn secrets and use scandalous ways of harming his enemies…He also has a whole library of magic books. He strives all the time to eliminate God completely so that he may in future serve a different master.”The subject of this coruscating attack was the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, and his court at Prague. Rudolph had turned Prague into a collector’s cabinet for the wonders and curiosities of the age – the great paintings of Northern Italy were carried to him over the Alps, intricate automatons constructed to serve drinks, maps and models of the heavens were unwound and engineered as the magnificent city of Prague itself was rebuilt in the image of its dark and thoughtful patron in chief. But Rudolf’s greatest possessions were people - the astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe, the magus John Dee and the philosopher Giordano Bruno had all found their way to his city. Far from the devilish inquisitor of the archdukes’ imaginations, Rudolf patronised a powerhouse of Renaissance ideas. With Peter Forshaw, Postdoctoral Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London and an Honorary Fellow of the University of Exeter; Howard Hotson, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Oxford; Adam Mosley, Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Wales, Swansea.
Jan 31, 2008
The Fisher King
2542
Melvyn Bragg and guests will be delving into the world of medieval legend in pursuit of the powerful and enigmatic Fisher King. In the world of medieval romance there are many weird and wonderful creatures – there are golden dragons and green knights, sinister enchantresses and tragic kings, strange magicians and spears that bleed and talk. And yet, in all this panoply of wonder, few figures are more mysterious than the Fisher King.Blighted by a wound that will not heal and entrusted as the keeper of the Holy; the Fisher King is also a version of Christ, a symbol of sexual anxiety and a metaphor for the decay of societies and civilisations. The Fisher King is a complex and poetic figure and has meant many things to many people. From the age of chivalry to that of psychoanalysis, his mythic even archetypal power has influenced writers from Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century to TS Eliot in the 20th. With Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Stephen Knight, Distinguished Research Professor in English Literature at Cardiff University; Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh, Cardiff University and Director of the Folklore Society
Jan 17, 2008
Camus
2526
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Algerian-French writer and Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus. Shortly after the new year of 1960, a powerful sports car crashed in the French town of Villeblevin in Burgundy, killing two of its occupants. One was the publisher Michel Gallimard; the other was the writer Albert Camus. In Camus’ pocket was an unused train ticket and in the boot of the car his unfinished autobiography The First Man. Camus was 46. Born in Algeria in 1913, Camus became a working class hero and icon of the French Resistance. His friendship with Sartre has been well documented, as has their falling out; and although Camus has been dubbed both an Absurdist and Existentialist philosopher, he denied he was even a philosopher at all, preferring to think of himself as a writer who expressed the realities of human existence. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, Camus’ legacy is a rich one, as an author of plays, novels and essays, and as a political thinker who desperately sought a peaceful solution to the War for Independence in his native Algeria. With Peter Dunwoodie, Professor of French Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London; David Walker, Professor of French at the University of Sheffield; Christina Howells, Professor of French at Wadham College, University of Oxford.
Jan 03, 2008
The Prelude
2523
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the greatest long poems in the English language – The Prelude. Begun in Northern Germany during the terrible winter of 1798 by a young and dreadfully homesick William Wordsworth, The Prelude was to be his masterpiece - an epic retelling of his own life and the foundation stone of English Romanticism. In language of aching beauty wordsworth expressed thoughts about memory, identity, nature and experience familiar to anybody who has walked alone among the hills. With Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London; Stephen Gill, University Professor of English Literature and Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford; Emma Mason, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Warwick.
Nov 22, 2007
Taste
2531
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 18th century obsession with taste. In the mid 18th century the social commentator, George Coleman, decried the great fashion of his time: “Taste is at present the darling idol of the polite world…The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with Taste; the architects, whether Gothic or Chinese, build with Taste; the painters paint with Taste; critics read with Taste; and in short, fiddlers, players, singers, dancers, and mechanics themselves, are all the sons and daughters of Taste. Yet in this amazing super-abundancy of Taste, few can say what it really is, or what the word itself signifies.”From the pens of philosophers to the interior decor of the middle classes, the idea of good and bad taste shaped decisions about dress, wallpaper, furniture, architecture, literature and much more. The period saw an explosion in the taste industries - the origins of Chippendale furniture, Wedgwood pottery and Christie's auction house - and a similar growth in magazines and journals devoted to the new aesthetic, moral and social guidelines. But taste was also a battle ground that pitched old money against new, the city against the country and men against women. With Amanda Vickery, Reader in History at Royal Holloway, University of London; John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter
Oct 25, 2007
The Arabian Nights
2523
Melvyn Bragg discusses the myths, tales and legends of the Arabian Nights.Once upon a time a wealthy merchant grew hot in the sun and sat down under a tree. Having eaten a date, he threw aside the stone, and immediately there appeared before him a Genie of enormous height who, holding a drawn sword in his hand, approached him, and said, “rise that I may kill thee”. This is from The Arabian Nights, a collection of miraculous tales including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Sinbad the Sailor. Forged in the medieval Arab world, it became so popular in Europe that the 18th century Gothic writer Horace Walpole declared “Read Sinbad the Sailor’s Voyages and you will grow sick of Aeneas”.Its origins are Indian and Persian but it was championed initially by an 18th century Frenchman, Antoine Galland. Celebrated for its fabulous stories, it is a patchwork of sex, violence, magic, adventure, and cruelty – a far cry from the children’s book that it has become. With Robert Irwin, Senior Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; Marina Warner, Professor in the Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex; Gerard van Gelder, Laudian Professor of Arabic at the University of Oxford.
Oct 18, 2007
Madame Bovary
1701
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the literary sensation caused by Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. In January 1857 a man called Ernest Pinard stood up in a crowded courtroom and declared, “Art that observes no rule is no longer art; it is like a woman who disrobes completely. To impose the one rule of public decency on art is not to subjugate it but to honour it”. Pinard was no grumbling hack, he was the imperial prosecutor of France, and facing him across the courtroom was the writer Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert’s work had been declared “an affront to decent comportment and religious morality”. It was a novel called Madame Bovary.The story of an adulterous housewife called Emma, Madame Bovary, is a vital staging post in the development of realism. The arguments in court involved a heady brew of art, morality, sex and marriage and ensured the fame of the novel and its author. With Andy Martin, Lecturer in French at the University of Cambridge; Mary Orr, Professor of French at the University of Southampton; Robert Gildea, Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford
Jul 12, 2007
Siegfried Sassoon
2523
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the war poet Siegfried Sassoon. In 1916 the Military Cross was awarded to a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers for "conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy's trenches". The citation noted that he had braved "rifle and bomb fire" and that "owing to his courage and determination, all the killed and wounded were brought in". The hero in question was the poet, Siegfried Sassoon. And yet a year later, and at great personal risk, Sassoon publicly denounced the conduct of the war in which he had fought so well.Although famous for his bitter, satirical verses and his denunciation of the conduct of the war which landed him in Craiglockhart mental hospital there is much more to this man of contradictions. A mentor to Wilfred Owen, arch enemy of T.S. Eliot and the Modernist movement, his life included a string of homosexual affairs, a failed marriage, a religious conversion and several tumultuous arguments with literary friends. Notably Robert Graves. He was also an obsessive diarist and writer of autobiography and he continued to write poetry until his death, from cancer, in 1967. But how significant a poet is Siegfried Sassoon, what version of Englishness did this half-Jewish, homosexual cricket lover invent for himself and how do you explain the mind of a man who bitterly opposed the First World War, yet fought in it with an almost insane ferocity?With Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Lecturer in English at Birkbeck, University of London and a biographer of Sassoon; Fran Brearton, Reader in English and Assistant Director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at the University of Belfast; Max Egremont, a biographer of Siegfried Sassoon
Jun 07, 2007
Victorian Pessimism
1705
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Victorian Pessimism. On 1 September 1851 the poet Matthew Arnold was on his honeymoon. Catching a ferry from Dover to Calais, he sat down and worked on a poem that would become emblematic of the fears and anxieties of a generation of Victorians. It is called Dover Beach and it finishes like this: “Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seemsTo lie before us like a land of dreams,So various, so beautiful, so new,Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;And we are here as on a darkling plainSwept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night”.From Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach to the malign universe of Thomas Hardy’s novels, an age famed for its forthright sense of progress and Christian belief was also riddled with anxieties about faith, morality and the future of the human race. They were even worried that the sun would soon go out. But to what extent was this pessimism spread across all areas of Victorian life? What events and ideas were driving it on and were any of their concerns about race, religion, class and culture borne out as the 19th century drew to a close? With Dinah Birch, Professor of English at the University of Liverpool; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London; Peter Mandler, University Lecturer and Fellow in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
May 10, 2007
Greek and Roman Love Poetry
1690
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Greek and Roman love poetry, from the Greek poet Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos, to the love-hate poems of the Roman writer Catullus. The source of many of the images and metaphors of love that have survived in literature through the centuries. We begin with the words of Sappho, known as the Tenth Muse and one of the great love poets of Ancient Greece: “Love, bittersweet and inescapable, creeps up on me and grabs me once again”Such heartfelt imploring by Sappho and other writers led poetry away from the great epics of Homer and towards a very personal expression of emotion. These outpourings would have been sung at intimate gatherings, accompanied by the lyre and plenty of wine. The style fell out of fashion only to be revived first in Alexandria in the third Century BC and again by the Roman poets starting in the 50s BC. Catullus and his peers developed the form, employing powerful metaphors of war and slavery to express their devotion to their Beloved – as well as the ill treatment they invariably received at her hands!So why did Greek poetry move away from heroic narratives and turn to love in the 6th Century BC? How did the Romans transform the genre? And what effect did the sexual politics of the day have on the form? With Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Edith Hall, Professor of Classics and Drama at Royal Holloway, University of London; Maria Wyke, Professor of Latin at University College London.
Apr 26, 2007
Epistolary Literature
2532
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great 18th Century fashion for epistolary literature. From its first appearance in the 17th Century with writers like Aphra Behn, epistolary fiction, fiction in the form of letters, reached its heyday in the 18th Century with works like Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. At over a million words, it's a contender for the longest English novel. It inspired impassioned followers such as Denis Diderot who described reading Richardson's novels like this: “In the space of a few hours I had been through a host of situations which the longest life can scarcely provide in its whole course. I had heard the genuine language of the passions; I had seen the secret springs of self-interest and self-love operating in a hundred different ways: I had become privy to a multitude of incidents and I felt I had gained in experience.”This sense of the reader gaining a privileged peek into the psychology of the protagonists was a key device of the epistolary form and essential to the development of the novel. Its emphasis on moral instruction also propelled the genre into literary respectability. These novels were a publishing sensation. Philosophers like Rousseau and Montesquieu took up the style, using it to convey their ideas on morality and society.So why was letter writing so important to 18th Century authors? How did this style aid the development of the novel? And why did epistolary literature fall out of favour?With John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Karen O’Brien, Professor in English at the University of Warwick; and Brean Hammond, Professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Nottingham.
Mar 15, 2007
Heart of Darkness
2540
Melvyn Bragg will be discussing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Written in 1899, Heart of Darkness is a fascinating fin de siecle critique of colonialism and man's greed. Conrad draws on his own adventures for the plot. The story's main narrator is Marlow, a merchant seaman who pilots a steamship upriver in what is largely assumed to be the Belgian Congo. He finds the scramble for Africa well underway, with Europeans desperately competing to make their fortunes from ivory. Marlow's journey takes him into the interior of this mysterious silent continent. After a dangerous passage he finally arrives at the company's most remote trading station. It is reigned over by Kurtz, a white man who seems to have become a kind of God figure to the local people. Marlow is fascinated by him, preferring his messianic ravings to the petty treachery and mercenarism of the other white traders. On the journey back, Kurtz dies, whispering “the horror, the horror”.The interpretation of these words has perplexed readers ever since and the book has prompted a diverse range of readings from the psychoanalytical, that sees the novella as a metaphor for the journey into the subconscious, to feminist readings that examine how Conrad excludes female characters and focuses on the male consciousness. Conrad wrote; “My task is, above all, to make you see”. So did he intend this novella to provoke a discussion of the immorality and rapacity at the centre of colonialism? Was he questioning the hero's welcome given to those famous explorers who came back from “civilising” Africa, as they saw it? Or was he, as the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe put it, “guilty of preposterous and perverse arrogance in reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?” With Susan Jones, Fellow and Tutor in English at St Hilda's College, Oxford; Robert Hampson, Professor of Modern Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London; Laurence Davies, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in English at Glasgow University and Visiting Professor of Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire
Feb 15, 2007
Jorge Luis Borges
2532
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of the Argentinian master of the short story, Jorge Luis Borges. Borges is one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, best known for his intriguing short stories that play with philosophical ideas, such as identity, reality and language. His work, which includes poetry, essays, and reviews of imaginary books, has had great influence on magical realism and literary theory. He viewed the realist novel as over-rated and deluded, revelling instead in fable and imaginary worlds. He declared "people think life is the thing but I prefer reading".Translation formed an important part of his work, writing a Spanish language version of an Oscar Wilde story when aged around 9. He went on to introduce other key writers such as Faulkner and Kafka to Latin America, liberally making changes to the original work which went far beyond what was, strictly speaking, translation.He lived most of his life in obscurity, finding recognition only in his sixties when he was awarded the International Publishers' Prize which he shared with Samuel Beckett. By this point he was blind but continued to write, composing poetry in his head and reciting from memory.So how has Borges' work informed ideas about our experience of the world through language? How much was his writing shaped by his travel abroad and an unrequited love? And how has his legacy inspired the next generation of great Latin American authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa?With Edwin Williamson, Professor of Spanish Studies at Oxford University; Efraín Kristal, Professor of Comparative Literature at University of California, Los Angeles; Evelyn Fishburn, Professor Emeritus at London Metropolitan University and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at University College London.
