Classes in the Study of Literature

Recent Courses Offered

Chaucer: Canterbury Tales

This course will introduce you to the wonderful world of fourteenth-century London and the characters that come to life in Chaucer’s descriptions of the pilgrims that head towards Canterbury. You will be surprised how easy it is to read Chaucer in Middle English and to get a feel for the life of the people who inhabited what we now call the Middle Ages. This is a unique and colorful course.

The French Connection: Flaubert’s Madame Bovary

This novel nearly put Gustave Flaubert in prison when it was published in 1856 and its eponymous heroine is often linked with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, both in the top ten of memorable women. The novel is also noted for the realism of its depictions and became one of the defining works of that idiom. I would recommend getting the Norton Critical Edition of this work or, if not, the Penguin Classics Edition.

Dostoevsky — Literary Giant

Dostoevsky — Literary Giant - Dostoevsky (together with Tolstoy) remains one of the giants of Russian literature. His piercing studies of human character and behavior in terms of the tragic life place him in the same realm as Shakespeare. In this course we will read The Brothers Karamazov and some of his short stories. I suggest the Penguin Classics edition of Karamazov (but any good edition will do), and The Best Short Stories in the Modern Library edition.

Tolstoy: A Russian Genius **NEW COURSE**

Tolstoy: A Russian Genius — The novel Anna Karenina will be the centerpiece of this course but we will also discuss several of his short stories that bear on some of the themes present in his great novel. Because Anna Karenina is on the long side, I suggest participants read 150 pages or so before the course begins--not absolutely necessary but recommended. Two books are needed for the course: any attractive edition of the novel (I personally am using the Penguin Classics edition) and Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy published by Harper Perennial.

The World of Greek Drama

The World of Greek Drama — The course begins with some background to the Greek theater of the time of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes. We will read Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and The Oresteia and pay particular attention to what these plays tell us about man's relationship to the gods that was so central to his beliefs and actions. I suggest Sophocles The Three Theban Plays and Aeschylus The Oresteia be read in the translations by Robert Fagles (Penguin Classics).

The European Mind: Franz Kafka

The European Mind: Franz Kafka — Born in Prague in 1883, Kafka earned a doctorate in jurisprudence there at Karl Ferdinand University. During the day he worked as a civil servant, but at night he wrote several short stories and three magnificent short novels: The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika. We will read the novels and some of the short stories to find reasons why Kafka’s influence stretches far beyond his own time.

Herman Melville: Moby Dick

This is an American classic - a wonderful adventure story, an encyclopedia of whaling lore and one that begins at our own doorsteps of New Bedford and Nantucket. Any good modern edition of this novel, preferably with illustrations, is recommended.

Virginia Woolf – the 20th Century Novel

We will be reading closely To the Lighthouse, The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own. Woolf’s style is unique and she achieves in her writing a sense of what it is to be a woman that few other women writers have ever been able to approach.

Henry Miller and Nathanael West -- **NEW COURSE**

Paris provided Henry Miller with his material for Tropic of Cancer. When this book was first published it encountered as much controversy as James Joyce’s Ulysses. Its eventual admittance to the American readers’ arena was a triumph over censorship. Any good edition of the Tropic of Cancer will serve. For Nathanael West the two-novel edition (Miss Lonelyhearts/The Day of the Locust) will be the most convenient for you.

The Great Divide: Literature, Art and Modernism in our Time

A new course that looks at the arts in terms of World War One and the changes it both marked and heralded in the arts. We will be using Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory as one of our texts, but examples of ‘modernism’ will be drawn from many areas, including dance and music. We will use Robbe-Grillet’s The Voyeur as our starting point for studying Postmodernism. Both books are readily available.

Modern Music: the Music of Our Time

Western classical music has been alive and well since the 15th century. It is as alive and well today as it has always been. Some things have changed including the musical language and the expectations of the composer towards the audience. The audience is now asked to participate more personally and with a greater degree of concentration than ever before. The course will present works and illustrations that are representative of the contemporary music scene. This was a one-time offering of this course.

Summer Shakespeare Theater: Romeo & Juliet, Othello and Twelfth Night

These powerful Shakespeare plays (together with several of his sonnets) will show the range and depth of expression and the magic this playwright was capable of. We will read each play in great detail and discuss the main themes that Shakespeare uses again and again. We will also look at the way these plays were received and understood in their time and in subsequent centuries. Any good edition of the complete plays should work well or you may like to read the plays from well-edited and footnoted individual volumes. The material is rich and the themes unforgettable.

Marcel Proust: Mastery of Memory

We all realize the power of memory. It shapes our lives and defines who we are in our own minds. In this course, we will search for those sensations that act as triggers to human memory and experience how we select what we wish to remember. We will read three books (two very short): 1) Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel, (N.Y., Pantheon, about $10); 2) Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. I, (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, about $10); 3) Harold Pinter, Proust Screenplay, (Grove Press, about $11). All currently available from Amazon.com.

