The relation of the individual to society is the essential concern of the nineteenth-century novel. In "The Red and the Black", Stendhal justifies hypocrisy as a necessary mode of resistance to the oppression of the social codes in post-Napoleonic France. In "Bleak House", Dickens sees England’s Chancery Court not as an instrument of justice but as the epitome of the government’s torpor and corruption. However, he also sees in Esther Summerson a narrator who is at least the equal of the omniscient voice that otherwise seems to know everything—and Esther is capable of doing good in the world in a way that the big narrator is not. In "Crime and Punishment", Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov thinks the way to escape society is to transcend its laws. He learns, however, that crime doesn’t pay, but suffering does—suffering that is an essentially religious solution that Dickens flirts with and Stendhal never considers.
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’ll consider “shortness” as a challenge authors undertake, investigating the ways they weave complex tales into brief, often pithy, masterpieces. Reading a global array of short stories, including selections from the U.S., Great Britain, Latin America, and Russia, we will also seek to understand the short story genre within its national traditions. What kinds of similarities and differences emerge when we make cross-cultural comparisons of 20th and 21st century short stories? We’ll investigate the ways genre and cultures converge to shape the stories we tell and the way we tell them.
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 24 "An American Tragedy" – Theodore Dreiser • October 22 "Where The Crawdads Sing" – Delia Owens • November 19 "Red Notice" – Bill Browder • December No Meeting • January 28 "Snow Falling on Cedars" – David Guterson • February 25 "The Moon and Sixpence" – Somerset Maugham • March 24 "The Invention of Wings" – Sue Monk Kidd • April 28 "The Expatriates" – Janice Y.K. Lee • May 26 "The Little Paris Bookshop" – Nina George, translated by Simon Pare