Jan 04, 2007
Hell
1676
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss hell and its representation in literature and the visual arts, through the ages from Ancient Egypt to modern Christianity. Why do certain religions have a Satan figure and others don’t? And why did hell shift from the underworld to here on earth in 20th Century representations?A fiery vault beneath the earth or as Sartre put it, other people - it seems our ideas of hell are inevitably shaped by religious and cultural forces. For Homer and Virgil it’s a place you can visit and return from, often a wiser person for it. With Christianity it’s a one way journey and a just punishment for a sinful, unrepentant life. Writers and painters like Dante and Hieronymus Bosch gave free rein to their imaginations, depicting a complex hierarchical world filled with the writhing bodies of tormented sinners. In the 20th century hell can be found on earth in portrayals of war and the Holocaust but also in the mind, particularly in the works of TS Eliot and Primo Levi. So what is the purpose of hell and why is it found mainly in religions concerned with salvation? Why has hell proved so inspirational for artists through the ages, perhaps more so than heaven? And why do some ideas of hell require a Satan figure while others don't?With Martin Palmer, Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Margaret Kean, Tutor and Fellow in English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford; Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum.
Dec 21, 2006
Pope
2502
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of Alexander Pope. His enemies – who were numerous - described him as a hunchbacked toad, twisted in body, twisted in mind, but Alexander Pope is without doubt one of the greatest poets of the English language. His acerbic wit and biting satire were the scourge of politicians, fellow writers and most especially the critics. He was the first Englishman to make a living from his pen, free from the shackles of patronage and flattery. Indeed, his sharp tongue meant he couldn’t go out walking without his Great Dane and a pair of loaded pistols. He was a ferocious businessman too, striking tough deals with his publishers, ensuring he kept control of his work and was well-rewarded for it. So how did Pope manage to transform himself from a crippled outsider into a major cultural and moral authority? How did he shape our ideas about what a “modern author” is? Does his work still have resonances today or is it too firmly embedded in the politics, cultural life and rivalries of the period?With John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Jim McLaverty, Professor of English at Keele University; Valerie Rumbold, Reader in English Literature at Birmingham University.
Nov 09, 2006
The Encyclopédie
2531
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the French encyclopédie, the European Enlightenment in book form. One of its editors, D’Alembert, described its mission as giving an overview of knowledge, as if gazing down on a vast labyrinth of all the branches of human ideas, observing where they separate or unite and even catching sight of the secret routes between them. It was a project that attracted some of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment - Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot - striving to bring together all that was known of the world in one comprehensive encyclopaedia. No subject was too great or too small, so while Voltaire wrote of “fantasie” and “elegance”, Diderot rolled up his sleeves and got to grips with jam-making.The resulting Encyclopédie was a bestseller - running to 28 volumes over more than 20 years, amidst censorship, bans, betrayals and reprieves. It even got them excited on this side of the Channel, with subscribers including Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Johnson and Charles Burney. So what drove these men to such lengths that they were prepared to risk ridicule, prison, even exile? How did the Encyclopédie embody the values of the Enlightenment? And what was its legacy – did it really fuel the French Revolution? With Judith Hawley, Senior Lecturer in English at Royal Holloway, University of London; Caroline Warman, Fellow and Tutor in French at Jesus College, Oxford; David Wootton, Anniversary Professor of History at the University of York.
Oct 26, 2006
Comedy in Ancient Greek Theatre
2492
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss comedy in Ancient Greek theatre including Aristophanes and Menander. In The Birds, written by Aristophanes, two Athenians seek a Utopian refuge from the madness of city life and found a city of birds located between Earth and Olympus. Unfortunately, the idealism of their perfect new City - christened (in 414 BC) 'Cloud Cuckoo Land' - becomes corrupted and its decline was portrayed by one man (the chorus) playing 24 different species of bird. In one of Aristophanes' other politically anthropomorphic plays, The Wasps, was devised as an attack on the failures of Athenian democracy. It featured a chorus of actors dressed in black and yellow stripes who swarmed the stage stinging each other. Crammed with absurd images and satirical barbs, Comic theatre was a popular art form where mass appeal and coarse humour was combined with men in drag lambasting political figures and local big wigs. And from the fifth century BC onwards, Greek comic theatre fizzed and flourished, crossing boundaries of time and space, often informed by a savage political spleen. But how did Greek comedy evolve? Why did its subsequent development differ so radically from that of Greek tragedy? To what extent did it reflect the anxieties and preoccupations of a nascent democracy? And can it be said to have left any lasting legacy? With Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge; Edith Hall, Professor of Drama and Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London; Nick Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Jul 13, 2006
Pastoral Literature
2534
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss pastoral literature.Come live with me and be my love, And we will all the pleasures prove That valleys, groves, hills, and fields, Woods or steepy mountain yields.And we will sit upon the rocks, Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks, By shallow rivers to whose falls Melodious birds sing madrigals. An entreaty from Christopher Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd to His Love - thought by many to be the crowning example of Elizabethan pastoral poetry. The traditions of pastoral poetry, literature and drama can be traced back to the third century BC and have principally offered a conventionalised picture of rural life, the naturalness and innocence of which is seen to contrast favourably with the corruption and artificialities of city and court life. Pastoral literature deals with tensions between nature and art, the real and the ideal, the actual and the mythical, and although pastoral works have been written from the point of view of shepherds or rustics, they have often been penned by highly sophisticated, urban poets and playwrights. But to what extent does pastoral literature represent a continuous yearning for a non-existent Golden Age of Innocence? How far did it evolve to reflect the social and political preoccupations of its times and what were the real meanings of its much used metaphors of town and country? With Helen Cooper, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge; Laurence Lerner, former Professor of English at the University of Sussex; Julie Sanders, Professor of English Literature and Drama at the University of Nottingham.
Jul 06, 2006
Uncle Tom's Cabin
2532
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the anti slavery novel, 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. When Abraham Lincoln met the writer Harriet Beecher Stowe after the start of the American Civil War, he reportedly said to her: 'So you're the little lady whose book started this big war'. Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, is credited as fuelling the cause to abolish slavery in the northern half of the United States in direct response to its continuation in the South. The book deals with the harsh reality of slavery and the enduring power of Christian faith. It proved to be the bestselling novel of the 19th century, outselling the Bible in its first year of publication. Its fame spread internationally, No other book had portrayed an African-American slave as a central figure who was heroic and Christ-like. Lord Palmerston praised it highly and Tolstoy reportedly said it was his favourite novel. What impact did Uncle Tom's Cabin have on the on the Civil War and the abolition of slavery in 19th century America? How did the book create stereotypes about African Americans, many of which endure to this day? And what was its literary legacy? With Dr Celeste-Marie Bernier, Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Nottingham; Dr Sarah Meer, Lecturer and Director of Studies in English at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge; Dr Clive Webb, Reader in American History at the University of Sussex.
Jun 08, 2006
Mathematics and Music
2529
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the mathematical structures that lie within the heart of music. The seventeenth century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz wrote: 'Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting'. Mathematical structures have always provided the bare bones around which musicians compose music and have been vital to the very practical considerations of performance such as fingering and tempo. But there is a more complex area in the relationship between maths and music which is to do with the physics of sound: how pitch is determined by force or weight; how the complex arrangement of notes in relation to each other produces a scale; and how frequency determines the harmonics of sound. How were mathematical formulations used to create early music? Why do we in the West hear twelve notes in the octave when the Chinese hear fifty-three? What is the mathematical sequence that produces the so-called 'golden section'? And why was there a resurgence of the use of mathematics in composition in the twentieth century? With Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford; Robin Wilson, Professor of Pure Mathematics at the Open University; Ruth Tatlow, Lecturer in Music Theory at the University of Stockholm.
May 25, 2006
Fairies
1687
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the literary and visual depiction of fairies, supernatural creatures that inhabit a half-way world between this one and the next.'They stole little Bridget for seven years long; When she came down again her friends were all gone. They took her lightly back, between the night and morrow; They thought that she was fast asleep, but she was dead with sorrow. They have kept her ever since deep within the lake, On a bed of flag-leaves, watching till she wake.' When the 19th century Anglo-Irish poet Richard Allingham wrote his poem The Fairies, he was replicating a belief about supernatural figures who steal children that stretched back to ancient Persian myths that date from 3000 BC. So universal is the terror of losing a child that the images of a lonely lost child and a mother who loses her child to fairies exist in civilisations everywhere. Demon Figures and Fairies have undergone a series of transformations according to their historical context, but what remains constant is their supernatural power and their association with the very human concerns of marriage, death and loss. In what way have fairies changed in guise and purpose throughout history? How did ancient fairy lore sit with the Christianity of the Middle Ages? How were fairies appropriated for the purpose of the 16th century witchcraft trials and why did fairies obsess so many Victorian artists and writers? And why is it that stories about fairies exist all over the world and what is our fascination with them?With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh at Cardiff University and Secretary of the Folklore Society; Diane Purkiss, Fellow and Tutor of English at Keble College, Oxford; Nicola Bown, Lecturer in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck, University of London.
May 11, 2006
Goethe
2516
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the great German polymath. 'I had the great advantage of being born at a time that was ripe for earth-shaking events which continued throughout my long life, so that I witnessed the Seven Years War...the French Revolution, and the whole Napoleonic era down to the defeat of the hero and what followed after him. As a result I have attained completely different insights and conclusions than will ever be possible for people who are born now...' Goethe's friend Johann Peter Eckermann recorded these remarks made by the great writer at the end of his life in a series of published recollections. Goethe's life was indeed remarkable. At the age of twenty-five he was author of the first German international best-seller The Sorrows of Young Werther. A year later, he was invited by the Grand Duke to join him at the Imperial Court as Privy Councillor where he oversaw commissions on war, roads and tax. He rode to war with the Prussian Army against the French and embarked on a remarkable creative friendship with Schiller which saw the establishment of a new form of German theatre. What made Goethe the dominant cultural icon of his time and after? What links were there between his interest in politics and the arts? Why did he support Napoleon despite the French invasion of Weimar? How did his relationships with women define his work? And how was he able to transform the status of the German language? With Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Cambridge; Sarah Colvin, Professor of German at the University of Edinburgh; W. Daniel Wilson, Professor of German at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Apr 06, 2006
The Carolingian Renaissance
2520
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and the Carolingian Renaissance. In 800 AD on Christmas Day in Rome, Pope Leo III proclaimed Charlemagne Emperor. According to the Frankish historian Einhard, Charlemagne would never have set foot in St Peter's that day if he had known that the Pope intended to crown him. But Charlemagne accepted his coronation with magnanimity. Regarded as the first of the Holy Roman Emperors, Charlemagne became a touchstone for legitimacy until the institution was brought to an end by Napoleon in 1806. A Frankish King who held more territory in Western Europe than any man since the Roman Emperor, Charlemagne's lands extended from the Atlantic to Vienna and from Northern Germany to Rome. His reign marked a period of enormous cultural and literary achievement. But at its foundation lay conquest, conversion at the point of a sword and a form of Christianity that was obsessed with sin, discipline and correction. How did Charlemagne become the most powerful man in Western Europe and how did he finance his conquests? Why was he able to draw Europe's most impressive scholars to his court? How successful was he in his quest to reform his church and educate the clergy? And can the Carolingian period really be called a Renaissance? With Matthew Innes, Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London; Julia Smith, Edwards Professor of Medieval History at Glasgow University; Mary Garrison, Lecturer in History at the University of York
Mar 30, 2006
Don Quixote
2525
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century novel, Don Quixote. Published four hundred years ago in Madrid, the book was an immediate success and recognised as one of the classic texts of Western Literature, revered by writers such as Sterne, Goethe, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Kafka and Melville. Don Quixote tells the story of an unlikely hero - an impoverished country gentleman who goes mad from reading too much and decides to put the world to rights by becoming a knight errant. And so the Knight of La Mancha tilting at windmills with his portly squire astride a donkey is one of the most enduring images in the popular imagination but the simple comedy of the affair belies the fantastically complex, beguiling and sophisticated story on which it is based. As Don Quixote's delusional chivalric ideals bump up against the humdrum of reality and the views of his more earth-bound companion, Sancho Panza.So how has the book endured over the centuries? What was the relationship between Cervantes' work and the world of 17th century Spain in which he lived? In what ways was Don Quixote an interpretation of the age which hitherto had not been articulated? And can it live up to the claim that it was the first European novel?With Barry Ife, Cervantes Professor Emeritus at King's College London; Edwin Williamson, Professor of Spanish Studies at the University of Oxford; Jane Whetnall, Senior Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at Queen Mary, University of London.
