While seminars are led by faculty who provide formal study guides and lead college-level discussions, participants are expected to be prepared (yes, do your homework!) to actively contribute to each session.
Registration fee for each seminar topic:
Saturdays, January 27 and February 3, 10, and 17 9:30 a.m.–noon
Most of us read myths and folk/fairy stories when we were young, and perhaps now we read them to our children or grandchildren. These stories, with their quests, struggles, and vanities, have embedded themselves in our cultural consciousness. Even if we scoff at them as adults, many of their themes and characters still compel our sometimes-reluctant interest. Who has not wanted to be the chosen one, or the brave one, or the clever one? Who has not shivered a little at the witch, the ogre, the dragon, in whatever forms they take in our lives? More particularly, what might we take for granted (“It’s only a story. . . ”) about the ways in which females and the feminine are represented in those stories? Why is the witch bad and the wizard wise? Why do so many girl characters get in trouble when they are curious or a little too pretty?
This four-week seminar will focus on ways in which women have been represented in myths, tales, and culture, and the ways in which women writers and artists have challenged those representations. We will ask questions, ponder reasons, and perhaps in the process find that these “old wives’ tales” are “curiouser and curiouser” than we imagined. We’ll let Alice, who was bored with lessons and very, very curious, be our tour guide down and through the rabbit hole of myth and its imprint on women within culture.
Classes are a combination of lecture and discussion, which will often be in the form of group exchanges regarding the texts we are reading. Participation and discussion is encouraged, as the class explore ideas together.
The seminar begins with ancient myths, then moves into a discussion of the “heroine” or the "Beauty" in fairy tales. We’ll note how contemporary women writers’ revisions of familiar stories question assumptions about “damsels'' and who is “the fairest of them all.”
At the second meeting, the seminar will explore the roots of two of the West’s most enduring and mysterious mythic females, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, who have become embodiments of the feminine as either “virgin / whore,” or sometimes both. And we’ll explore recent discoveries and literature that offer alternatives to those clichés.
Re-envisioning mythic materials is one tool women writers have used to examine and critique traditional representations of women that define the feminine according to specific standards. Women poets offer the potential for a fresh, often humorous, look at famous and infamous mythic women. And a return to the earliest known myth offers us a very different perspective on the feminine, as we look back 5000 years to discover the cuneiform Sumerian poem of the goddess Inanna.
Finally, we will examine how mythic roots emerge in popular culture as what Naomi Wolf calls “the beauty myth,” those nearly unattainable standards of beauty that most women and girls grow up with, and the ways in which advertising reinforces those standards. And we’ll see how women artists have claimed a voice to establish their place within an aesthetic tradition.
Delia Fisher has taught various high school, community college, and university English courses over a long career as a teacher. She moved to Eugene in 1984 to teach in the University of Oregon departments of English and Multi-Cultural Affairs. Returning to graduate school, she completed her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon in 1997, focusing on American literature and women writers.
In the years following, she and her husband (also a literature professor) taught at Auburn University in Alabama until 2001, and then at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. Delia taught a variety of classes at WSU and then was selected to coordinate the English Education Program, teaching and mentoring students who sought teacher certification.
In 2010, she retired and came home to Eugene. Since 2018, Delia has taught literature courses through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Oregon.
Saturdays, February 24 and March 2, 9, and 16 9:30 a.m.–noon
One can choose to read the Bible as a work of ancient literature, or an anthology of ancient literary works, rather than as sacred Scripture. It is a matter how one reads. What are the goals and methods of a specifically literary reading? What will the literary reader, scholar, or critic find of interest in the Bible, open to modern varieties of literary inquiry, history, description and analysis? How does the literary reader deal with matters of religion, ethics and belief? In purely literary terms, how does the Bible stand up to the great works of Greek, Roman, and other ancient—and modern—literatures?
How do biblical writers construct their narratives, deploy points of view, symbolism and metaphor, describe character and motivation, distinguish poetry from prose, work in various styles and genres, etc.? What will a specifically literary modern reader find of most interest in the Bible? What is gained, and what lost, in this experiment in reading? What are the literary features of the Bible’s narratives, and the structural principles and tropes of its poetry? How sensitive are English translations of the Bible from the original Hebrew?
We will focus on three short biblical books: Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs—a short story, a book of wisdom, and a collection of love songs; a week for each, and any Bible will do.
On the topic of suggested supplemental texts for the seminar, Robert Alter is a founder and a principal scholar in this field, and Dr. Earl highly recommends his work. Alter’s translations and commentaries on Ruth and Song of Songs is entitled Strong as Death is Love. A more general introduction to the field is his book, The World of Biblical Literature. A wonderful book by Judith Kates, Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story, is also recommended.
The Book of Ruth
Song of Songs
Dr. James Earl is Professor Emeritus of English in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oregon.
