Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Chesterton’s definition of a detective story, and a new approach to beekeeping: newsletter, March 10, 2023

March 10, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, March 10, 2023.

My efforts at beekeeping in the last few years have been largely unsuccessful (not much honey harvested and hives dying in the fall or winter), so it is time to try a different approach. I have been reading some things by acclaimed bee researcher Thomas Seeley, who says that many of the methods that hobbyist beekeepers like me have been using don’t work because they are mimicking what industrial beekeepers—those who use bees for pollination services and honey production—are doing.

Instead, Seeley says, beekeepers should be trying to recreate an “in the wild” environment where bees actually live and thrive. One aspect of this approach is placing hives in a wooded environment and far away from each other. Standard beekeeping practices have been to place all of your hives together—for the convenience of the beekeeper, not the bees.

Bees do indeed thrive in a natural environment and when they are “unkept.” Seeley has many ideas about how beekeepers can assist bees rather than keeping them. One thing that is apparent already is that this new approach to beekeeping will take a lot more effort on my part. I will keep you posted on how I am doing with this new approach.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


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Christopher Marlowe’s deal with the devil

A deal with the devil. It is one of the oldest stories—if not the oldest—in our culture. The concept of “the devil and his due” is deeply embedded in our language and in our thinking. 

When Christopher Marlowe wrote his play, Dr. Faustus, sometime in the 1590s, he brought to modern life this ancient story for the first time in the English language. His source, according to scholars, was a German tale of a scholar who had grown weary and bored with the scientific studies that surrounded him. Dr. Faustus wanted more. He wanted power to control and to change his world.

How would he obtain such power? The only way for humans to gain divine power is through doing a deal with the devil.

The source for Marlowe may have been German folklore, but the idea dates far back into ancient history. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was tempted by the devil, who promised him power to rule the Earth, and to do good. Tempting as it was, Jesus realized that the devil was not the source of true power. He rejected the devil’s offer, even when he was on a high mountain and could see the entire world.

The idea of a “deal with the devil” did not start there, however. It goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and the first story that we have in Genesis is Adam and Eve doing their deal with the devil. The promise from the devil is that by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, they would know Good from Evil and thus be like God. That deal set humanity on its downward spiral.

Marlowe’s version of the Dr. Faustus legend is an important one in the history of literature. He wrote his play during the time when the belief that spirits, angels, and devils were active on earth was rife among all of the cultures of Western Europe. The power and presence of these supernatural forces was a scary thing, and many writers of Marlowe’s time were reluctant to delve into this area.

Christopher Marlowe, whom many place as an English poet second only to his contemporary Shakespeare, exhibited no such reluctance, either in his writing or in his life.

Marlowe was born in 1564 in Canterbury, England. His father was a shoemaker. When he was 14 years old, he was a scholarship student at the King’s School in Canterbury. Two years later, he was a student at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge.

It was at Cambridge where the intrigues that entangled his life began to weave their mysterious webs. Some believe that Marlowe dabbled with Roman Catholicism. Others thought he might have shown homosexual tendencies. Added to all of this mix were the political machinations of Tudor England.

Queen Elizabeth I sat precariously on her throne, caught between domestic rivals and pretenders and an international division between Catholics and Protestants. Those who were loyal to her were often anything other than selfless in their loyalty. Power and position were always at stake in any relationship. Intelligence and espionage seem to be the major social sports.

Marlowe’s literary bent was obvious, but he too sought position and fortune. His age and his talent quickly marked him as a prodigy among the literary elite. He was daring in both his personal relationships and his literary efforts.

Marlowe’s artistic talents were widely known and admired even by those who might have been considered his rivals, including a playwright named William Shakespeare. Marlowe and Shakespeare were almost exact contemporaries in age, and after Marlowe’s death, Shakespeare actually used some of Marlowe’s lines as a tribute to him in some of his plays.

The death of Marlowe in 1593 when he was only 28 years old has been the subject of much speculation for four centuries. Marlowe was stabbed to death after spending most of the day with three of his contemporaries, each of whom had ties to powerful people in the Elizabethan court. It is believed by many people that Marlowe had run afoul of the interests of some of those in power. The story of his death is intriguing. Was it murder or simply a tragic ending to a drunken barroom brawl?

The most thorough, modern examination of Marlowe’s death, the circumstances surrounding it, and the reasons for it, has been done by Charles Nicholl whose book The Reckoning: The Death of Christopher Marlowe is an intriguing look at the artistic genius who undoubtedly made his own deal with the devil. Nicholl has recently been interviewed about Marlowe on the Not Just the Tudors podcast.


Women With Words: emerging

My latest book, Women With Words: Female Journalists and Writers, Heads and Tales Volume 2, is beginning to emerge from behind its publication walls.

The book is now widely available (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Lulu, and on a number of other platforms) and can be purchased as a hardback, paperback, or ebook. At this moment, I am working to increase its distribution through other platforms.

Perhaps you know a young woman who loves to read and write and needs some inspiration. This would make a great gift and a perfect birthday or Christmas present. (I know, it’s March, but is it really too early to start your Christmas shopping?)

Here’s the Amazon blurb:

The women in this volume of the Heads and Tales series have a way with words. They are remarkable women, all with remarkable and sometimes extraordinary stories.