Mar 16, 2006
Friendship
2506
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the concept of friendship. In Greek and Roman times, friendship was thought of as being an essential constituent of both a good society and a good life; a good society because it lay at the heart of participative civic democracy; a good life because it nurtured wisdom and happiness. It is this period which gives us the texts on friendship which, to this day, are arguably the most important of their kind. Amongst their authors is Aristotle, who engaged in one of the great philosophical discussions on the subject. For Aristotle, friendship could fall into three categories: it could be based on utility, pleasure or goodness. In its latter state, Aristotle described it as being 'a single soul dwelling in two bodies'. So how did the Ancients establish the parameters of the true nature of friendship in the literature and philosophy that followed? How have different forms of friendship helped or hindered creativity and intellectual pursuit? What has been the apparent relationship between friendship and power? And what of the darker aspects of friendship - jealousy, envy and exploitation? With Angie Hobbs, Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Warwick; Mark Vernon, Visiting Lecturer in Philosophy at Syracuse University and London Metropolitan University; John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London.
Mar 02, 2006
Chaucer
2539
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Geoffrey Chaucer, often called the father of English literature."In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage To Canterbury with ful devout corage, At nyght was come into that hostelrye Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye Of sundry folk, by aventure yfalle In felaweshipe, and pilgrims were they alle, That toward Canterbury wolden ryde." Geoffrey Chaucer immortalised the medieval pilgrimage and the diversity of 14th century English society in his Canterbury Tales. As each pilgrim takes his, or her, turn to tell their tale on the road to Canterbury, Chaucer brings to life the voices of a knight, a miller, a Wife of Bath and many more besides. Chaucer was born the son of a London vintner, yet rose to high office in the court of Richard II. He travelled throughout France and Italy where he came into contact with the works of Dante, Boccaccio, Machaut and Froissart. He translated Boethius, wrote dream poetry, a defence of women and composed the tragic masterpiece Troilus and Criseyde. As well as the father of English literature, Chaucer was also a philosopher, bureaucrat, courtier and diplomat.So what do we know of Chaucer? How did he introduce the themes of continental writing to an English speaking audience? And why does his poetry still seem to speak so directly to us today? With Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John's College, Oxford; Helen Cooper, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge; Ardis Butterfield, Reader in English at University College London.
Feb 09, 2006
Seventeenth Century Print Culture
1679
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss 17th century print culture."Away ungodly Vulgars, far away, Fly ye profane, that dare not view the day, Nor speak to men but shadows, nor would hear Of any news, but what seditious were, Hateful and harmful and ever to the best, Whispering their scandals ... " In 1614 the poet and playwright George Chapman poured scorn on the popular appetite for printed news. However, his initial scorn did not stop him from turning his pen to satisfy the public's new found appetite for scandal. From the advent of the printing press the number of books printed each year steadily increased, and so did literacy rates. With a growing and socially diverse readership appearing over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, printed texts reflected controversy in every area of politics, society and religion. In the advent of the Civil War, print was used as the ideological battleground by the competing forces of Crown and Parliament. What sorts of printed texts were being produced? How widespread was literacy and who were the new consumers of print? Did print affect social change? And what role did print play in the momentous English Civil War? With Kevin Sharpe, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London; Ann Hughes, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Keele; Joad Raymond, Professor of English Literature at the University of East Anglia.
Jan 26, 2006
The Oresteia
1694
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ‘Oresteia’, the seminal trilogy of tragedies by Aeschylus. The composer Richard Wagner recalled the visceral sensations of reading Aeschylus' great trilogy for the first time. "I could see the Oresteia with my mind's eye ... Nothing could equal the sublime emotion with which the Agamemnon inspired me; and to the last word of the Eumenides, I remained in an atmosphere so far removed from the present day that I have never since been really able to reconcile myself with modern literature." Aeschylus' audience were all familiar with the tale of one man's return home from the Trojan War. Homer's Odyssey recounted Odysseus' perilous journey home, the forceful ejection of the suitors from his household and his reunion with wife Penelope and son Telemachus. Aeschylus had a very different tale of homecoming to tell in his Oresteia. Agamemnon arrives home from Troy to a murderous welcome from a vengeful wife and a cycle of atrocities unfolds in his household. The Oresteia has inspired some of the greatest artists and thinkers of the modern world. From Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche to T.S. Eliot and Simone de Beauvoir – the ‘Oresteia’ has fired the modern imagination.Why did Aeschylus make the family the subject of his bloody revenge tragedy? How did his trilogy make a contribution to the development of Athenian legal institutions? And why has the Oresteia had such a powerful hold over the modern imagination? With Edith Hall, Professor of Greek Cultural History at Durham University; Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek at the University of Cambridge; Tom Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Dec 29, 2005
Johnson
1702
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Samuel Johnson, a giant of 18th century literature. “There is no arguing with Johnson, for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt of it." The poet Oliver Goldsmith was not alone in falling victim to the bludgeoning wit of Samuel Johnson. The greatest luminaries of 18th century England, including the painter Joshua Reynolds, the philosopher Edmund Burke and the politician Charles James Fox, all deferred to him... happily or otherwise. Samuel Johnson was credited with defining English literature with his Lives of the Poets and his edition of Shakespeare, and of defining English language with his Dictionary. Yet despite those lofty acclamations he failed to get a degree, claimed he had never finished a book, was an inveterate hack who told his friend James Boswell, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money". How did an Oxford drop-out become England's most famous and well connected man of letters? How did generations of readers come to see him as the father of English Literature? And why is he so little read today? With John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London; Jim McLaverty, Professor of English at Keele University; Judith Hawley, Senior Lecturer in English at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Oct 27, 2005
Marlowe
2530
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Christopher Marlowe. In the prologue to The Jew of Malta Christopher Marlowe has Machiavel say:"I count religion but a childish toy, And hold there is no sin but ignorance. Birds of the air will tell of murders past! I am ashamed to hear such fooleries.Many will talk of title to a crown. What right had Caesar to the empire? Might first made kings, and laws were then most sure When, like the Draco's, they were writ in blood."A forger, a brawler, a spy, a homosexual and accused of atheism but above all a playwright and poet, Christopher Marlowe was the most celebrated writer of his generation, bringing Tamburlaine, Faustus and The Jew of Malta to the stage and far outshining William Shakespeare during his lifetime. Then came his mysterious death at 29, days before he was due to appear on trial accused of heresy. Was he stabbed in an argument over a bill? Was he assassinated? And how does his work measure up to Shakespeare, a man who paid generous tribute and some say stole some of his best lines? Was Marlowe assassinated by the Elizabethan state? How subversive was his literary work? And had he lived as long as his contemporary Shakespeare, how would he have compared?With Katherine Duncan-Jones, Senior Research Fellow in the English Faculty of Oxford University; Jonathan Bate, Professor of English Literature, University of Warwick; Emma Smith, Lecturer in English, Oxford University.
Jul 07, 2005
Merlin
1700
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the legendary wizard Merlin. He was sired by an incubus and born of a virgin; he was a prophet, a shape-shifter, a king-maker and a mad man of the woods. Before Gandalf there was Merlin: the power behind Arthur and a literary sensation for centuries. In a literary career spanning 1500 years, Merlin, or originally Myrddin, put the sword in the stone, built Stonehenge, knew the truth behind the Holy Grail and discovered the Elixir of Life. "Beware Merlin for he knows all things by the devil's craft" say the poisoners in Malory's Morte D'Arthur; but he is also on the side of the good and is almost Christ-like in some of the versions of his tale, and his prophesies were pored over by the medieval Church. Who was Merlinus Ambrosius, as he is sometimes known? Where does his legend spring from and how has it been appropriated and adapted over time?With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh at Cardiff University, Stephen Knight, Distinguished Research Professor in English Literature at Cardiff University, Peter Forshaw, Lecturer in Renaissance Philosophies at Birkbeck, University of London.
Jun 30, 2005
The Scriblerus Club
2523
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Scriblerus Club. The 18th century Club included some of the most extraordinary and vivid satirists ever to have written in the English language. We are given giants and midgets, implausible unions with Siamese twins, diving competitions into the open sewer of Fleet-ditch, and Olympic-style pissing competitions: "Who best can send on high/The salient spout, far streaming to the sky". But these exotic images were part of an attempt by Pope, Swift and their cadres to show a world in terrible decline: "Religion, blushing, veils her sacred fires,And unawares Morality expires.Nor public flame, nor private dares to shine;Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine!Lo! Thy dread empire, Chaos! Is restored:Light dies before thy uncreating word".So wrote Alexander Pope in his great mock epic verse, The Dunciad. Who were the Scriblerans? And what in eighteenth century society had driven them to such disdain and despair?With John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English, University College London; Judith Hawley, Senior Lecturer in English, Royal Holloway, University of London; Marcus Walsh, Kenneth Allott Professor of English Literature, University of Liverpool.
Jun 09, 2005
Abelard and Heloise
2493
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the story of Abelard and Heloise, a tale of literature and philosophy, theology and scandal, and above all love in the high Middle Ages. They were two of the greatest minds of their time and Abelard, a famous priest and teacher, wrote of how their affair began in his biography, Historia Calamitatum, “Her studies allowed us to withdraw in private, as love desired, and then with our books open before us, more words of love than of reading passed between us, and more kissing than teaching. My hands strayed oftener to her bosom than to the pages; love drew our eyes to look on each other more than reading kept them on our texts”. Years later, when she was an Abbess at the head of her own convent, Heloise wrote to Abelard: “Even during the celebration of Mass, when our prayers should be purer, lewd visions of those pleasures take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of on prayers”. With Anthony Grayling, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Henrietta Leyser, Medieval Historian and Fellow of St Peter’s College, Oxford; Michael Clanchy, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at the Institute of Historical Research.
May 05, 2005
The Aeneid
2510
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss 'The Aeneid'. Out of the tragedy and destruction of the Trojan wars came a man heading West, his father on his back and his small son holding his hand. This isn't Odysseus, it's Aeneas and in that vision Virgil gives an image of the very first Romans of the Empire.Virgil's Aeneid was the great epic poem that formed a founding narrative of Rome. It made such an impact on its audience that it soon became a standard text in all schools and wiped away the myths that preceded it. It was written in Augustus' reign at the start of the Imperial era and has been called an apologia for Roman domination; it has also been called the greatest work of literature ever written.How much was Virgil's poem influenced by the extraordinary times in which it was written? How does it transcend the political pressures of Imperial patronage and what are the qualities that make it such a universal work?With Edith Hall, Leverhulme Professor of Greek Cultural History, Durham University; Philip Hardie, Corpus Christi Professor of Latin at the University of Oxford; Catharine Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, Birkbeck College, University of London.
