Do you long for a time when everybody displayed proper dining etiquette? Do you have a fondness for afternoon teas with scones and clotted cream? Have you ever wondered whether people really ate boiled calf’s head? If so, you won’t want to miss this literary feast. In this course, we will consume lavishly arrayed meals through a selection of Victorian books that take food very, very seriously. We will read and discuss nineteenth-century meal plans, recipes, table settings, and, of course, etiquette guides from an array of sources to piece together what it was really like to eat during the Victorian era. Some of our readings will discuss the impact of the British Corn Laws and Irish Potato Famine on working-class meals, while others will demonstrate how English tastes expanded along with their territorial acquisitions. All will be delightfully delicious. Your taste buds will be titillated as we discuss Alice’s compulsion to drink and eat whatever she’s told in Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; spicy delicacies from the British Empire in William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair; Miss Havisham’s failed wedding feasts in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations; the sensuous appetites in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”; as well as original recipes for soused mutton and plum pudding in Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Management. (Note: I hope to satiate your desire to know which jam to serve alongside roast duck, though I can’t promise to solve the ever-vexing dilemma of whether to sit Aunt Mary next to the vicar or the duke.)
Jazz. Flappers. Speakeasies. Art Deco. The Harlem Renaissance. Widespread economic prosperity. The advent of the golden age of cinema. If we could time travel to any decade, we couldn’t do better than the 1920s. In the aftermath of World War I, the literature and culture of Europe and the U.S. erupted into frenzied expression. Historically, the success of women’s suffrage in 1919 and the flourishing of the Harlem Renaissance signaled new opportunities for women and African Americans. The 20s were about possibility, newness, change, and energy. Ironically, however, much of the literature to emerge from this time period reflects a different ethos. Iconic 20s novels like "The Great Gatsby", "Mrs. Dalloway", and "The Sun Also Rises" present war-torn characters and communities struggling with the loss of shared cultural values and the inability to locate moral and aesthetic meaning in traditional structures. In this class, we will investigate this 20s dialectic through the period’s novels, poetry, art, and history, questioning the relationships between the decade’s jubilancy, celebration, tumult, pessimism, and crash. Note: The material will be different in each class, so join us for one or both. We may have to put on our dancing shoes as we watch demonstrations of the Charleston, the Peabody, and Turkey Trot. Part Two: Renaissance, Humor, and The Great Depression - The Harlem Renaissance; Langston Hughes; Jazz; Ken Burns; Prohibition; Frederick Lewis Allen; Humor; The Crash; Anita Loos; Buster Keaton; The Great Depression; and Film
All of us have read a book that changed us, made us think about the world differently, impacted who we were or who we were becoming—a book that would not leave us—a book that continues to influence our lives. In this exciting class, four of our favorite professors will give a single lecture and share “their” book with us. You will not want to miss these dynamic lectures—they could influence your life. Jill Carroll - May 8 Fernando Casas - May 15 Terrence Doody - May 22 David Brauer - June 5 Note: The class will skip May 29 for Memorial Day.
American literature would not be what it is today without the distinctive styles and influences of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, the first great American poets. Whitman and Dickinson figure in the US cultural memory in competing and often oversimplified ways: one as an enigmatic recluse who went unrecognized during her lifetime for her intimate examinations of the soul’s inner landscapes; the other as a lurid worshiper of the sensuous physical world and a gregarious champion of American democracy. Whitman’s amplitude and Dickinson’s compression make them an ideal pair for studying a full range of poetic possibility. Together we will read some of their most iconic poems, focusing on their respective attitudes about nature, death, friendship, sex, selfhood, and the soul. We will also learn about their publication and reception histories, and discuss their imprint on subsequent generations. For the last week of class, students will be invited to memorize one poem and to write one poem in response to our readings.
Since H. G. Wells’ influential novella, "The Time Machine" (1895), Western culture has been obsessed with the possibilities of time travel—a creative and scientific venture that was further inspired by the popularization of Albert Einstein’s work on relativity in the early twentieth century. Since then, time travel narratives have developed into stories enthralled by paradox. These narratives delight in confronting the mind-boggling possibilities of logical impossibilities and the potentially disastrous consequences of temporal tourism. In this course, we will investigate a lineage of time travel narratives, from "The Time Machine" to Audrey Niffenegger’s "The Time Traveler’s Wife" (2003), focusing on novels and short stories. Nonfiction excerpts from Einstein’s "Relativity", Hawking’s "A Briefer History of Time", and J. Richard Gott’s "Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe" will also be read in order to gain a general understanding of the science of time.
We begin with Aeschylus’s "Agamemnon", an early tragedy with few characters and much spectacle. In week two, we will examine Brecht’s "Mother Courage and Her Children", a war play which Brecht terms “epic theater.” Oscar Wilde’s comedy, "The Importance of Being Earnest" may be the funniest serious play ever written. It is used by Tom Stoppard as a basis of his "Travesties", in which James Joyce and Vladimir Lenin “debate” the relationship between art and politics. We will read both of these plays for the third class. August Wilson’s "Joe Turner’s Come and Gone" is what one critic calls “a ghost play” about the long legacy of slavery in America. Then, in the fifth week, we will follow Joe Turner with "Millennium Approaches" as well as the first part of Tony Kushner’s "Angels in America". If there is a modern play that can match "Agamemnon" in spectacle, "Angels in America" is it. The second part of "Perestroika" will be the final class.