AUSTERITY AND EXCESS: THE SCARLET LETTER AND THE GREAT GATSBY with Jan Sidebotham
Tuesdays on Zoom from 4-5:30 p.m.
on Oct. 27, Nov. 3,10, 17, 24
In this study of The Scarlet Letter (written in the 19th century about the 17th century) and The Great Gatsby (written and set in the early 20th century), we will look at what the novels might have to say about America and about the American character, if there is such a thing.
One book depicts Americans as hard-working, strict, suspicious of temporal power (the Church of England, the monarchy), self-sacrificing, and serious. The other book depicts Americans as pleasure-seeking, selfish, careless, materialistic, and shallow.
Additional questions to consider: How do these novels inform us now as opposed to when some of us, as young students, might have read them? What offends our contemporary sensibilities? Do those offenses matter? What symbols appear in the novels, and does symbolism contribute to the power of the book? Narrators: Do we trust them? Are they reliable? Self-aware? Judgmental? Biased?
It is hoped that participants will have read both books by the first class. We will not discuss “The Custom House,” the lengthy introduction to The Scarlet Letter. Feel free not to read it.
While you read, please mark anything you suspect is a symbol — don’t worry about being “right.” (We learn so much more — and have more fun — when we experiment and take risks.) Note passages that you find intriguing, puzzling, inspiring, etc.
We will spend most of our time in discussion, and our focus will be on the text. I will be using the following edition of the novels: The Norton Critical Edition of The Scarlet Letter (ed. Leland S. Person, W.W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 9780393979534) and The Great Gatsby (with notes and preface by Matthew I. Broccoli, Scribner, 1992. ISBN 0684801523). Alibris (www.alibris.com) is a good source for used books.