Apr 21, 2005
John Ruskin
2527
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of John Ruskin. He was the most brilliant art critic of his age, perhaps the most brilliant that Britain has ever produced, but he was much more than that. A champion of Turner and an enemy of Whistler, he placed the study of art and architecture at the heart of a moral assault on Victorian life. In the stone work of a Gothic cathedral, Ruskin saw all that was right about medieval society and all that was wrong about his own capitalist age.But why was Ruskin so critical of his own time? What deep currents of thought infused his ideas? And how much does our thinking, about society, the environment, art and work owe to this unusual man?With Dinah Birch, Professor of English, Liverpool University; Keith Hanley, Professor of English Literature and Director of the Ruskin Programme, Lancaster University; Stefan Collini, Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature, University of Cambridge.
Mar 31, 2005
Angels
1693
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the heavenly host of Angels. George Bernard Shaw made the observation that "in heaven an angel is nobody in particular", but there is nothing commonplace about this description of angels from the Bible's book of Ezekiel:"They had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like the colour of burnished brass.... As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle." With angels like that, it is easy to see why they have caused so much controversy over the centuries.What part have angels played in western religion? How did they get their halos and their wings? And what are they really: Gods or men?With Martin Palmer, theologian and Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture; Valery Rees, Renaissance Scholar at the School of Economic Science; John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy, University of St Andrews.
Mar 24, 2005
Modernist Utopias
1687
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the mad, bad world of modern utopias. "I want to gather together about twenty souls," wrote D H Lawrence in 1915, "and sail away from this world of war and squalor and find a little colony where there shall be no money but a sort of communism as necessaries of life go, and some real decency". Utopias were in the air in the first decades of the 20th century and the literature of the period abounds with worlds of imagined escape, feminist utopias, technological nightmares and rich imaginings of the world as it could or should become. Many of the societies that writers like H G Wells created were meant seriously, as signposts to a future that would seem horrific to us now, where the weak are eradicated and the strong prosper and procreate.What was it about that era that brought forward so many imagined futures? How did utopias become the dystopias of Brave New World and 1984, and why are writers so much less likely to create a Utopia now?With John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English Literature, Oxford University and editor of The Faber Book of Utopias; Steve Connor, Professor of Modern Literature at Birkbeck, University of London; Laura Marcus, Professor of English, University of Sussex.
Mar 11, 2005
Faust
1705
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the myth of Faustus." Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss!Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!"So spoke Dr Faustus with unnerving prescience shortly before being dragged off to hell in Christopher Marlowe's historical tragedy. His Faustian pact with the devil Mephistopheles had granted him 24 years of limitless knowledge and power, but at the cost of his soul. His terrible story was told as a dire warning to anyone who would seek to reach beyond the limits of their human lot.Why is Goethe's Faust reprieved, when Marlowe's Faustus gets taken by Satan and what does the story's constant retelling tell us about society's changing attitudes to knowledge, ambition and hellish damnation? But who was the real Faust? Why has his story maintained a 400 year grip on the German and British imaginations, and how has his image changed as each generation embraced the myth?With Juliette Wood, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Welsh at the University College of Wales in Cardiff and Secretary of the Folklore Society; Osman Durrani, Professor of German at the University of Kent at Canterbury; Rosemary Ashton, Quain Professor of English Language and Literature at University College London.
Dec 23, 2004
Sartre
2525
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Jean-Paul Sartre, the French novelist, playwright, and philosopher who became the king of intellectual Paris and a focus of post war politics and morals. Sartre's own life was coloured by jazz, affairs, Simone de Beauvoir and the intellectual camaraderie of Left Bank cafes. He maintained an extraordinary output of plays, novels, biographies, and philosophical treatises as well as membership of the communist party and a role in many political controversies. He produced some wonderful statements: "my heart is on the left, like everyone else's", and "a human person is what he is not, not what he is", and, most famously "we are condemned to be free". Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how Sartre's novels and plays express his ideas and what light Sartre's life brings to bear on his philosophy and his philosphy on his life. With Jonathan Rée, philosopher and historia; Benedict O'Donohoe, Principal Lecturer in French at the University of the West of England and Secretary of the UK Society for Sartrean Studies; Christina Howells, Professor of French at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Wadham College.
Oct 07, 2004
Politeness
1703
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of Politeness. A new idea that stalked the land at the start of the eighteenth century in Britain, Politeness soon acquired a philosophy, a literature and even a society devoted to its thrall. It may seem to represent the very opposite now, but at that time, when Queen Anne was on the throne and The Spectator was in the coffee houses, politeness was part of a radical social revolution.How did the idea of politeness challenge the accepted norms of behaviour? How did a notion of how to behave affect the great wealth of eighteenth century culture? With Amanda Vickery, Reader in History at Royal Holloway, University of London; David Wootton, Professor of History at the University of York; John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College London.
Sep 30, 2004
The Odyssey
1694
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss The Odyssey by Homer, often claimed as the great founding work of Western Literature. It's an epic that has entertained its audience for nearly three thousand years: It has shipwrecks, Cyclops, brave heroes and seductive sex goddesses. But it’s also got revenge, true love and existential angst. The story follows on from Homer's Iliad, and tells of the Greek hero Odysseus and his long attempt to get home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what has given the Odyssey such a fundamental position in the history of western ideas, what are the meanings behind the trials and tribulations that befall Odysseus and how the Odyssey was composed and by whom. With Simon Goldhill, Professor of Greek at King's College, Cambridge; Edith Hall, Leverhulme Professor of Greek Cultural History at Durham University; Oliver Taplin, Classics Scholar and Translator at Oxford University.
Sep 09, 2004
The Later Romantics
2527
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the poetry, the tragedy and the idealism of the Later Romantics. There must have been something extraordinary about the early 19th century, when six of the greatest poets in the English language were all writing. William Blake was there and Wordsworth and Coleridge had established themselves as the main players in British poetry, when the youthful trio of Byron, Shelley and Keats erupted – if not straight onto the public stage, then at least onto the literary scene. The great chronicler of the age was William Hazlitt, whose romantic maxim was: “Happy are they who live in the dream of their own existence and see all things in the light of their own minds; who walk by faith and hope; to whom the guiding star of their youth still shines from afar and into whom the spirit of the world has not yet entered…the world has no hand on them.” How fitting an epitaph is that for the three great poets who all died tragically young? What were the ideals that drove them and how did their unconventional lifestyles infect the poetry they left behind?With Jonathan Bate, Professor of English Literature at the University of Warwick; Robert Woof, Director of the Wordsworth Trust; Jennifer Wallace, Director of Studies in English at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
Apr 15, 2004
The Norse Gods
2530
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Vikings’ myths. Thor’s huge hammer, the wailing Valkyrie, howling wolves and fierce elemental giants give a rowdy impression of the Norse myths. But at the centre of their cosmos stands a gnarled old Ash tree, from which all distances are measured and under which Valhalla lies. In the first poem of The Poetic Edda, where the stories of the Norse Gods are laid down in verse, the Seeress describes it in her prophesy: “I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasil,a high tree soaked with shining loamfrom there come the dews which fall in the valley, ever green, it stands over the well of fate.” It is from this tree that the father of the Gods, Odin, will ultimately hang himself: an image of divine sacrifice so problematic for thirteenth century Christians that they left it out when they wrote the myths down.What was the theology that inspired the Vikings and what role did their myths and religion play in their daily lives?With Carolyne Larrington, Tutor in Medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford; Heather O’Donoghue, Vigfusson Rausing Reader in Ancient Icelandic Literature in the Department of English at Oxford University; John Hines, Professor of Archaeology at Cardiff University.
Mar 11, 2004
The Sublime
2533
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss a transcendental idea that took hold on the Age of Enlightenment. When the English essayist John Hall translated the work of an obscure Roman thinker into English, he could hardly have known the ferment it would cause; for the work of Longinus introduced late 17th century Britain to the idea of the sublime – an idea that stalked the proceeding century. Longinus wrote, “As if instinctively, our soul is lifted up by the true sublime; it takes a proud flight, and is filled with joy and vaunting, as though it had itself produced what it had heard”.He was talking about the power of language, but in the 18th century the idea was set for a broader stage as British artists, poets, philosophers and scientists grappled with the sublime and adapted it to great swathes of the intellectual and physical landscape. What drove the great minds of the age to invest so much in the defining of the state of awe?With Janet Todd, Professor of English Literature at the University of Glasgow; Annie Janowitz, Professor of Romantic Poetry at Queen Mary, University of London; Peter de Bolla, Lecturer in English at the University of Cambridge.
Feb 12, 2004
Sensation
1695
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss sensation, a Victorian literary phenomenon. The Archbishop of York fulminated against them in his sermons, they spread panic through the pages of The Times and in a famous review the Oxford Professor of Philosophy, Henry Mansel, called them “unspeakably disgusting” with a “ravenous appetite for carrion”: in the 1860s the novels of Sensation took the Victorian world by storm.Bigamy. Secrecy. Murder and Madness. Detectives and surprise plot twists - all in a genteel domestic setting. It was a compelling concoction that propelled sales of the genre into millions, and for the first time ever got those above stairs reading the same stories as their servants.How did Sensation achieve such an incredible popularity so fast? What did the ensuing moral panic reveal about the society in which the novels were set? And in terms of its literary reputation, does this racy genre deserve to languish so far behind Victorian Realism, its rather steadier cousin?With John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College London; Lyn Pykett, Professor of English and Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth; Dinah Birch, Professor of English at the University of Liverpool.
Nov 06, 2003
Robin Hood
1704
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the centuries old myth of the most romantic noble outlaw. The first printed version of the Robin Hood story begins like this:“Lithe and Lysten, gentylmen/That be of frebore blodeI shall tell of a good yeman/His name was Robyn Hode/Robyn was a proude outlawe/Whyles he walked on groundeSo curteyse an outlawe as he was one/Was never none yfound”.Robin Hood is described as a ‘yeoman’ – a freeman, and though he is courteous there is not even a hint of the aristocrat he later became. In fact, in the early ballads there is no Maid Marian, no Friar Tuck, Robin does not live in the time of bad Prince John, or the crusades, does not lead a large and merry gang, and certainly never robs the rich to give to the poor. Though he always remains a trickster, and a man with a bow in a wood.Why does this most malleable of myths go through so many changes and so many centuries? And was there ever a real outlaw Robin Hood on whom the ballads, plays, novels and movies are based?With Stephen Knight, Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University and author of Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography; Thomas Hahn, Professor of English Literature at the University of Rochester, New York; Dr Juliette Wood, Secretary of the Folklore Society.
Oct 30, 2003
Bohemianism
2535
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the 19th century Parisian philosophy of life lived for art. In 1848 the young Parisian Henri Murger wrote of his bohemian friends: Their daily existence is a work of genius…they know how to practise abstinence with all the virtue of an anchorite, but if a slice of fortune falls into their hands you will see them at once mounted on the most ruinous fancies, loving the youngest and prettiest, drinking the oldest and best, and never finding sufficient windows to throw their money out of. Then, when their last crown is dead and buried...they go poaching on all the callings that have any connection with art, hunting from morn till night that wild beast called a five franc piece. Bohemianism meant a life lived for art, it meant sexual liberation and freedom from social constraint, but it also meant dodging the landlord and burning your poems to stay warm. How did the garret-philosophy of the Parisian Latin Quarter take over the drawing rooms of Bloomsbury and Chelsea, and why did a French war with necessity emerge as a British life-style as art? With Hermione Lee, Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford and biographer of Virginia Woolf; Virginia Nicholson, author of Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939; Graham Robb, writer and biographer of Balzac, Victor Hugo and Rimbaud.
Oct 09, 2003
Youth
2514
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the idea of youth. In 1898 Joseph Conrad wrote, “I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I could last for ever, outlast the sea, the earth, and all men; the deceitful feeling that lures us on to perils, to love, to vain effort – to death…”From antiquity to our own time, the concept of youth, with its promise of possibility and adventure, has been greeted with fascination as well as fear. The ancient Greeks saw the period of youth as dangerous and unpredictable, but how did they seek to control it? How did the Renaissance celebrate the ideals and intellect of youth? Why was 19th century British society so preoccupied with the moral well-being of young people? And does a distinct youth culture still exist? With Tim Whitmarsh, Lecturer in Hellenistic Literature at Exeter University; Thomas Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck College, London; Deborah Thom, Lecturer in History at Robinson College, Cambridge.