The Reader: the book and the film *** NEW COURSE ***

Soon after Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader came out in an English translation in 1997 The Inquiring Mind offered a class on the book coupled with Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. Now showing in local cinemas is a film adaptation of The Reader which throws a new emphasis on some of the material found in the book. This new course will investigate the changes between book and film as two complementary media and so those signing up for this course will be well served by seeing the film version prior to taking the class. This new course will also take in the Primo Levi book and some new short stories by Bernhard Schlink. Two books are needed for this course: The Reader and Survival in Auschwitz.

William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Absolom, Absolom

We will study these two ‘Southern’ novels in detail and also the literary landscape of which they are an integral part. What distinguishes a Southern writer from his Northern counterpart? Does the distinction hold true in today’s writers? These are some of the issues we will investigate in this course.

Early Music and the Baroque Era

The world of western music before the arrival of Haydn and Mozart includes a diverse and fascinating pageant of musical gems. Such names as Palestrina, Monteverdi and the Bach family conjure up images of rich and diverse European life that gave much importance to the regular creation and performance of music, both ceremonial and private.

Philip Larkin and other British Poets

We will use Philip Larkin’s collected poems (available in paperback) as the center of our study and will also examine some of the poetry of his British contemporaries. Our time frame for this course will be from the 1920s to the present day. As part of this study we will examine the work of some recent English poet laureates.

Creative Writing

The theme will be style and technique. We will examine many short passages of recognized writers (often no more than a paragraph in length) to see how they approach a problem and how they arrive at a solution. Writing is never easy but can often be made easier by being familiar with excellent models. Invariably, style is your own mix of your imagination, all the best things you have read plus your own personal viewpoint, rarely your own viewpoint alone. There will be plenty of opportunities for writing and discussion during the course. If you want to improve your style or just get writing, this is the course for you.

James Joyce: Ulysses

This session we will study in depth James Joyce’s remarkable novel Ulysses. Although number one on a most recent list of Great Books, this rich and complex work is hard to read without some guidance. Six weeks should be enough to open up this treasure trove of literary riches to all in the course and, at the same time, provide an exciting and rewarding adventure in a book that changed the shape of literature in our time. Any good recent edition of your choosing should serve you well.

Creativity Workshop

John is a professionally qualified life coach who will help you to harness your creative energy. Anyone who has a creative interest or pursuit will benefit from this workshop. Using life coaching techniques, the group will together observe the individual participant’s interests and skills grow. If you would like to find out more about this course, call 508 240-3162 and discuss this workshop with John.

Deepening an Understanding of Classical Music

A course for people who already enjoy music, but who want to know more about the basic structures of classical music and details that make one performance better than another. We will review the instruments of the orchestra, how music is represented on paper, how music has ‘evolved’ historically, who is regarded as a ‘hot’ composer and how to grow your own CD collection.

Chaucer—Canterbury Tales

This course will introduce you to the wonderful world of fourteenth-century London and the characters that come to life in Chaucer’s descriptions of the pilgrims that head towards Canterbury. You will be surprised how easy it is to read Chaucer in Middle English and to get a feel for the life of the people who inhabited what we now call the Middle Ages. This is a very unique and colorful course.

Beowulf

This is one of the most talked-about names in English literature, but how few people have ever taken the time to read the poem or think about the history it proclaims. This well may be the moment for you. The text we will use is a reading edition of the epic, which means we will give what is virtually a theater performance in the class, thus making it a very dramatic and memorable experience. The book we will be using is Beowulf: A New Translation for Oral Delivery by Dick Ringler, a paperback by Hackett Publishing Co. (available from Amazon at about $9). We will also read John Gardner’s famous short novel called Grendel, a book famous in its own right.

History of the English Language and Our Fascination with Words

We begin by examining the nature of language itself and such theories as there being a common ancestor to all languages in the world. We then track the coming of the Germanic languages in c.450 A.D. to the shores of the island now known as England that gave us the roots of our language, and we examine the vocabulary that the Normans brought with them when they conquered England in 1066. The latter part of the course is given over to the modern influences and trends in our language of today and the words we favor and those we don’t.

The Richness of Poetry

One way of describing this course is ‘pearls on a string.’ This is a chance to see poetry as a living and fascinating world of thought and guile. We will read and study poems from many periods of English literature but always keeping an eye and ear on the fine poets of our time. This is not a history of poets but rather a procession of poems that help us to define who we are.

Homer’s The Odyssey

The Odyssey reads like a modern romance but it charts the story of man’s journey from the beginning of time. We will read Robert Fagles’ translation of this seminal work together with related material. The Odyssey is a work rich in human experience and is surprisingly modern in its presentation. This classic work is a wonderful adventure in itself and provides perfect background information for a study of James Joyce’s Ulysses. You will need a copy of Fagles’ book, available in Viking paperback.

Shakespeare – Richard II, Hamlet, and A Winter’s Tale

We will read each play in great detail and discuss the main themes that Shakespeare uses again and again. We will also look at the way these plays were received and understood in their time and in subsequent centuries. Any good edition of the complete plays should work well or you may like to read the plays from well-edited and footnoted individual volumes. The material is rich and the themes unforgettable.

