Slavic R5A, Section 1: Adultery in Fiction: Comedy, Tragedy, and (Self)-Deception

MWF 9-10, Remote. Instructor: Hank Miller.

Units: 4

Why are we so captivated by narratives of adultery? They can be found in the Bible and splashed across tabloid pages, in operas and in soap operas. As subject matter, adultery effortlessly bridges the high and the low. Is our ceaseless interest primarily prurient or moralistic in character? Do we protest too much in our condemnations of adulterers? Do we secretly admire them, vicariously enjoying their lives of passion and freedom from restraint? In fiction, this moral ambiguity is compounded by an ambiguity in terms of affective response. Adultery is profoundly ambivalent, capable of setting into motion events of tragic gravity on the one hand and comic levity on the other. No matter which aspect of adultery tends to dominate in a given work of art, its opposite is also present, sometimes manifestly, sometimes subtly so. Do we laugh or do we cry—or do we perpetually hesitate between the two?

This course will focus on adultery as a theme and conceptual problem in European literature, beginning with one of the paradigmatic novels of adultery, Madame Bovary, before turning to deviations from this established mode of representing adultery in literature: bilious screeds from jealous husbands, tortuous retellings of jumbled memories, and grotesque tableaus of humor and horror. We will pay special attention to the ebb, flow, and uneasy coexistence of adultery’s opposing valences—tragedy and farce.

The larger aim of this course is to develop skills in critical reading and writing, particularly the art of crafting a college-level essay. Time will be set aside for peer review and revision. Students are expected to do the reading (50-70 pages per week) and actively participate in class discussions.

Required for Purchase (Other readings will be provided in a course reader or on bCourses):

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, ed. Margaret Cohen. Norton Critical Editions. ISBN: 978-0393979176

Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata, trans. Isai Kamen. Modern Library Classics. ISBN: 978-0812968231

Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier, ed. Martin Stannard. Norton Critical Editions. ISBN: 978-0393927924

Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark, Vintage. ISBN: 978-0679724506


Prerequisites: none

Due to the high demand for R&C courses we monitor attendance very carefully. Attendance is mandatory the first two weeks of classes, this includes all enrolled and wait listed students. If you do not attend all classes the first two weeks you may be dropped. If you are attempting to add into this class during weeks 1 and 2 and did not attend the first day, you will be expected to attend all class meetings thereafter and, if space permits, you may be enrolled from the wait list.