Apr 17, 2003
Proust
2470
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work Marcel Proust whose novel À La Recherche du Temps Perdu, or In Search of Lost Time, has been called the definitive modern novel. His stylistic innovation, sensory exploration and fascination with memory were to influence a whole body of thinkers, from the German intellectuals of the 1930s to the Bloomsbury set, chief among them Virginia Woolf, and innumerable critics and novelists since. But how did he succeed in creating a 3000 page novel with such an artistic coherence? To what extent did John Ruskin influence Proust? Is his fascination with memory and recall simply a nostalgia for the past? And what impact did he have on the 20th century novel? With Jacqueline Rose, Professor of English Literature at Queen Mary, University of London and author of Albertine; Malcolm Bowie, Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge and author of Proust among the Stars; Dr Robert Fraser, Senior Research Fellow in the Literature Department at the Open University and author of Proust and the Victorians.
Apr 10, 2003
Originality
2464
Melvyn Bragg and guests explore the creative force of originality. How far is it to do with origins, how far with the combination of the discoveries of others, which were themselves based on the thoughts of others, into an ever-receding and replicating past? Is invention original? Is original important? Is tradition more interesting and the reworking of what is traditional of greater value than the search for idiosyncrasy? And did our notion of the original genius come as much out of a commercial imperative for individual copyright in the eighteenth century, as a romantic view of human nature which came in, perhaps not co-incidentally, at the same time? In 1800, in his preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth wrote "Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished". But did the notion of originality begin with the Romantics in the 18th century, or has society always valued originality? Should we consider Shakespeare an innovator or a plagiarist?To what extent is originality about perception rather than conception and is originality a concept without meaning today?With John Deathridge, King Edward Professor of Music at King’s College London; Jonathan Rée, philosopher and author of Philosophical Tales; Professor Catherine Belsey, Chair of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University
Mar 20, 2003
The Epic
1692
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the epic. In his essay 'Why the novel matters', DH Lawrence argued that the novel contained all aspects of life. Perhaps better placed to make that claim is the epic. From tackling questions of identity, history, warfare, mortality and the ways of the Gods to narrating tales of magic and supernatural creatures, it was the Greek and Roman poems of Homer and Virgil that underpinned and explained the position of men in the world. And it was these narratives of heroic actions and grand deeds that were to form a template from which many future epics would be constructed from Chaucer's Troilus and Cressayde to Milton’s Paradise Lost. But who are the heroes of these epics? To what extent was the classical epic a political project, a means of creating a founding myth for empire? How did the Renaissance revive the form and how successful were writers such as Milton in rendering the Christian story an epic? And what does the novel owe to the epic?With, John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Oxford University; Karen Edwards, Lecturer in English at Exeter University; Oliver Taplin, Professor of Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford.
Feb 06, 2003
Victorian Realism
1686
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Victorian realism. Henry James said “Realism is what in some shape or form we might encounter, whereas romanticism is something we will never encounter”. A reaction against Romanticism, the realist novel presented life as it was in urbanized, industrial Britain. Attacked as ordinary, mundane, overly democratic and lacking the imaginative demands of poetry, its defendants argued that the ordinariness of life contained a complexity and depth previously unseen and unconsidered. At its best the realist novel was like life itself - complex in appearance, rich in character, diverse in outlook, teeming with ideas and operating on several levels. It was a forum for the confusions of the Victorian age over Christianity and Darwinism, economics, morality and psychology, yet it was also a domestic novel concerned with the individuality of human relationships. From the provincialism of George Eliot’s Middlemarch to Hardy’s bleak and brutal Wessex, Victorian Realism touched all the great Victorian authors, but can it truly be the touchstone of an age which produced the fantasy of Alice in Wonderland, the escapism of Tthe Waterbabies and the abundant grotesquerie of Dickensian London? With Philip Davis, Reader in English Literature at the University of Liverpool and author of The Victorians, a volume of the New Oxford English Literary History; A.N. Wilson,novelist, biographer and author of The Victorians; Dinah Birch; Fellow and tutor in English at Trinity College, Oxford.
Nov 14, 2002
Cultural Imperialism
1673
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how a dominant power can exert a cultural influence on its empire. An empire rests on many things: powerful armies, good administration and strong leadership, but perhaps its greatest weapon lies in the domain of culture. Culture governs every aspect of our lives: our dress sense and manners, our art and architecture, our education, law and philosophy. To govern culture, it seems, is to govern the world. But what is cultural imperialism? Can it be distinguished from cultural influence? Does it really change the way we think and should we try to prevent it even if it does?With Linda Colley, School Professor of History, London School of Economics; Phillip Dodd, Director, Institute of Contemporary Arts; Mary Beard, Reader in Classics, Cambridge University.
Jun 27, 2002
Wagner
1692
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Richard Wagner who, perhaps more than any other composer, would seem to capture the greatest triumphs and most terrifying excesses of the German spirit. He lived as modern Germany was being born and his republicanism led to exile and nearly execution. He was a mentor of Nietzsche and a disciple of Schopenhauer and changed the face of opera perhaps more than any other single person. Wagner conducted several orchestras and numerous affairs, suffered poverty and rejection but was finally showered with wealth by King Ludwig II. When the Nazis played his music in the death camps was it a fitting tribute to a gross anti-Semite or a travesty for a man who believed in redemption through love and social equality? We ask to what extent can Wagner be typified as demonstrating the German spirit and what were his views on the function of art? With John Deathridge, King Edward the Seventh Professor of Music, Kings College London; Lucy Beckett, Author of Richard Wagner: Parsifal; Michael Tanner, Philosopher and author of Wagner and Nietzsche.
Jun 20, 2002
The Grand Tour
1687
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins and cultural impact of 18th century tourism. Samuel Johnson observed in 1776 that "A man who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see." Johnson was referring, perhaps ironically, to the vogue for The Grand Tour, which reached its peak in the 18th century. The idea was for wealthy young travellers to finish their education with an extensive trip to Europe to experience its natural beauties, its cultural treasures and, if they were lucky, its sexual permissiveness. The standard route took in Paris and The Alps and some tourists, including Byron, made it as far as Greece. But the destination, par excellence, was Italy, with its Renaissance glories and classical splendours. What drove this desire for travel? Was it genuine cultural curiosity or simply the fashion? What impact did the Grand Tour have on British attitudes to art and culture? And were diplomatic relations between Britain and Europe helped or hindered by these travels? With Chloe Chard, Literary historian; Jeremy Black, Professor of History, University of Exeter, Edward Chaney, Professor of Fine and Decorative Arts, Southampton Institute.
May 30, 2002
Tolstoy
1694
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and work of the 19th century Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.The Russian novel has been acclaimed as one of the outstanding genres of literature alongside Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare’s Plays and Romantic Poetry. Its heyday was the mid-19th century, and its practitioners gave expression to the compelling moral and social questions of their day - and arguably of the modern era. These men of genius included Dostoevsky, Gogol and Turgenev, but perhaps the greatest of them all was Tolstoy, author of the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy took massive subjects and presented them in loving and intricate detail. As Matthew Arnold said, "a work by Tolstoy is not a piece of art but a piece of life". Possessed by an urgent desire to represent real life in his work, and to reject artifice, Tolstoy declared that "The one thing necessary in life as in art is to tell the truth." What did Tolstoy mean by telling the truth? How did he convey these truths to the reader? And why did he, ultimately, give up on literature and concentrate instead on religious and political philosophy? With A N Wilson, Novelist, journalist and biographer of Tolstoy; Catriona Kelly, Reader in Russian, Oxford University; Sarah Hudspith, Lecturer in Russian, University of Leeds.
Apr 25, 2002
The Artist
1694
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the artist. The sculptors who created the statues of ancient Greece were treated with disdain by their contemporaries, who saw the menial task of chipping images out of stone as a low form drudgery. Writing in the 1st century AD the Roman writer Seneca looked at their work and said: "One venerates the divine images, one may pray and sacrifice to them, yet one despises the sculptors who made them". Since antiquity artists have attempted to throw off the slur of manual labour and present themselves as gifted intellectuals on a higher level than mere artisans or craftsmen. By the Romantic period Wordsworth claimed that poets were 'endowed with a greater knowledge of human nature and a more comprehensive soul than are supposed to be common in mankind'. How did the artist become a special kind of human being? What role did aristocratic patronage of the arts play in changing the status of the artist? And how have we constructed the image of the artist? With Emma Barker, Lecturer in Art History, The Open University; Thomas Healy, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Birkbeck University of London; Tim Blanning, Professor of Modern European History at the University of Cambridge.
Mar 28, 2002
Marriage
2510
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of marriage.‘To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.’ These marriage vows have been recited at church weddings since 1552, whenever two individuals have willingly pledged to enter into a relationship for life. But before the wedding service was written into the Book of Common Prayer, marriages were much more informal: couples could simply promise themselves to one another at any time or place and the spoken word was as good as the written contract. The ancients permitted polygamy and the taking of concubines so how did monogamy come to be the favoured mode in the West? Were procreation, financial stability, companionship, or love the reasons to get married? And what role has the state and the church played in legislating on personal affairs? With Janet Soskice, Reader in Modern Theology and Philosophical Theology, Cambridge University; Frederik Pedersen, Lecturer in History, Aberdeen University; Christina Hardyment, Social historian and journalist.
Mar 21, 2002
Milton
1705
Melvyn Bragg examines the literary and political career of the poet John Milton. If it wasn't for the poet Andrew Marvell we wouldn't have his later works; Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes. Milton spent the English Civil Wars as a prominent politician and right hand man to Oliver Cromwell. When the Monarchy was restored in 1660 it was only Marvell's intervention that saved Milton from execution. By then, Marvell argued, Milton was old and blind and posed no threat to Charles II. But as a young man Milton had been an activist and pamphleteer extraordinaire. Allegedly inspired by a meeting with Galileo he wrote in passionate defence of Liberty. He detested the Church's insistence on empty ritual. And most dramatically for his time he demanded that the state serve its people rather than the people serve the state. How then should we remember Milton - as poet or politician - as an idealist or an apologist for a revolutionary yet intolerant regime? And was he a man at one with the people or an elitist who preached to the masses but lived his own life only in the most rarefied of circles? With John Carey, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Oxford University; Lisa Jardine, Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary College, University of London and Honorary Fellow of King's College Cambridge; Blair Worden, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Sussex.
Mar 07, 2002
Yeats and Mysticism
1696
Melvyn Bragg explores the strange and mystical world of the poet W B Yeats. Celtic folklore, the Theosophical society, the Golden Dawn group, seances and a wife who communicated with the spirit world all had a huge effect on the work of this great Irish poet. He published his first collection in 1889 and won the Nobel prize for literature in 1923.At the close of the nineteenth century he published one of his best known works. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven: “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,Enwrought with golden and silver light,The blue and the dim and the dark clothsOf night and light and the half-light,I would spread the cloths under your feet:But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” But Yeats the dreamer and the poet was also a mystic, a philosopher and a practitioner of magic. From the occult subcultures of Victorian London to the outlandish folklore of the Irish Peasantry, Yeats’ obsession with the spiritual world infused his poetic mind and even drove him to describe his own religion. Why was the period so alive with spiritualism? And how did the poems reflect the dreams? With Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford University; Warwick Gould, Director of the Institute of English Studies, University of London; Brenda Maddox, author of George’s Ghosts: A New Life of W B Yeats.
Jan 31, 2002
Sensibility
2532
Melvyn Bragg examines the 18th century idea of Sensibility. In Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey, the lead character Yorick comforts a young woman who has been abandoned by a little pet goat that had proved as faithless as her lover. Yorick describes her effect upon his ‘sweet sensibility’, “I sat down close by her, and Maria let me wipe the tears away as they fell, with my handkerchief. I then steeped it in my own - and then in hers - and then in mine - and then I wiped hers again - and as I did it, I felt such undescribable emotions within me, as I am sure could not be accounted for from any combinations of matter and motion. (I am positive I have a soul; nor can all the books with which materialists have pestered the world ever convince me to the contrary.)”It seems a bit mawkish to us now but Sterne, Richardson and Mackenzie were all part of the ‘cult of sensibility’ in the eighteenth century which elevated the sentimental novel to the height of literary art. Jane Austen’s masterpiece, Sense and Sensibility, has traditionally been taken as a parody of sensibility. But what caused the rush to emotion that so infused and enthused the Sensibility movement and was Jane Austen really so critical of the expression of feeling?With Claire Tomalin, literary biographer and author of Jane Austen: A Life and The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft; John Mullan, Senior Lecturer in English at University College London; Hermione Lee, Goldsmiths Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford.
