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The History of English Literature by Perry Keenlyside; narrated by Derek Jacobi and Cast

• Audiobook: 0 pages

• Publisher: NAXOS Audiobooks, 2001

• ISBN: 9626342218

• Genre: Nonfiction–Literary History and Analysis

• Recommended For: Anyone looking for a quick overview of the entire history of English Literature, from Chaucer to Ishiguro, in an easy listening audiobook format.

Quick Review: Quick and easy listening to a very, very brief synopsis of the history of English literature. Highly recommended for its quick access to authors and tidbits of English history that one might have forgotten or overlooked. Is also brilliantly read by Jacobi and the rest of the cast, who read snippets from the classics expertly.

How I Got Here: I was returning a book to the library, and decided that I wanted an audiobook for the car. There wasn’t much of a selection, but then I spotted this title and decided it would be perfect for my driver’s short attention span.

The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis

The remarkable story of the world’s richest literary resource, the story telling, poetry, the growth of the novel and the greatest histories and essays, which have informed the language and the imagination wherever English is spoken.

My Analysis and Critique:

This audiobook was perfect for my quick drives to and from work each day! Each track focuses upon one writer from a certain time period, providing a bit of history of the author and the world around them, and then usually providing a reading of a snippet of one of their most notable works. So, usually, I could learn about three to five different authors and works on a one-way trip to my work, and not have to think/listen too hard.

Each disc is also separated into two to three different literary movements/time periods. Being a history, the text obviously moves chronologically. Thus, it is set up as thus:

Canterbury Tales

1. The Age of Chaucer (Middle Ages: Chaucer, Gower’s Sir Gawain, The Bible, and Langland’s Piers Plowman)

2. The End of Chivalry (Mid 15th Century: John Lydgate, Mallory, and Skelton to Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and Le Morte D’Arthur to Wyatt’s love lyrics and Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer)

Queen Elizabeth; The Faerie Queene; Elizabethan Age

3. Triumphs of Oriana (Elizabethan Age: Spenser, Raleigh, and Sydney to the trio of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson, and the poetry and essays by Donne and Bacon)

William Congreve The Way of the World Restoration

4. Puritan’s Progress (Restoration: religious metaphysical poetry by Herbert and Vaughan; Cavalier poetry by Lovelace and Herrick; the epic works by Milton; Marvell; Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; the first English novel in Defoe’s Moll Flanders; Dryden’s poetry; and finally, Congreve’s The Way of the World)

Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift

5. The Augustan Age (Age of Enlightenment: Pope’s poetry and essays; Swift’s satirical Gulliver’s Travels; Samuel Johnson’s criticism and Dictionary; the novels of Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, and Smallett; and Gray’s “Elegy on a Country Churchyard”)

The Eve of St. Agnes by John Keats

6. Romantic Revolution (poetry by Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge; Shelley’s Gothic Frankenstein; Austen’s novels; and the poetry of Shelley, Byron, and Keats)

7. Faith and Doubt (The Victorian Age: Dickens; the rise of children’s literature and the detective novel; the Brontes; Arnold’s “Dover Beach”; the novels of George Eliot; poetry by Tennyson, Rosetti, and Browning; the works of Kipling)

Modernism War Literature

8. The Age of Anxiety (Turn of the century/wartime: Hardy’s novels; Houseman’s poetry; the works of Henry James (?!); Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Wells’ science fiction; controversial D.H. Lawrence; the war poetry of Wilfred Owen; the Irish writers Yeats, Shaw, Wilde, and Joyce; Woolf’s To The Lighthouse; the satire of Evelyn Waugh; Orwell and Huxley; and the poetry of Eliot and Auden)

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

9. Post-War, Post-Modern(Multitude of voices and styles, as genres mesh: Cecil Day Lewis; Keith Douglas; Dylan Thomas; Ivy Compton Burnett; Jean Rhys; Doris Lessing; Muriel Spark; Iris Murdoch; William Golding; Angus Wilson; Anthony Powell; Kingsley Amis; Philip Larkin; Ted Hughes; J.G. Ballard; Salman Rushdie; Kazuo Ishiguro; Carol Ann Duffy)

While obviously this text is just a brief skim, a tiny overview of the great expanse of British Literature, I appreciated it for its providing me with some authors and works that I need to check out in the future. I also appreciated that it flowed so nicely together that it sounded like a story–the story that is English literature.

I also relished the lessons learned on the evolution of the novel, as well as the information provided in the Post-War, Post-Modern section (I am shockingly poorly read in modern literature! This needs to be remedied!)

Overall, I highly recommend this to anyone interested in gaining some insight on the history of English literature and listening to some classics read expertly by various voices. I’m not sure how easy this audiobook is to come by, as I just happened upon it at my library, but if you can find it, I recommend it!

Links:

Goodreads Reviews

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Locke and Key vol. 1 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Things are still a little off with me. I’m no longer in a funk, I’ve returned to the gym, and my house is finally clean, but I’m still not all there. Now, it seems, I have a bit of blogger’s block. I sit down at my computer to write a post, and nothing comes to me. What I do write feels like crap. Yesterday morning, I struggled with writing my review for Locke and Key. It’s still unfinished, and I’m not quite sure how I want to write it, as the review covers three books. I think I need to outline.

