George Eliot’s "Middlemarch", Tolstoy’s "Anna Karenina", and Henry James’s "The Portrait of a Lady" all have historically appropriate heroines but very different narrative styles. Eliot often seems to write from a pulpit, issuing judgments commensurate with our sense of Victorian morality. Tolstoy’s alternation of relatively short chapters and his belief that our behavior is more physiological than international gives his narrative the difficult feeling that cause and effect are sometimes hardly related, which makes morality problematic. James is as impersonal as a nineteenth-century narrator can be. His characters sometimes seem opaque within their own consciousness and we are left on our own to make any final judgments. James’s ending is quite open; Eliot’s is firmly closed; and Tolstoy’s are both. And this tells the story of the nineteenth century novel’s turn to modernism. All three novels come in Penguin editions. We will start with Eliot.
This class will meet once a month to discuss eight literary works. We will meet the fourth Tuesday of each month, from September to May, excluding December. The selections have been made from novels, collections of short stories, and memoirs that have received critical acclaim from peers, reviewers, and the reading public. Led by author and writing instructor Nancy Geyer, the course will differ from a lecture format in that class members will be encouraged to participate in the discussion of the monthly book assignment. It is patterned on the classic formula of book clubs that became popular in the early 20th century and continue to the present day. Emphasis will be placed on characterization, plot, structure, dialogue, style, and atmosphere. The book selections and dates follow: (A limited enrollment class) • September 26 "A Gentleman in Moscow" - Amor Towles • October 24 "News of the World" - Paulette Jiles • November 28 "The Underground Railroad" - Colson Whitehead • December No Meeting • January 23 "The House of the Spirits" – Isabelle Allende • February 27 "Nutshell" – Ian McEwan • March 27 "The Old Man and the Sea" and "A Moveable Feast" Earnest Hemigway • April 24 "My Mother’s Keeper: A Daughter’s Memoir of Growing Up in the Shadow of Schizophrenia" – Tara Elgin Holley with Joe Holley • May 22 "The Day the World Came to Town" – Jim Defede