Jan 03, 2002
Food
2539
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of food in Modern Europe. The French philosopher of food Brillat-Savarin wrote in his Physiology of Taste, 'The pleasures of the table belong to all times and all ages, to every country and to every day; they go hand in hand with all our other pleasures; outlast them, and remain to console us for their loss' . The story of food is cultural as well as culinary, and what we eat and how we eat has always been linked to who we are or whom we might become, from the great humanist thinker Erasmus warning us to 'Always use a fork!' to the materialist philosopher Feuerbach telling us baldly, 'You are what you eat'.But what have we eaten, and why? In Europe since the Renaissance how have our intellectual appetites fed our empty stomachs? With Rebecca Spang, Lecturer in Modern History at University College London; Ivan Day, food historian; Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Professor of Modern History at Oxford University.
Dec 27, 2001
Oscar Wilde
1689
Melvyn Bragg examines Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetes. In February 1895 Oscar Wilde was at the height of his powers, he was known on both sides of the Atlantic, he was feted in London society and celebrated in the West End where An Ideal Husband continued to play to packed houses as The Importance of Being Earnest opened to ecstatic reviews. “The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world” he is reputed to have said, and he seemed on course to do just that. But in April that year he was arrested for the crime of ‘gross indecency’ and his swift decent from omnipotence began; it ended five years later, when exiled and humiliated he died, famously ‘beyond his means’, in a Paris hotel.Wilde’s reputation spent a long time in the wilderness but just over a century after his death his stock is higher than ever before. Now that his rehabilitation seems complete how should we understand his legacy? Was Wilde a reactionary - the last of the romantics - or was he the midwife to modernism? Was there a coherent philosophy behind those beguiling epigrams or was there little more to aestheticism than dressing up and showing off? With Valentine Cunningham, Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University, Regenia Gagnier, Professor of English at the University of Exeter and Neil Sammells, Dean of Humanities at Bath Spa University and author of Wilde Style.
Dec 06, 2001
Surrealism
2529
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss surrealism. ‘Si vous aimez L’amour, vous aimerez Surrealisme!’. If you like Love, you’ll love Surrealism! Thus was the launch of the surrealist manifesto publicised in Paris in 1924. In that document the formerly Dadaist poet André Breton defined his new movement, “Surrealism is pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express…the real process of thought. It is the dictation of thought, free from any control by reason and of any aesthetic or moral preoccupation”.Surrealism is about sex, the unconscious, repression and desire and seems to carry more than a distant echo of the Doctor from Vienna. How much was their notion of ‘pure thought’ influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud and the new technique of psychoanalysis being developed at the time? Did the surrealists manage to release the secrets and wonders of the human psyche, or was their wild foray into melting clocks, floating euphoniums and automatic writing simply a wasted journey into nonsense?With Dawn Adiss, Professor of Art History and Theory at the University of Essex; Malcolm Bowie, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford University and a fellow of All Souls College; the psychoanalyst Darian Leader
Nov 15, 2001
Dickens
1699
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the achievements of the 19th century literary giant, Charles Dickens. George Bernard Shaw said of Little Dorrit that it was “more seditious than Das Kapital”. We can all think of classic Dickens; the gin palaces, grimy narrow lanes, shoe shine boys sitting in the gutters and the terrible city smog. Silas Wake with his peg leg, young Oliver asking for more. But were these figures fictional agents for the radical change that Bernard Shaw suggests? Or was Dickens a great caricaturist but really a conservative at heart? What kind of person was the man Charles Dickens? And what is his political and literary legacy to our age? With Rosemary Ashton is Professor of English at University College London; Michael Slater is Professor of Victorian Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London and editor of The Dent Uniform Edition of Dickens’ Journalism; John Bowen, Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Keele.
Jul 12, 2001
Existentialism
1676
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss existentialism. Imagine being back inside the bustling cafes on the Left Bank of Paris in the 1930s, cigarette smoke, strong coffee and the buzz of continental voices philosophising about human responsibility and freedom. This kind of talk gave utterance to Existentialism. A twentieth century philosophy of everyday life concerned with the individual, and his or her place within the world. In novels, plays and philosophy, Existentialists try to work out the nature of our existence. As Roquentin says in Sartre’s novel ‘Nausea’, “To exist is simply to be there; what exists appears, lets itself be encountered, but you can never deduce it”.But where did these ideas come from? What do they really mean? And how have they impacted on our lives? With Dr A. C. Grayling, Reader in Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Christina Howells, Professor of French at the University of Oxford, fellow of Wadham College; Simon Critchley, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex and author of A Companion to Continental Philosophy.
Jun 28, 2001
The Sonnet
1701
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Sonnet, the most enduring form in the poet’s armoury. For over five hundred years its fourteen lines have exercised poetic minds from Petrarch and Shakespeare, to Milton, Wordsworth and Heaney. It has inspired the duelling verse of ‘sonneteering’, encapsulated the political perspectives of Cromwell and Kennedy and most of all it has provided a way to meditate upon love.Dante Gabriel Rossetti called it “the moment’s monument”. What is it about the Sonnet that has inspired poets to bind themselves by its strictures again and again? With Sir Frank Kermode, author of many books including Shakespeare’s Language; Phillis Levin, Poet in Residence and Professor of English at Hofstra University; Jonathan Bate, King Alfred Professor of English at the University of Liverpool.
Jun 21, 2001
Literary Modernism
2533
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss literary modernism. In James Joyce’s Ulysses he writes, “Greater love than this, he said, no man hath that a man may lay down his wife for a friend. Go thou and do likewise. Thus, or words to that effect, saith Zarathustra, sometime regius Professor of French letters to the University of Oxtail”. It is profane, it gets the Bible wrong on purpose, it nods in the direction of Nietzsche and it doesn’t quite seem to make sense - it must be modernism! The literary movement that embraced Joyce, DH Lawrence, TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and many others in the early decades of the twentieth century. Modernism claimed to be revolutionary, and has been accused of being wilfully obscure. Some modernist writers campaigned for the rites of working women, others embraced fascism. What were the movements defining features, and do the questions that exercised the genre at the start of the twentieth century have relevance to us at the beginning of the twenty-first? With John Carey, Merton Professor of English Literature at Oxford University; Laura Marcus, Reader in English at the University of Sussex; Valentine Cunningham, Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford.
Apr 26, 2001
Shakespeare's Life
1693
Melvyn Bragg examines what we know about the life of William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens said of the deeply enigmatic Shakespeare, “It is a great comfort…that so little is known concerning the poet. The life of William Shakespeare is a fine mystery and I tremble every day lest something should turn up”. The mystery may have been a pleasure to Dickens but for forgers, conspiracy theorists and Shakespeare scholars it is a tantalising conundrum that has exercised minds since the day the playwright died. How was the low born son of an illiterate craftsman, with a meagre education, able to write with such skill and erudition? How did a provincial man manage to become so attuned to the politics of kings? And how do we know that the plays that we have are the right plays, written by the right man and published in the form they were written?With Katherine Duncan-Jones, Professor of English at Somerville College, Oxford; John Sutherland; Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English at University College, London and textual scholar Grace Ioppolo, lecturer in English at the University of Reading.
Mar 15, 2001
Gothic
1699
Horace Walpole and then Anne Radcliffe appeared to have triggered an anti-enlightenment movement: the Gothic that swept in Coleridge, two Shelleys, Byron, the Brontés, Walter Scott and Dickens, innumerable painters and architects, and even designed the Palace of Westminster itself.In 1765 Horace Walpole bewitched an unprepared public with the first ever Gothic novel The Castle of Ottranto. The poet Thomas Gray complained the novel made him “afraid to go to bed o’ nights”, and wind swept battlements, mysterious apparitions and armour that goes clang in the night has haunted the dungeons of popular culture ever since. But Gothic is more that novels, and from under its swirling cassock the Gothic Revival in architecture became the state style for an Empire, and the high camp of The Monk reached the acme of seriousness under the influence of John Ruskin. So how did the Gothic style manage to both sensationalise the public and form, quite literally the pillars of the establishment? Any why does a style forged in the spectral shadows of the Ages of Enlightenment still hold so such a secure position in popular culture today.With Chris Baldick, Professor of English at Goldsmiths College, London and author of In Frankenstein’s Shadow; A N Wilson, novelist, biographer, journalist and author of God’s Funeral; Emma Clery, senior lecturer in the English Department at Sheffield Hallam University and author of The Rise of Supernatural Fiction.
Jan 04, 2001
Psychoanalysis and Literature
2528
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss role of Freudian analysis in understanding the great works of literature. Freud said, “The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious. What I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied”. Psychoanalysis has always been more than a ‘talking cure’ and it has strong ties to literature, but one hundred years after the publication of the first great work of psychoanalysis, The Interpretation of Dreams, critics are putting the scientific basis of Freud’s work in grave doubt and he is in danger of being pitched in with poets. The great American critic Harold Bloom has said “Freud, the writer will survive the death of psychoanalysis”, and the analyst and writer Adam Phillips seems to go further in his new book Promises Promises where he writes, “I think of Freud as a romantic writer, and I read psychoanalysis as poetry, so I don’t have to worry whether it is true or even useful”.So what is the relationship of psychoanalysis to literature, and if it is to be reclassified as literature itself can it still be practised as a talking cure?With Adam Phillips, author of Promises Promises: Essays on Psychoanalysis and Literature; Malcolm Bowie, Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature, Oxford University; Lisa Appignanesi novelist and co-author of Freud’s Women.
Nov 09, 2000
The Romantics
2527
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideals, exponents and legacy of Romanticism. In the space of a few years around the start of the nineteenth century the Romantic period gave us: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, Burns, two Shelleys, Keats, De Quincey, Carlyle, Byron, Scott… the list goes on and on. And the poems: The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, Ode to a Nightingale, Tintern Abbey, Ozymandias, Don Juan… they make up some of the best known and most enjoyed works of literature in the English language. How do we explain what seems to be an extraordinary explosion of talent? Were the Romantics really a movement with their own philosphy and ideals? And when its adherents often died so tragically young, and its poems often seem so steeped in nostalgia and so wrapped in the transcendental, is Romanticism really good for you in a modern world? With Jonathan Bate, Professor of English, University of Liverpool; Rosemary Ashton, Professor of English, University College London; Nicholas Roe, Professor of English, University of St Andrews.
Oct 12, 2000
London
2494
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of London. To T.S.Eliot it was the “Unreal City”, to Wordsworth “Earth has not anything to show more fair” but to Shelley, “Hell is a city much like London”. At the start of this twenty-first century the capital city covers an area of 625 square miles, is home to 7 million souls, and has an economy which at more than £115 billion is larger than that of Saudi Arabia, Ireland or Singapore. Is this modern metropolis still the place that the poets described? Can there be such a thing as a history of a city, which in each generation sucks in its communities from around the country and around the globe? In a city whose buildings have been razed, whose people have been decimated and whose borders have been dramatically redrawn, what is there that connects it to its own past?With Peter Ackroyd, author of London: The Biography; Claire Tomalin, author and biographer of Samuel Pepys; Iain Sinclair, poet, novelist and author of Liquid City and Lights Out for the Territory.
Sep 28, 2000
Biography
1693
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss biography which sells more books now than ever before; last year people in this country spent 115 million pounds on 12 and a half million copies of biographies. And it’s not just in Britain that life stories are popular; the United States Library of Congress found recently that in the previous six months more people had read a biography than any other kind of book. But what drives this fascination in the lives of others; lives which have often long since passed. Why do the literary studies of often long dead characters make such popular books? And what is the role of the biographer who provides that account? Truthful chronicler, or inevitably biased re-inventor?With Richard Holmes, writer, biographer and the author of Sidetracks:Explorations of a Romantic Biographer; Nigel Hamilton, biographer, Director of the British Institute of Biography and Professor of Biography, De Montfort University, Leicester; Amanda Foreman, biographer of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
Jun 22, 2000
Inspiration and Genius
1698
Melvyn Bragg explores genius and inspiration. “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him”. So said Jonathon Swift, many people’s choice for a genius himself. But what does that word really mean? Are geniuses born or made? And what are the circumstances necessary for the great leaps of consciousness that inspire the development of science and art? Did Einstein’s brain arrive like that - markedly different from the expected formation - or did it become like that through thought? If genius does not exist, why are we so keen to invent it? Was Mozart programmed or pre-programmed and was Newton or anyone else solely responsible for inventing anything?With Arthur I. Miller, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Department of Science & Technology, University College London; Michael Howe, Professor of Psychology, Exeter University; Dr Juliet Mitchell, psychoanalyst and lecturer at Cambridge University.