Saturdays, March 23 and April 6, 13, and 20 9:30 a.m.–noon (no class March 30)
Although known mostly as a great playwright, Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is also routinely and correctly described as the inventor of the modern short story. Why? Perhaps his stories revealed a familiar modern life, one often felt to be godless, random, and absurd. By abandoning the clichéd beginning-middle-and-end plot, by refusing to judge his characters, by forsaking a climax or a neat narrative resolution, Chekhov made his stories appear almost unbearably lifelike.
Of course, there existed talented earlier writers like Maupassant, Turgenev, Gogol, Poe, Hawthorne, Irving, and others; however, none of these could be called “modern.” We will see how Chekhov’s literary principles birthed that particular adjective– “modern”–for the short story.
Expect at-home questions, small group discussion, and lecture. For comparison purposes, other stories will be distributed.
Required Text and Edition: Anton Chekhov's Short Stories (Norton Critical Editions, 1st Edition,1979)
The “Preface” and the first quarter of the stories, from “Chameleon” through “The Siren’s Song.” Focus on “The Huntsman,” “Agatha,” “Misery,” “The Requiem,” “Dreams,” and “At Home.”
Read stories from “Sleepy” through “The Teacher of Literature,”. Focus on “Sleepy,” “The Grasshopper,” “Rothschild’s Fiddle,” and “The Student.”
Read stories from “Whitebrow” through “The Man in a Case,”. Focus on “The House with the Mansard,” and “A Journey by Cart.” Plus, if time permits, review Chekhov’s letters.
Finish the stories. Pay particular attention to “Gooseberries,” “About Love,” and “The Lady with the Dog.”
Lou F. Caton, Professor Emeritus, has taught a variety of literature courses at the University of Oregon, Auburn University, and Westfield State University. Along with articles that have been published in newspapers and journals, he has two books: an edited collection (with Emory Elliott), Aesthetics in a Multicultural Age (2002, Oxford University Press) and Reading American Novels and Multicultural Aesthetics: Romancing the Postmodern Novel (2008, Palgrave-McMillan).
Saturdays, April 27 and May 4, 11, and 18 9:30 a.m.–noon
This four-week seminar will explore three novels of education (George Eliot’s Adam Bede Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk) through a balance of lecture and discussion, punctuated by clips from videos and by passages being read aloud for close analysis.
Discussion questions, as a backbone to the class, will be supplied for the works. Hopefully you will want to read more of these authors. Encouragement will be given to write on your own about them. Dr. Henry Alley will present various rhetorical essay strategies.
Also, through breakout group discussions, you will see how very much alive these works are in engaging your curiosity. With the first class, a sheet will be circulated allowing you to volunteer to read aloud in class. In the breakout groups, there will be an opportunity to volunteer to be secretary to the discussion and to report back to the class as a whole. This experience will be a chance to develop your writing skills. Throughout the month, good attendance is expected and student engagement will be encouraged at all times.
Editions of the texts used in the seminar are:
George Eliot’s Adam Bede. Penguin Classics (2007). Editor Margaret Reynolds.
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Signet Mass Market (2009). Editor Stanley Weintraub.
James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk. Vintage Reprint (2006).
George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859). Basic history of the novel of education, the Bildungsroman, from Goethe to the present. Primary plot: a young protagonist being “schooled in the world.” Its appeal. Basic novelistic techniques, especially point of view. George Eliot’s biography. The fame surrounding Adam Bede. The adoption of the pen name, “George Eliot.” The novel’s sources. Adam Bede as a sympathetic protagonist. The role of the omniscient narrator. The conflict between the two landscapes, Hayslope and Stoniton.
George Eliot’s Adam Bede continued. The character of Dinah versus that of Hetty. The seer and the narcissist in Eliot’s fiction. The blend of epic and tragedy. The problem of the ending and “justice.”
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1860). The biography of Charles Dickens. The sources of the story. The advantages of first-person narration. The evolving character of Pip. How the subordinate characters reflect aspects of him. Miss Havisham, Magwitch and Estella. Dickens’ vision of the consequences of materialism. The blend of epic and comedy. What, ultimately, is Pip’s quest? The problem of the two endings.
James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk (1974). The biography of James Baldwin. His vision of being Black in America. The instructor hearing him speak in person in 1963. The right to assume the voice of a young woman. The characters of Tish and Fonny. The moral contrasts between their two families. The role of Sharon as the touchstone of the novel. The female hero. Tish and Fonny as Romeo and Juliet. The ambiguity of the ending.
Dr. Henry Alley is Professor Emeritus of Literature in the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon.
The Saturday Seminars are inspired by the legacy of the UO Insight Seminars program, created and led by Dr. Jim Earl for 20 years. These four-week college-level courses are for people eager to engage in college-level study for the sake of personal fulfillment. Seminars are noncredit and ungraded. However, there is a good deal of challenging homework, which typically includes reading of both primary and secondary materials.