Jim Stovall, in this volume, brings us his unique journalistic and artistic vision of women whose writings and lives were always notable, sometimes notorious, and occasionally astonishing. Some of these women, such as Louisa May Alcott, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Eleanor Roosevelt, you will have heard of or read. Others will have receded—often unfairly—into the mists of history.

What you will find here about each of these women is something new—some part of their story that you had never known.

For instance:

Louisa May Alcott, famously the author of Little Women, was also A.M. Bernard, author of what was in her time known as the “blood and thunder” novel, the gothic sensationalism that many readers of her day craved. Such writing put food on her family’s table.

Aphra Behn, possibly the first female writer in English to make her living as a writer, was not only a popular playwright but also a spy for King Charles I.

Anne Brontë, the least well known of the Brontë sisters, wrote the most shocking and forward-looking feminist novel of them all—a novel that sister Charlotte hardily disapproved of.

Rachel Harding Davis, mother of the famous journalist and early 20th century heart-throb Richard Harding Davis, supported her family by writing some of the first American realism stories—decades before her male counterparts in the realism school took up their pens.

And we haven’t even gotten to page 25 yet.

There are many more such stories: the first female presidential candidate (far earlier than you might think); the first American detective novelist; the first voice from the White House that Americans heard after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The list goes on and on.

And then there are the caricatures. These drawings by the author himself add insight and entertainment to this unique and powerful collection.

In addition to those women mentioned above, discover the stories of Helen Gurley Brown, Maxine Cheshire, Mary Mapes Dodge, Mary Anne Evans (George Elliot), Wanda Gág, Martha Gellhorn, Susan Glaspell, Anna Katharine Green, Angelina Grimké and Sarah Grimké (and their collaborator Theodore Weld), Fannie Lou Hamer, Lillian Hellman, Mary McCarthy, Marguerite Higgins, Emma Lazarus, Caroline Norton, Helen Kirkpatrick, Anne Ratcliffe, Catherine Parr, Mary Seacole, Elizabeth Cochran Seaman (Nellie Bly), Ida Tarbell, Dorothy Thompson, Mercy Otis Warren, Victoria Woodhull, and Mary King Ward.

Read and be entertained and delighted.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


From the archives: G.K. Chesterton on the detective story

G.K. Chesterton, the great British author of the early 20th century, liked detective stories, read them, and wrote them.

He had the formula down pat. It went like this:

The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. A policeman, stupid but sweet-tempered, and always weakly erring on the side of mercy, walks along the street; and in the course of his ordinary business finds a man in Bulgarian uniform killed with an Australian boomerang in a Brompton milk-shop. Having set free all the most suspicious persons in the story, he then appeals to the bull-dog professional detective, who appeals to the hawk-like amateur detective. The latter finds near the corpse a boot-lace, a button-boot, a French newspaper, and a return ticket from the Hebrides; and so, relentlessly, link by link, brings the crime home to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

– G.K.Chesterton

Illustrated London News May 6, 1911. Source: The Detective

The above quotation comes from the website of the American Chesterton Society, a deep and intensive repository of material by and about the man that George Bernard Shaw labeled “a colossal genius.”

Chesterton, most famously for modern minds, is the author of the Father Brown detective series, but he also wrote detective novels outside the series. He even wrote an article on how to write a detective story. It starts out like this:

Let it be understood that I write this article as one wholly conscious that he has failed to write a detective story. But I have failed a good many times. My authority is therefore practical and scientific, like that of some great statesman or social thinker dealing with Unemployment or the Housing Problem. I do not pretend that I have achieved the ideal that I set up here for the young student; I am, if you will, rather the awful example for him to avoid. None the less . . . (

That’s what you get when you start to read Chesterton.


Group giveaways for March

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

March’s Free Mysteries

Page Turning-Mystery/Suspense

Killer Thrillers

Books You Can’t Put Down

Rah! Rah! Rah! Varsity Sports Themed YA and NA Novels

Crime Thriller Giveaway (Feb. 12 – March 12)

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.


See last week’s newsletter introduction on “shame” in public life.

Marcia D.: I can think of two female politicians that should be kicked out of politics. 

Margaret S.: You have the right values, my esteemed author! It is sad, but the last couple of generations have failed to learn the values we were raised on (I much sooner than you, as I am almost 81 ! 😊 LOL). Something is missing in lots of them, though not ALL, thank God! 

Maybe the wars and all made our kids and grandkids so disconnected from reality that they think no one sees their faults, lies and etc. We were probably too permissive, after all that we struggled without growing up during wars and the depression.

Just keep on keeping the old values, hon. They will come back in “style” again eventually. I believe it 😊🙏💕!

Check out last week’s newsletter

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Cades Cove lane

Best quote of the week:

Talk not of wasted affection; affection never was wasted. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, poet (1807-1882)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Lenten devotionals

1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee (full disclosure: my home church) is offering daily devotionals that will land in your in-box every day during Lent. They are written by church members and take less than a couple of minutes to read. (And yes, I have written one of them.) Sign up to receive them here.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Charles Henry Turner, G.K. Chesterton, public shame, and the upcoming baseball season: newsletter, March 3, 2023



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