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Born into the apex of Gilded Age New York, Edith Wharton subverted the conventions of upper-class womanhood to fashion herself into one New York society’s most subtle and skillful chroniclers—and critics. Beyond her fine eye for interiors and social manners, Wharton was also, in Edmund Wilson’s words, a “passionate social prophet,” employing an acute ironic sensibility to fillet the urban haute bourgeoisie as it stood astride industrial America. Wharton showed herself to be both a pointed satirist and an ambivalent critic of culture and modernity. And yet, as critical as she was of the social structures against which she struggled, her novels never lose sight of the yearning and suffering that her characters undergo in pursuit of moral and aesthetic freedom. What can we learn from reading Edith Wharton—about class, gender, individuality, and the way we live now?
In this course, we will read in their entirety Wharton’s two great novels of New York City: The House of Mirth (1903) and The Age of Innocence (1920). Drawing on historical accounts of the period as well as recent academic scholarship, we’ll seek to understand Wharton’s elegant yet ironic representations of New York society from within its midst (Mirth) as well as after she had expatriated to Paris (Innocence). Was Wharton an exemplary advocate for the “new woman” in her depictions of the social and economic predicament of middle- and upper-class women, or a fatalist whose personal liberation could be seen as exceptional on her own terms? Where does class figure into Wharton’s social criticism, specifically the laboring classes who were the focus of literary naturalism but often marginal to her narratives of elite society? How might we assess Wharton as a novelist of “whiteness,” whose explicit anti-semitism and silence on questions of race, arguably helped to construct the normative American white liberal subject? Finally, how did Wharton’s career serve as a bridge between the late Victorian authors who influenced her, such as James, Hardy, and Eliot, and the modernists who succeeded her, whether Fitzgerald, Woolf, or Proust? Writing on the cusp of the modern, Wharton trenchantly portrayed one world dying even as she was dismayed at the new one being born; for her, freedom perhaps came at the price of anomie, in form as well as content.
This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.
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The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...
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Anthropology is at once a contested and vital field of study and inquiry. Still hotly debated is a basic question: what is the scope of anthropological inquiry? Modern anthropologists no longer divide the world, as their 19th-century forebears did, into a sociological “West” and an anthropological “rest of the world,” its “backwardness”...
Sunday Feb 5th, 2pm - 5pm Eastern Time
This workshop teaches the tools to appreciate literary works and learn from accomplished writers from around the world. Students learn to interpret fiction, recognize underlying themes, decipher writing techniques, and analyze the human content of each story. Through readings, writing exercises, and class discussions, we examine works by such diverse...
Monday Feb 27th, 6:30pm - 9:30pm Eastern Time
In this class, students learn the rules of literary appreciation and study a range of classical and modern literary works by great writers. Students will learn the different methods of literary analysis with its five elements (story - characters - style - plot - human content) and they will practice critical reading comparing different texts...This...
Wednesday Mar 1st, 3:30pm - 6:30pm Eastern Time
“The postmodern,” writes Marxist literary and cultural theorist Fredric Jameson, “is the force field in which very different kinds of cultural impulses . . . must make their way.” Adapted from a New Left Review essay of the same name, Jameson’s Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism is an ambitious account of how the postmodern...
Monday Mar 6th, 6:30pm - 9:30pm Eastern Time
What does it mean to be human in the world today? Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition (1958) is a provocative treatise on what it means to live on earth and share the world in common. Her study, originally intended to be titled Amor Mundi (Love of the World), investigates the central activities of human life—labor, work, action—and their corresponding...
Tuesday Mar 7th, 6:30pm - 9:30pm Eastern Time
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