|Programme run:||6 x 30 mins|
There are some novels, poems and works of non-fiction that are so important that they become more than just literature – they define their age in a way that history books never can, and have shaped the imagination of Britain. Series 2 of The Secret Life of Books tells the story of these key masterpieces, showing just why they are still so vital.
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The Faerie Queene
Dr Janina Ramirez unravels Edmund Spenser's Elizabethan epic The Faerie Queene to reveal how this fantasy world of elves, nymphs, and questing knights was written in the midst of the brutal Tudor occupation of Ireland and how the writer's growing disillusionment with the conflict was coded into the poem's restless verse.
Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs
Lifelong fan of Edward Lear, Nicholas Parsons, revisits the book that gave the world The Owl and The Pussycat to explore the fine line between joy and melancholy in Lear's writing and discover how the epileptic, bronchial, asthmatic depressive pioneered a new kind of poetry that married brilliant wordplay with astonishing artwork.
Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Poet and writer John Cooper Clarke explores the story behind Thomas de Quincey's notorious nineteenth century book Confessions of an English Opium Eater. One of the first portrayals of recreational drug taking, Confessions is also considered the first autobiographical account of drug addiction. It influenced not just generations of narcotized writers but even medical opinion on the effects of opium for decades after its publication. John navigates the thin line between fact and fiction that de Quincey walked while writing this memoir, and discovers the true story of this dark romantic classic.
The Mill on the Floss
Multi-award winning actor and director Fiona Shaw explores the genesis of her all-time favourite book, The Mill on the Floss, and discovers how the scandal that caused George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans) to take a male pen name was also played out in the plot of her classic novel about a woman's thwarted intellectual ambitions and conflicting sexual desires.
Cider with Rosie
Best-selling chronicler of modern country life Joanna Trollope traces the roots of her favourite book Cider with Rosie to uncover how Laurie Lee blended fact and fiction in his wistful elegy to a disappeared rural world - and reflect on why a book with such dark, hard-edged undercurrents continues to have such a popular appeal.
Swallows and Amazons
Former journalist and keen amateur sailor John Sergeant takes to the water in the wake of the plucky young heroes of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons and learns how a globe-trotting foreign correspondent and acquaintance of Lenin and Trotsky came to perfect a new, more authentic kind of children's literature that featured real children doing real things in real places.
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