Jun 15, 2000
The Renaissance
2543
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Renaissance, which was first given its role as the birth place of modern man by the nineteenth century historian Jacob Burckhardt. At the start of his immensely influential Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy, he wrote “In the Middle Ages both sides of human consciousness - that which was turned within as that which was turned without - lay dreaming or half awake beneath a common veil. The veil was woven of faith, illusion, childish prepossession, through which the world and history were seen clad in strange hues…In Italy this veil first melted into air” But is the Renaissance really a cultural miracle, and is it fair to think of medieval thought as being ‘obscured by a veil’? Should we even call the period around the fifteenth century the Renaissance when the very word implies that culture, for a thousand years, has been dead? What if our idea of the Renaissance is completely wrong? With Francis Ames-Lewis, Professor of History of Art, Birkbeck College; Peter Burke, Professor of Cultural History and Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge; Dr Evelyn Welch, Reader in the History of Art, University of Sussex.
Jun 08, 2000
The American Ideal
2540
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the American Ideal. The Twentieth Century has been called the American Century, and you don’t have to look very far to see the evidence of its enormous success. In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson said; “Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world”. America is the world’s popular culture and its centre of the expensive higher sciences and scholarship. Its riches would make Midas weep in disbelief. Its contradictions grind the molars of intellectuals, critics within without. But its imperial, seemingly unassailable fortress is swollen with many treasures and open to many weaknesses.What is the ideal that underwrites that idealism and how has it driven the phenomenal influence that the USA has gained culturally, economically and diplomatically across the globe? And was it ever ideal and is it ideal any longer?With Christopher Hitchens, writer, journalist and author of No One Left to Lie To: The Triangulations of William Jefferson Clinton; John Keane, Professor of Politics, University of Westminster and Director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy; Susan Sontag, cultural critics and essayists, and author of the novel In America.
Jun 01, 2000
Shakespeare's Work
1705
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the work of William Shakespeare. He was nominated as the Man of the last Millennium and he steps into this one - on film, on stage, in academia, in schools, in private passions, probably in song and dance as well - every bit as briskly as he did in 1600. He's been called our greatest living playwright. We are told he taught us how to be modern. That he is the true Bible of our times. We are also told that his work is irrelevant to a massive percentage of the population, sandbanked by critics, neutered by establishments and, above all, embalmed in a cargo of language increasingly out of reach and ken of those who might heave him up the next century. William Shakespeare 'was not of an age, but for all time' according to Ben Johnson. That was in the seventeenth century and it's a claim that has often been repeated since, but is it really true? Is what we see in theatre and increasingly at the cinema the work of a playwright whose works live on, or are we merely watching historical reconstructions - museum pieces - with any contemporary meaning obscured by the reverence we pay to the author? And if Shakespeare is for all time, what is it about him that makes him so eternally special?With Professor Sir Frank Kermode, literary critic and author of Shakespeare's Language; Michael Bogdanov, theatre, television, opera and film director and a founder member of the English Shakespeare Company; Germaine Greer, Professor of English and Comparative Studies, Warwick University.
May 11, 2000
Death
1704
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Death, what the 16th century philosopher Frances Bacon called, ‘the least of all evils’. A subject which has provoked thousands of reflections which live on: How has the perception, dread or even desire for our own endings shaped the development of the culture of Europe and the West, from funeral rituals to Gothic novels, to the Aids fiction and fact of today. From the celebration of the passage of a soul to the grief of the loss of a body. And how have different eras addressed the essential existential problems that death presents us with?With Jonathan Dollimore, Professor of English, York University; Thomas Lynch, poet, essayist, funeral director and author of The Undertaking - Life Studies from the Dismal Trade; Marilyn Butler, Professor of English Literature and Rector of Exeter College, Oxford.
May 04, 2000
Englishness
2512
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the characteristics of the English identity. “An Englishman’s word is his bond”, “An Englishman’s home is his castle”. “England is a nation of shopkeepers”, but also “the most exclusive club there is”. To Cecil Rhodes to be an Englishman was to have “won first prize in the lottery of life” but to Jonathan Swift the English were “the most pernicious race of odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth”. Organised, effete, cruel, brave, inventive, determined …Who are the English? And when, how and in what heat was their English identity forged? Britain has now the highest percentage of inter-racial marriages in the world. Does that say as much about the English as their previously branded characteristics of gravity, sense of order, domesticity and propriety? What was Englishness and is it possible now to define it in anything more than the loosest and baggiest terms?With Paul Langford, Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford; Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern History at London Guildhall University; Professor Lola Young Director of the National Museum and Archives of Black History and Culture.
Apr 20, 2000
Materialism and the Consumer
1695
Melvyn Bragg examines materialism and the consumer. Does consumerism - as a cult, a fact, a need, a religion - threaten culture as we have known it, individuality as we desire it, life as we aspire to its best condition? Is the march of Mammon an army of jack-booted businessmen, using the propaganda of advertising and the seduction of the supermarket to trample us into submission, and into the worshipping of the great god - Buy? Or is the consumer the new source of power? A truer, more democratic individual freedom? Wordsworth prophesied much current criticism of consumerism when he wrote “The world is too much with us; late and soon,/getting and spending we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours:/We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”. How has ‘getting and spending’ come to enjoy the place of importance it holds in our lives, and why have we so often seen shopping as in opposition to some notion of our ‘true natures’?With Rachel Bowlby, Professor of English, University of York and author of Carried Away: The Invention of Modern Shopping; William Gibson, science fiction writer and author of Neuromancer and All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Mar 23, 2000
Metamorphosis
1696
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Roman poet Ovid and explore the theme of metamorphosis from the transformation of Narcissus to the bug of Kafka’s story, and beyond. Ovid wrote at the beginning of The Metamorphoses - in Ted Hughes’ wonderful version - “now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed/Into different bodies/I summon the supernatural beings/who first contrived/The transmogrifications/In the stuff of life./You did it for your own amusement./Descend again, be pleased to reanimate/this revival of those marvels.”And descend they did: The metamorphoses is an extraordinarily wide sweep through the teeming, changing world of Roman and Greek mythology.The tales were immensely popular in their own day, they were an inspiration to Chaucer, Ovid was Shakespeare’s favourite poet, and two thousand years after they were written the stories of shape changing still seem relevant: Ted Hughes won the Whitbread Book of the Year with his translation of Tales from Ovid in 1997, and a new collection called Ovid Metamorphosed has garnered versions of the tales from authors and poets from all over the world.With A S Byatt, novelist and one of the contributors to Ovid Metamorphosed; Dr Catherine Bates, critic and Research Fellow, University of Warwick.
Mar 02, 2000
Reading
1696
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the politics and practice of reading. Gustave Flaubert’s sage advice to us was: “Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.”Advice on reading - good and bad - litters the ages, from the Catholic Church refusing to translate the Bible into modern languages, to 18th century women being warned that injudicious reading could turn them to prostitution or worse. It seems that as soon as the written word was invented it came with a health warning. But thankfully, throughout the history of reading from the invention of the printing press onwards, much of that advice has been completely ignored. From the prayer wheel of medieval England to the electronic book, how has the process of reading has changed over time? How will tomorrow’s readers compare to those of the past, and is what we read today - and how we read it - essential or peripheral to the people we become?With Kevin Sharpe, Professor of History, University of Southampton; Jacqueline Pearson, Professor of English Literature, Manchester University.
Feb 17, 2000
Masculinity in Literature
1691
Melvyn Bragg investigates masculinity in literature. Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Old Man and the Sea, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated”. In a time when traditional male roles have been systematically challenged it is a sentiment that seems to come from a strangely distant past, and the men that inhabit fiction today can seem a world away from Hemingway’s brave heroes - although we must remember James Bond and Hannibal Lecter. But has there been a change in the last century in literary fiction or does that one strand not stand for more than a small part of the equation? One of the successful liberating movements of the twentieth century was the increasing enfranchisement of women. Accompanying, perhaps consequent on this, in some fiction at any rate, were signs of the de-testosteroning of man. Are the ideals of masculinity that underlie the portrayal of men by today’s authors so very different from the images of men from earlier in the twentieth century? And is there a British literary ideal of man that is at odds with its American counterpart?With Martin Amis, author of Money, Success and The Information; Cora Kaplan, feminist cultural critic and Professor of English, Southampton University.
Jan 20, 2000
Tragedy
1687
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the ancient genre of tragedy and examines whether we have a psychological need for it, either as catharsis or Schadenfreude. You could be forgiven for thinking that in our century, of all centuries, the notion of the death of a tragedy would be comical. But there is a view that in its broad theatrical sense, tragedy, as defined by Aristotle and accepted to the time of Racine, has indeed lost its place and power as a form. Aristotle in his poetics held that tragedy figured men and women, often greater than ourselves, heroic, whose fall excited sensations of pity and fear which purged the emotions in the spectator, provoking a catharsis. And Chaucer defined it as a story “of hym that stood in greet prosperitee/And is yfallen from heigh degree/Into myserie, and endeth wretchedly”. Tragedy has been redefined many times and in many ages, but does it have a place in our own time? Or is the genre “dead for a ducat”. Not in life - the twentieth century is a monument to tragedy - but in art.With Professor George Steiner, critic, Extraordinary Fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge and author of The Death of Tragedy; Professor Catherine Belsey, Chair of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory, University of Cardiff and author of The Subject of Tragedy.
Dec 02, 1999
The Novel
1695
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the development and the future of the novel. D.H. Lawrence was proud of his job, he said: “I am a man, and alive…for this reason I am a novelist. And being a novelist, I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog”. Fiction pours from the presses and in number of titles, this must be the most prolific of novel-producing ages. But are they as good as in the golden age, or the silver, or the bronze, or the steam age? And do they signify? Is technology marginalising the novel or is it still the greatest way of telling a story?Despite many premature declarations of its demise, (stretching back almost to the date of its birth), the novel has been ‘getting the whole hog’ for hundreds of years. But what makes a novel different from other literature, and can we expect it to be still around, ‘getting the whole hog’ into the next century? With D J Taylor, novelist, critic, biographer of Thackeray and author of After the War; Gillian Beer, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature, Cambridge University and Chairman of the Booker Prize judges 1997.
Nov 11, 1999
Maths and Storytelling
1687
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the relationship between maths and storytelling. Is there a hidden mathematical logic in stories? The American mathematician John Allen Paulos thinks so. It’s an intriguing thought. Patterns, measurement, the logic of jokes, numerology from Leviticus to Alice in Wonderland, but does it really go to the square root of fiction? According to anthropologists, both have similar origins - in our prehistoric ancestors’ need to measure and assess the world around them. Both mathematics and stories need a shape and structure to make any sense. But does it go further than that? Is it possible to apply mathematical logic to literature or to reduce a joke to an algebraic equation? Or are literary imagination and scientific substance irreconcilable?With John Allen Paulos, Presidential Scholar of Mathematics, Temple University, Philadelphia and author of Once Upon a Number - The hidden mathematical logic of stories; Marina Warner, novelist, historian, critic, former Reith Lecturer and Visiting Professor at Birkbeck College, London.
Sep 30, 1999
Truth, Lies and Fiction
1675
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss truth, lies and fiction. In 1995 a book appeared which brought its author great acclaim from serious critics, won prizes, stunned its readers and was thought to add significantly and profoundly to the literature of the Holocaust. The book was called Fragments, its author, Binjamin Wilkomirski. But recently the veracity of the account told in Fragments has been questioned by Elena Lappin, the author of an investigative essay published in the literary magazine Granta. When it was exposed as a fiction - or should it be called a lie? - it triggered many arguments, one of which is that of the value of authenticity and the supremacy of originality in the culture of the late twentieth century. Does it really matter if literature isn’t entirely truthful? And is the idea of authenticity in writing a recent invention?With Elena Lappin, novelist and author of an investigative essay published in Granta called ‘Truth and Lies’, where she questions the veracity of the account of the Holocaust in the book Fragments by Binjamin Wilkomirski; Dr Nick Groom, lecturer in English, University of Exeter.
Jul 15, 1999
Capitalism
1695
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss capitalism throughout the last two centuries. In 1848 Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto described the dynamic force of capitalism as it swept through the 19th century: Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation. ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Was Karl Marx, in criticizing capitalism, actually responsible for defining it? From Marx’s critique of capitalism in the 19th Century through to the collapse of Communism at the end of the twentieth century, have we witnessed the triumph of capitalism? Or are we only now learning the full costs and the social impact of unfettered capitalism?With Anatole Kaletsky, economics commentator and Associate Editor of The Times, and author of The Costs of Default and In the Shadow of Debt; Edward Luttwak, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC and author of Turbo Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy.
