Classical Literature (Zoom Only)

OSH 618 / Non Credit
Course taught in: English

Course Description:  In this course, we will explore six authors, read one of their shorter works (under 250 pages) and discuss the longer books. Biographical information and the context of each writer’s time and place will be presented.  A lively discussion is a central part of the class.  The goal is to come away with a greater appreciation and enjoyment of these marvelous writers, and to whet your appetite to read their longer works.

Note: The instructor will send an email to all registrants with links to access the works.

Spring 1

Week 1: Geoffrey Chaucer c. 1340 - 1400  The Canterbury Tales (118 pages). A medieval work comprised of 24 stories on topics such as fate, God's will, sex, chastity, love, marriage, pride, thievery, and death. After the General Prologue, each tale is told by one of the 32 travelers en route to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury.  We’ll read and analyze several of the stories in modern English. 

Week 2: Henry Brooks Adams 1838– 1918 Democrary, An American Novel (187 pages). Madeleine Lee is a young widow who comes to Washington, D.C., to understand the workings of power. She is pursued by Silas Ratcliffe, the most influential member of the Senate.  She soon sees enough of power and its corrupting influence to last her a lifetime. This was an instant bestseller when first published in 1880.  The author is a direct descendent of the two Adams Presidents.  He won the 1919 Pulitzer Prize for his autobiography (posthumously).

Week 3: Josephine Winslow Johnson 1910 – 1990, Now in November, (245 pages). An account of one farming family’s challenges to scrape by and earn a living from mortgaged land over the course of a single year, narrated by one of three sisters.  The household is ravaged by Depression-era hardship and the environmental blights of the Dust Bowl. Johnson won the Pulitzer Prize for Now in November in 1935 at age 24; a record she still holds.    

Week 4: Oliver La Farge 1901 – 1963  Laughing Boy: A Navajo Love Story (208 pages). Set in 1913, Laughing Boy is a model member of his tribe. Raised in old traditions, skilled in silver work, and known for his talent in the wild horse races, he does the Navajos of T’o Tlakai proud.  Then he meets Slim Girl—and despite her “American” education and the warnings of his family, he gives in to desire and marries her. The book depicts the struggles of the Navajo in Southwestern United States to reconcile their culture with that of the United States. 

Week 5: Marilynne Robinson 1943 – Housekeeping (219 pages).  This is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly in 1950s. First, their competent grandmother cared for them, then two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally Sylvie, the eccentric and remote sister of their dead mother. The setting is in the small town of Fingerbone on a glacial lake in Idaho, where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff.  Ruth and Lucille's struggles toward adulthood illuminates the price of loss and survival with depth and humor.

Week 6: Colson Whitehead 1969 - The Nickel Boys (223 pages). Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy.  He is trapped in chamber of horrors. . As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and his friend Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. The author won the Prize 2017 and 2020.


Spring 2

Week 1: Aesop BCE 620 -564  Aesop’s Fables (120 pages)  Written by a former Greek slave, Aesop's Fables are the world's best known collection of morality tales. The 725 fables were originally told from person-to-person as a means for relaying or teaching a moral lesson.  We think of the Fables as a form of children's entertainment, but they also transmit important life lessons to adults.  Some are soothing, lots are funny, many are frightening, and all are thought-provoking.   Since there are so many versions let me know as soon as you sign up, and I will send a link to a full text file I will compile.   

Week 2: Johann Wolfgang Goethe 1749 - 1832, The Sorrows of Young Werther (120 pages). This German novel is about unrequited love and mental health. Our protagonist, Werther, focuses on what he cannot have, and he drives himself mad. He chooses to stay and self-destruct rather than to leave and attempt to find peace and happiness.

Week 3: Alexander Pushkin 1799 - 1837, The Captain's Daughter (180 pages). Set during Pugachev's Rebellion of the 1770s, it tells the story of seventeen-year-old Pyotr Andreyich Grinyov who leaves home to join the Russian Imperial Army in its fight against insurgents. It is a fairy tale, historical novel, and universal story of how love and duty can confront calamity. 

Week 4: James Baldwin 1873 - 1939, Go Tell it On the Mountain (272 pages). Tells the story of John Grimes, a teenager in 1930s Harlem, and his relationship with his family and his church. The novel also reveals the back stories of John's mother, his biological father, and his violent, fanatically religious stepfather, Gabriel Grimes. Winner of numerous awards.

Week 5: Ernest Hemingway 1899 – 1961, Old Man and the Sea (128 pages). The story centers on Santiago, an elderly Cuban fisherman who has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish. He is a simple, uneducated man whose years of strength are waning.  The story line is about his epic battle to catch a giant marlin, but it is a tale of desire, pride, and bravery. The sea can be seen as a symbol for the whole of nature. It is both cruel and beautiful because it takes life away, but also gives and nurtures life and man has to learn how to live with it and gain the advantages it offers. It won the Pulitzer in 1953. 

Week 6: Alice Walker 1944 - The Color Purple (265 pages, varies).   Celie grew poor in rural Georgia, despised by the people around her and abused by her family. She strives to protect her sister, Nettie, from a similar fate, and Nettie escapes to a new life as a missionary in Africa.  Celie is left behind without her best friend and confidante, married off to an older suitor, and sentenced to a life alone with a brutal husband.  In an attempt to transcend a life that is often unbearable, Celie begins writing letters to God. The letters, spanning 20 years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment guided by the light of a few strong women. Winner of Pulitzer Prize, 1983.  


Instructor:  Ms. Ronnie Londner


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This course is available as part of the following:

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Courses
These courses are available either in-person only, via Zoom only or hybrid (either in-person or via Zoom). Please note the modality of each class. Membership is required.

OLLI 2023-2024 Membership is required to take this course and will be added to your cart upon enrollment. If you already have purchased a membership, you will not be charged for this membership.
OLLI 2023-2024 Membership Added to cart upon enrollment.
Starts: 8/1/2023 Ends: 7/31/2024