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February 2009
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Reading Anna Karenina

The structure of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina has two focal points: Anna's story and Levin's story. According to Sydney Schultze, in The Structure of Anna Karenina (Ardis 1982), for the most part, these stories alternate by groupings of chapters which can be referred to as "segments." These segments are in turn grouped into the "Parts" which form the overall structure of the novel.  Schultze shows that of the total 239 chapters, 113 chapters grouped into 17 segments belong to Anna, and 126 chapters grouped into 18 segments belong to Levin. If you want to follow each story, based on your interest, here is Schultze's schematic:

Part I: Anna 1-4, Levin 5-15, A 16-23, L 24-27, A 28-34
Part II: L 1-3, A 4-11, L 12-17, A 18-29, L 30-35
Part III: L 1-12, A 13-23, L 24-32
Part IV: A 1-6, L 7, A 8, L 9, A 10, L 11, A 12, L 13-16, A 17-23
Part V: L 1-6, A 7-13, L 14-20, A 21-23
Part VI: L 1-16, A 17-25, L 26-30, A 31-32
Part VII: L 1-11, A 12, L 13-16, A 17-31
Part VIII: L 1-19

We'll discuss Anna over two classes, Parts I-IV, then Parts V-VIII. I suggest, that you emphasize these selections:

Part I: A 1-4, L 5-15, A 16-23
Part II: A 4-11
Part III: A 13-23
Part IV: A 12, L 13-16, A 17-23
Part V: L 14-20
Part VI: A 17-25
Part VII: L 13-16, A 17-31
Part VIII: L 1-19

Book list for Summer 2009

In case you're wondering, NYU has published last year's list on their website for Literature for the 21st Century, Summer 2009. The correct is as follows:

  1. The Bruise by Magdalena Zurawski
  2. La Medusa by Vanessa Place
  3. The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
  4. The Great Weaver from Kashmir by Halldor Laxness
  5. Away by Amy Bloom
  6. Jane Eyre adapted by Polly Teale
  7. Selected Poems of Carol Ann Duffy

(Links to editions to follow, please check back)

Elizabethan Culture

An excellent source on the cultural context applicable to Shakespeare's work is E. M. W. Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture. Use this as a supplement to our discussion of the "Great Chain of Being" as it relates to The Merchant of Venice. You might also consider Wikipedia's entry on usury. And if you want to revisit the language of commerce, love, and vengeance, consider the brilliant film by Jane Campion, The Piano.

Approaching the Merchant

The Merchant of Venice is a riveting Shakespearean play, and fascinating to us because of its themes of money, prejudice, and vengeance. Shakespeare was tapping into the preoccupations of his society, and in doing so, has extended his reach to us. As the market falls along with the snow today, literature remains, continuing to mirror to ourselves our own humanity's perfections and flaws. Shakespeare wants to expose the root causes of ignorance and vengeance that fuel prejudice & intolerance common to all members of society. In approaching your reading of The Merchant, consider these two threshold issues:

  • Shakespeare loves to present the tension of seeming opposites: Commerce vs. Mercy (are these really mutually exclusive?)
  • Prejudice in The Merchant: Shylock could have been written as  a stock character, but he is obviously more than that.  For an in depth discussion of anti-Semitism specifically relevant to this play, see Shakespeare and the Jews by James Shapiro.