Jun 24, 1999
The Monarchy
1687
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the British monarchy. In the last two hundred and fifty years, we’ve beheaded one king, exiled another, hired a distant German-speaking dynasty to fill the monarch’s role, and then mocked and ignored them, suffered a mad man and then a lavish sensualist, threatened a young queen, and then, over a century ago, invented a pageantry which brought majesty to a monarchy which is now tilting at the twenty first century against many and mighty odds. How has the monarchy survived since the execution of Charles the First two hundred and fifty years ago and what relevance does it have in a devolved Britain?With Professor David Cannadine, Director of the Institute of Historical Research, London and former Lecturer in History and Fellow, Christ’s College, Cambridge; Bea Campbell, sociologist, journalist and author of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Jun 10, 1999
Memory and Culture
1702
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss memory. At the start of the twentieth century Freud put memory at the centre of our psychology, and as the century has worn on what a nation remembers and what it should try to forget has become one of the binding political questions that modern societies face. As every second passes, humanity has a moment more to remember, and perhaps this fact alone goes a long way to explaining the ever changing role of memory, both in the mind of individuals and at the heart of the body politic. Memory, what to remember and when to forget, has personal and national implications. Whether we look to Chile, South Africa, Germany or Northern Ireland, these are all societies where the issue of memory is at the centre of the dilemmas and challenges they face. And in the mind of the individual too - as ever more forms of information crowd for space in our minds, and the image from someone else’s photograph can be more enduring than our own first hand experience of an event, can memory itself forever remain unchanged in its role within our psychology? Have our ways of remembering changed? Not in the sense neuro-biologists would explore the subject, but in its cultural and collective, as well as its individual, sense. “Memory is decidedly in fashion” writes Dr Nancy Wood, “whether attention is focused on the so-called return of repressed memories of the abused individual, or on the black holes in a nation’s recollection of its past. The topic of memory has become a compelling preoccupation”. With Professor Malcolm Bowie, Marshall Foch Professor of French Literature at Oxford University and Director of Oxford’s European Humanities Research Centre; Dr Nancy Wood, Chair of Media Studies, University of Sussex and author of Vectors of Memory.
May 27, 1999
Multiculturalism
1688
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss multiculturalism. The divisions between people provoked and exploited because of differences in religion, culture, nationality and race seem to beset the planet the more information technology promises globalisation. A recent estimate put the figure of people living in a country other than the one of their birth at 80 million. Does this mean that, amongst these eighty million people, their country of origin, their sense of self, and their cultural history are no longer as significant as they were? And how are those eighty million people and their descendants accommodated in the country to which they have moved - do their lives exemplify the success of multicultural policies or are they subject to racism? Is it possible to define how attitudes to race and identity have changed this century, given its vast shifts of population, cultures and peoples?With Stuart Hall, former Professor of Sociology, Open University and currently on a Commission set up by the Runnymede Trust looking at the future of multi-ethnic Britain; Dr Avtar Brah, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Birkbeck College, London University.
May 13, 1999
Writing and Political Oppression
1700
Melvyn Bragg examines how two writers’ work have been shaped by political oppression and explores whether writers have a political role in modern society. The connection between writers and politics has its roots in classical times, but in the 20th century the writer has been called on as the witness with increasing frequency and intensity. And many times the price of articulation has been severe. In the century in which saw the execution of writers such as Ken Saro Wiwa in Nigeria in 1995, and a fatwa imposed on Salman Rushdie, Melvyn Bragg talks to two writers who between them experienced exile, censorship and the manipulation of authoritarian states - Ariel Dorfman from South America and Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize winner from South Africa, to discuss the writing of fiction and political oppression. What, if any, is the writer’s political role in our world today?With Nadine Gordimer, Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist; Ariel Dorfman, South American journalist, scholar and author of Death and the Maiden.
Apr 08, 1999
Architecture in the 20th Century
1679
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise in so-called spectacular architecture at the end of the 20th century. Is architecture to do with what we live in, where it’s located, the buildings that accommodate at best so much more than a few private bodies, or is it the spectacular, even show-off, extravagance, even fantasy, of architects - or is it engineers who see the huge swash of public money as an opportunity to plant a place in posterity? Daniel Libeskind has been heralded as one of the greatest architects of his generation and of the latter half of the 20th century. He is the architect of some spectacular buildings - two of which are the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the highly controversial Spiral Extension to London’s own Victoria and Albert Museum, which his critics have described as looking like imploding cardboard boxes.But why are we witnessing at the end of the century a sudden glut of spectacular buildings, such as Libeskind’s? What do they say about the state of contemporary architecture? And do they show a blatant disregard for history? Is it merely‘the architecture of excess in a world of diminishing resources, a chic counterpoint at the end of the 20th century’?With Daniel Libeskind architect of the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Spiral Extension to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum; Richard Weston, architect and lecturer at De Montfort University.
Mar 25, 1999
Shakespeare and Literary Criticism
1646
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the enduring popular and academic appeal of Shakespeare. Did he invent the human personality as we inhabit it now? Professor Harold Bloom claims:“Shakespeare is universal. Shakespeare is the true multicultural author. One has to ask the biblical question “Where shall wisdom be found? And I suppose for me the answer is: wisdom is to be found in Shakespeare provided you get at it in the right way.”But why does Shakespeare still hold the popular and indeed academic imagination in the twentieth century? Should we read him above all others as Harold Bloom suggests in the way he suggests? And what does this say about the state of literary criticism today? With Harold Bloom, literary critic, Professor of Humanities, Yale University and Berg Professor of English, New York University; Jacqueline Rose, literary critic and Professor of English, University of London.
Mar 04, 1999
The Avant Garde's Decline and Fall in the 20th Century
1702
Melvyn Bragg examines the social and aesthetic impact of the Avant Garde and discusses whether it has failed in making painting relevant in the 20th century.Avant-garde is in the dictionary as 'anything that is in the forefront of new developments in their media'. Jackson Pollack in the 1960s was seen as one of the leaders of Avant Garde painting. But for the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, Jackson Pollack is merely representative of the uncertainty which has plagued the Avant Garde visual arts movements in the twentieth century, and which has led to paintings' ultimate demise and lack of relevance in the modern age. With Professor Eric Hobsbawm, eminent historian and author of Behind The Times: The Decline and Fall of the Twentieth Century Avant-Gardes; Frances Morris, specialist in contemporary art and Art Programme Curator for the Tate Gallery of Modern Art.
Feb 25, 1999
Language and the Mind
1669
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of our ideas about the formation of language. The psychologist George Miller worked out that in English there are potentially a hundred million trillion sentences of twenty words in length - that’s a hundred times the number of seconds since the birth of the universe. “Language”, as Chomsky put it, “makes infinite use of finite media”. “Language”, as Steven Pinker puts it, “comes so naturally to us that it’s easy to forget what a strange and miraculous gift it is”. “All over the world”, he writes, “members of our species spend a good part of their lives fashioning their breath into hisses and hums and squeaks and pops and are listening to others do the same”. Jean Jacques Rousseau once said that we differ from the animal kingdom in two main ways - the use of language and the prohibition of incest. Language and our ability to learn it has been held up traditionally as our species’ most remarkable achievement, marking us apart from the animals. But in the 20th century, our ideas about how language is formed are being radically challenged and altered. With Dr Jonathan Miller, medical doctor, performer, broadcaster, author and film and opera director; Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Centre for Neuroscience, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California.
Feb 11, 1999
Modern Culture
1676
Melvyn Bragg and guests debate the state of Modern Culture in the 20th century. Culture used to be a word we mocked, a concept too foreign for the stout empiricists of Britain, a species of foreign flummery. Now it is all around us. We have a ministry for it and a newspaper section boldly called Culture.Is contemporary culture evidence of a moral and aesthetic decline in our civilisation this century? Or does it show a society richer and more diverse than it has ever been?Will Self is one of the best known writers of his generation - celebrated as much for his erudite vocabulary as the shocking subject matter of some of his novels and short stories. Roger Scruton is one of the most celebrated philosophers of our age - known as much for his right -wing politics as for the passion with which he defends the past as a way of looking at the future. His latest book is An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, and he prefaces it by saying: “You don’t have to be familiar with the entire canon of western literature and full range of artistic masterpieces but you should have some familiarity with TS Eliot, Baudelaire, Mozart, Wagner, Monet, Poussin, Tennyson, Schoenberg, George Herbert, Goethe, Nietsche, and Marx.”With Will Self, writer and novelist; Roger Scruton, novelist, philosopher and Former Professor at Birkbeck College, London.
Jan 28, 1999
Feminism
1704
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most important events of the 20th century - the rise of Feminism and the subsequent empowerment of women. What have been the most important and lasting changes for women in the last 100 years and what is there still left to achieve? Are the biological differences between men and women insuperable? Is the feminist movement therefore set on a course it is inevitably bound to lose? Is the ideology of feminism in other words, working against our natural inclinations?If a man were to say “men are by nature more competitive, ambitious, status-conscious, dedicated, single-minded and persevering than women” then you could be forgiven for calling him anti-diluvian, blinkered and worse. But this is the express view of Dr Helena Cronin from the London School of Economics - a philosopher who has concentrated on Darwinian theory which she claims has never seriously been applied to humans. Joining her is Dr Germaine Greer whose book The Female Eunuch is credited with changing the lives of a generation of women. With Dr Helena Cronin, Co-director of the Centre for the Philosophy of the Natural and Social Sciences, London School of Economics; Dr Germaine Greer, Professor of English and Comparative Studies, Warwick University.
Jan 07, 1999
The American Century
1674
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how legitimate it is to call the 20th century the American century. Just how benevolent has America’s impact on the world been? And how durable has American’s initial idealism proved to be? Have ideals of democracy and freedom been forged across the globe as a result of the American influence, or has American oppression made the bigger impact? Has America ignored its own inequalities whilst advocating democratic capitalism elsewhere? Can America still lay claim to the idealism which fired its founders, or has materialism, with its uncomfortable corollary deprivation, lain waste to those early ideals?With Harry Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times, now an American citizen and author of The American Century; John Lloyd, associate editor of The New Statesman and former Times correspondent in Moscow and East European Editor of the Financial Times.
Dec 17, 1998
Cultural Rights in the 20th Century
1687
On the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations in New York, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the current status of that original declaration. Is it possible for any sort of rights to be ‘universal’? What are the implications of the ideas enshrined in that declaration - has the emphasis changed - and if so what are such rights? New thinking in this area has focused on ‘cultural rights’ but do these work alongside human rights, or do they supplant them? Has the advent of globalisation had an impact on human rights, and if so, how? At the end of the 20th century, can we look back to any progress in this area, and, if we look forward, do we see the oncoming train, or the light at the end of the human rights tunnel? With Professor Homi Bhabha, Professor in English Literature and Art, Chicago University and Visiting Professor of the Humanities, University College, London; Profesor John Gray, Professor of European Thought, London School of Economics in January 1998.
Dec 10, 1998
Work in the 20th Century
1679
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the changing nature of work practices and the work ethic as it pertains at the end of the 20th century. Has our understanding of the nature and function of work really changed so radically since the beginning of the century? How can the past inform the future in the rapidly changing work environment? Has technology usurped craftsmanship, or is this no more than a superficial reading of an increasingly complex scene?With Professor Richard Sennett, visiting professor, London School for Economics and author of The Corrosion of Character - the Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism; Theodore Zeldin, historian and Fellow of St Anthony’s College, Oxford; Melanie Phillips, columnist on The Sunday Times and currently working on a book about The Sex Change State.
Nov 26, 1998
The City in the 20th Century
1680
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the artistic, cultural and innovative developments of the city in the 20th century and is joined by two practitioners of the geographer’s art; Professor Doreen Massey, who was awarded the Vautrin Lud International Geography prize - the geographer’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, and Sir Peter Hall, whose books include The World Cities and Cities Tomorrow. They take a twentieth century perspective on the development of the city. How have cities changed since 1900, and what is their future? How has the 20th century been the century of the city?With Sir Peter Hall, Professor of Planning at the Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College, London, Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the Academia Europea; Doreen Massey, Professor of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences, Open University and recipient of the Vautrin Lud International Geography Prize and the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
Nov 12, 1998