The Bloomsbury Group * NEW COURSE

Who were the people who made up this illustrious and sometimes notorious group? We will follow the lives of those closest to the Group’s center – sometimes through the diaries of Virginia Woolfe. All were creative and controversial men and women and their beliefs, their views on politics, sex, and art help us to understand the cultural climate of English life in the years following the Great War. As a reference text we will read Bloomsbury Recalled by Quentin Bell, available online for $24.00 at www.columbia.edu, ISBN #0-231-10565-7.

Summer Shakespeare Theater: Three Plays – A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest.

All three plays show Shakespeare at his most imaginative. A Midsummer’s Night Dream is full of supernatural effects: love potions, dream sequences, celestial spirits and the like. Antony and Cleopatra is a true history that through Shakespeare’s imagination has been turned from a political and a military defeat into a romantic and enduring triumph of love. The Tempest, Shakespeare’s last play, is set on a magical island on which, through Prospero’s spells, wrongs are righted and past injustices are forgiven. You will need any good edition of these plays.

Humor in Literature

We will take a long look at humorous poetry and prose from the earliest time up to the present moment. We will also look at how puns and jokes have worked over the centuries. Be ready to tell a funny story or two yourself.

The Art of the Short Story: Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s short stories are a treasure trove of adventure, experience and emotion – enough to keep us busy all summer long. We will be reading a generous selection of these stores which will also include The Old Man and the Sea. The recommended book to bring is the readily available Finca Vigia edition of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway and any copy of The Old Man and the Sea.

Writing Poetry – A Workshop

This is a new course for those who have already expressed themselves in verse and also for those who have thought about writing poetry but have not yet taken the plunge. We will do a lot of writing in class and also study some well-known poems, looking for strategies and ideas that can help us in the shaping or our own poetry. By the end of the course you can comfortably expect to have several of your own poems written and have enough skills to be your own poetry critic and guide.

Homer’s The Iliad

Homer’s story from the earliest of Greek times reads like a modern novel. The story opens dramatically with two Greek heroes arguing over the possession of a beautiful woman and ends with a young Greek warrior and an old man, the King of Troy, speaking poignantly about their lives and their imminent deaths. In between are scenes of battle, of humor, and of tragic events, and the ever-present wisdom of the storyteller. I suggest we read this epic story in Robert Fagles’ excellent translation (available in paperback form almost anywhere). This course, together with Homer’s The Odyssey (to be given Sept. 2007) and James Joyce’s Ulysses (to be given Nov. 2007), form a cycle that introduces some of the western world’s finest stories – cornerstones to any deep understanding of our literary heritage. Why not plan to take all three as the year unfolds?

Virginia Woolf – the 20th Century Novel

We will be reading closely To the Lighthouse, The Waves, and Mrs. Dalloway and variations on this last book. Woolf’s style is unique and she achieves in her writing a sense of what it is to be a woman that few other writers have ever been able to approach.

Thomas Hardy

This is a new course on Thomas Hardy, one of the great Victorian novelists and a poet of distinction. A new biography Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin (The Penguin Press) records his long life in fascinating detail and offers this tribute: “His legacy is a tremendous one, and extraordinarily varied, in the great novels in which character and landscape are handled with tragic power, and in poetry written and scanned with the idiosyncrasy of genius, that rises to a luminous beauty and catches the heart.” In our Hardy course we will read Return of the Native (1878) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891) and a selection of his poetry. Any good edition of the novels will do and some participants might wish to read Claire Tomalin’s biography of Hardy.

Virgil's Aeneid

We have a new course that coincides with the publication of a new translation of Virgil's Aeneid by Robert Fagles. We will trace the journey of the man who was destined to be the founder of Rome and get a better understanding of the vital connection between the Greek and Roman empires. The dust jacket of Robert Fagles' new translation of Virgil's great poem informs us that this is 'the story of an epic voyage in which Aeneas crosses the stormy seas, becomes entangled in a tragic love affair with Dido of Carthage, descends to the world of the dead-all the way tormented by the vengeful Juno, Queen of the Gods-and finally reaches Italy, where he will fulfill his destiny: to found the Roman people. A stirring tale of arms and heroism, dispossession and defeat, and an unsparing portrait of a man caught between love, duty, and fate.' What more needs to be said? Please make sure you obtain the Fagles' translation and please read through Book Six before class begins.

The Great Gatsby and The Jazz Age

The Great Gatsby is acknowledged to be one of the greatest novels in the English language and one that the American reader should be justly proud of. We will examine the events that were to be called The Roaring Twenties, a period that gives life and meaning to this work. The work remains as colorful and as fresh in modern memory as The Jazz Age itself. As well as a close reading of the novel, we will study Fitzgerald's life and recapture the atmosphere of the 1920's in America: its heroes, its thirst for money, and its insatiable appetite for fun.

John reading in his favorite classroom chair.