The modern novel grew up with the modern city. Through literature, we will explore the nature and state of our individuality whilst living among the many thousands of strangers who give a city its two most essential qualities— density and diversity. We will begin with E.B. White’s indispensable essay “Here is New York” and then explore New York City, London, Paris, and even Cairo in the works of Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Émile Zola, Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, John Dos Passos, the Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz, Italo Calvino, and Frank O’Hara. Two of our guides will be Lewis Mumford and the great Jane Jacobs. We will also draw upon your own experiences as travelers to expand our insights.
Shakespeare was a master of opening scenes as he came to be master of all other aspects of dramatic construction. In this class we will investigate the many ways Shakespeare catches our attention, introduces his characters, and sets up the worlds he invites us to enter. A feature of the class will be the viewing of films and videos showing how some of the world’s greatest directors have interpreted the ‘grand openings’ of Shakespeare’s plays. (A limited enrollment class)
One of the most persistent stories in literature centers upon the individual’s resistance against society’s persisting influence over that individual’s identity. In that struggle the individual must cope with, flee from, capitulate to, or somehow exert a transforming force upon the influence that otherwise would dominate. In this Book Club we will examine as a connecting theme several literary characters’ efforts in the face of that struggle. The problem, of course, is eternal and universal, and as a consequence is forever timely and apropos of the reader’s life—the literary is the personal. We will cover several women through 2,000 years of literature, and come to understand how those women triumph or fail on their own terms. In so doing, we will seek to knit together these various literary conflicts and possibly find some resonating contemporary themes. • January 14 The Samaritan Woman at the Well: John 4: 7 – 30 The Wife of Bath’s Tale – Geoffrey Chaucer • February 11 The Merchant of Venice – William Shakespeare • March 10 The Scarlett Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne • April 14 The Awakening – Kate Chopin • May 12 On Beauty – Zadie Smith
This course will examine the Age of Augustus, the first Roman emperor (31 BC - AD 14). This period after the assassination of Julius Caesar was essential in Roman history, because it marked the transition from the Roman republic to imperial rule. The Age of Augustus was also remarkable for its literature, art, architecture, and building projects. The course will read important literary works of the period, including Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and ancient historical and biographical sources on the period, including Tacitus’ Annals and Suetonius’ Life of Augustus. In addition, we will look at examples of Augustan material culture, including the forum of Augustus, the Ara Pacis, and Augustus’ mausoleum.
Poems have conventions that define them and rules they follow. Most of these rules become clear the more poems we read—the key is to read slowly, four or five times, reading out loud in order to feel the language. Then, you ask the questions: How is this one different than that? Why does this one but not the other affect me? Why does the line break here rather than there? Do the vowels or the consonants most determine the poem’s sounds? Ninety percent of what a poem means is available at the literal level. Remember—we aren’t reading POETRY, just one poem at a time which is easier! We will use Joel Conarroe’s Six American Poets (Vintage Books) and read selections from a wide array of poets. (A limited enrollment class)
The best short stories leave you with a strong emotional response and a sense of awe at how quickly and masterfully a deft writer can create a world and connect you to its characters. What techniques help authors achieve these effects? And what, beyond word count, defines the unique, dynamic genre of the short story? How exactly does the length of a piece of writing connect to its expression as a work of art and our interpretation of it? In this course we will consider “shortness” as a challenge authors undertake, investigating the ways they weave complex tales into brief, often pithy, masterpieces. (Note: the selected readings in this semester will be new to students of the previous semester.)