So, to deal with my writing constipation, I’ve returned to my most comfortable and favorite writing medium–good ol’ pen and paper. It does seem to help, as I’m not struggling with writing right now. I guess that I’ll keep at it until I feel like my old self again.

At least, through all of this offness, I have been reading. Maybe too many books. Perhaps my divided attention is affecting my blogging focus. But, I am reading. Here’s what I’ve finished reading, am still reading, and just started reading.

Mrs. Warren’s Profession– I finished this play by George Bernard Shaw last night, finally! I really enjoyed it, but, for some reason, was struggling with the drama format. Maybe, I’m out of practice. The themes were very interesting as the story dealt with prostitution in the Victorian era and gender inequalities. The play also featured one of my new favorite female characters–a young intellectual woman with a penchant for mathematics, working hard, and being independent. My kind of gal!

I Want My MTV– This one is taking a while because I’m always stopping my reading to watch the videos on YouTube. It’s a lot of fun, and while the commentary on various videos, musicians, VJs, and events from the ’80s is interesting, a lot of the context of this book is old news for me. I was a huge MTV fan growing up, so this is more like a walk down memory lane. I tend to skim the chapters on the MTV corporate execs though. I’m not interested in how much coke those guys snorted.

The Portable Dorothy ParkerThe Portable Dorothy Parker- This one I will be working through slowly. It is a collection of Parker’s short stories, poetry, and essays. Mainly, I read this one before bed, averaging a short story per day. I am loving her short stories! Actually, I am just loving Parker period–she just seems to be my literary soul mate. I really connect with her writing. She even provided the perfect quote for my title today, which sums up my issue with writing right now, as well as my issues with just about anything that I want to do, but can’t seem to do (I hate the gym, but I love having gone to the gym. I hate work, but I love having worked. I hate cleaning, but I love having cleaned the house. You get my drift…).

So far, I’ve read the following stories:

“The Lovely Leave”- Gah! I so related to this sad story of a woman who eagerly prepares for her husband, an officer away at war, to return home on leave. She has such high hopes for the 24 hours they get together, you just know that it won’t turn out well. Parker’s depiction of the woman’s insecurities and reactions to her husband’s life away from her are so relatable, I could easily put myself in her shoes, and I cringed often. This one really resonated with me.

Arrangement in Black and White by Dorothy Parker

Illustration by Seth

“Arrangement in Black and White”- Ugh. A very short piece following a ditzy moron of a woman at a party who is eager to meet an African American musician who is the guest of honor. She falls all over herself for being so forward-thinking by calling him “Mister” and enjoys the novelty of the moment. This story reminded me of people I knew in college- rich kids who would “slum it” in San Diego for the novelty.

The Sexes by Dorothy Parker

Illustration by Seth

“The Sexes”- A cute, short dialogue between a young woman punishing a young man suitor for paying attention to another woman at a party. Their conversation felt so true, and I know I’ve had this conversation before. Oh ladies–why are we so neurotic at times?

The History of English Literature by Perry Keenlyside and read by Derek Jacobi: I needed something to listen to in the car, so I went to the library and found this. It’s not too bad, kind of like having Derek Jacobi as your lecturer during a six-hour English Lit class. Snippets of literature are read, juxtaposed with the history behind it. I really liked listening to Chaucer read aloud- perhaps that’s how I’ll do The Canterbury Tales this year.

Also, today is Sunday, so tonight is television night! Why are all of my favorite shows on Sunday? I don’t know, but it’s good stuff.

Season Finale of Downton Abbey: What’s going to happen to Bates? Will Mary and Mathew get together? Wasn’t I asking these same questions before the finale of season 1?

Yes, and I’m so glad that the same high drama is still happening. I can’t wait to tune in, and this is why.

The Walking Dead: Finally, it seems that the living will be the bad guys on the show. Let’s face it- humans and human nature are way scarier than zombies.

Rick Grimes Graphic Novel Walking Dead

I wonder when and if Shane is going to bite the bullet. As long as he’s alive, it seems that Rick won’t get his somewhat anti-heroic status that he maintains in the graphic novels. I love the actor who plays Shane, but I want to see Rick screw up more and be more tormented by his conscience. One of the major and most important themes of the story is what this apocalyptic world forces good people to do, and Rick is at the center of this theme, and I just don’t see it happening so fully with Shane being alive. It seems that the show has split the graphic novel character of Rick in half, with his good side going to TV show Rick and his tough decision-making side going to Shane. I want Rick to shoot some humans, so that he can start really dealing with morality issues. I also want the survivor crew to move on and away from the farm. There’s a lot more going on in the outside world than simply zombies…they need to start interacting with it!

So, that’s what’s going on with me right now. This is a pretty long post, and it wasn’t too hard to write on paper. I think this long-hand drafting might work out. Now, back to the Locke and Key review…