A Serial Reading of Daniel Deronda

A Newberry Library Adult Education Seminar

George Eliot’s final novel is ambitious, challenging, and astonishingly multi-dimensional. With Daniel Deronda, Eliot blends a provocative examination of marriage and personal aspiration with a meditation on Jewish identity in Victorian Britain. This seminar invites participants to immerse themselves in the world of the novel by reading and discussing it in consecutive parts, as originally published. Sessions will focus on elements of art, music, religion, philosophy, and history as they arise in the novel. Nine sessions.

Materials List

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot. Penguin Classics edition, 1996. ISBN: 9780140 434279. Other materials will be made available online and brought to the seminar sessions.
For the first session, please read only Chapter One (pages 7-14). Because of spoilers, do not read the book’s introduction.

Seminar Description

George Eliot’s final novel is a fascinating meditation on the symbiotic relationship between everyday lives and historical narratives. This was George Eliot’s only novel set in the era of its composition, and it challenged contemporary readers to understand their values, traditions, and even desires in the context of historical circumstances too often marginalized as beyond the concern of day-to-day lives.


The novel’s plot revolves around the fates of the young and beautiful Gwendolen Harleth and the young and sympathetic Daniel Deronda, and it is complicated by Victorian notions of national identity, Jewishness, and evolution. The resulting network of events, references, and thematic investigation makes this novel particularly suited to serial reading.


Daniel Deronda was first published from February through September of 1876, in monthly installments of approximately 110 pages each. Victorian readers enjoyed and absorbed the novel one portion at a time, discussing the story’s gradual unfolding with friends and family and anticipating the turns each new installment would take. Eliot’s original installments will therefore serve as the framework of our seminar readings. At each of the weekly sessions (beginning with the second), we will focus our discussion on the features, plot developments, and specific themes of the installment (or “book”) at hand. We will also consider many of the paintings, musical pieces, and historical figures as they arise in the novel, as well as specific aspects of the 2002 BBC television adaptation.


In this way, seminar participants will build an ongoing dialogue with a tremendous amount of material regarding Eliot’s novel and Victorian culture. Serial reading invites more consideration and commentary on specific issues, recurring images, and opinions that evolve over the course of reading. Moreover, since all good novels actually teach readers how to read them, installments allow readers to benefit from this process right away, and make use the teaching when it counts—over the course of reading the novel.

Schedule

Week 1: Chapter One (to be read ahead of time)Please do not read the book’s introduction.

Week 2: Book One
Theme: Paintings

Week 3: Book Two
Theme: Novels and Romances

Week 4: Book Three
Theme: Some discussion of George Eliot’s own life

Week 5: Book Four
Theme: Jewishness and the Victorian Era

Week 6: Book Five
Theme: Music and Structure

Week 7: Book Six
Theme: Philosophy and Zionism

Week 8: Book Seven
Theme: Inheritance and Evolution

Week 9: Book Eight
Theme: Concluding Critical Assessments

Image: Detail from The Fair Toxophilites by Willian Powell Frith.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun

A Newberry Library Adult Education Seminar


This seminar will offer a three-part reading of Kazuo Ishiguro’s most recent novel, Klara and the Sun. The sequential format of reading and discussion will allow participants to explore and appreciate Ishiguro’s engaging yet challenging style as the novel unfolds its own exploration of technology, love, memory, neglect, and perception. We will also discuss excerpts from other contemporary writers and from other novels by Ishiguro as well as film adaptations of his work. Three sessions.

Materials List

  • Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Alfred A. Knopf (2021). ISBN 978-0-593-31817-1.
    Other materials will be made available to seminar participants.
  • For the first session, please read only “Part One” (pages 3-45).

Seminar Description

With the same kind of attention to sympathy as his earlier Never Let me Go, Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel challenges readers with a narrator who, we assume, is a machine. The seminar I propose splits the experience of reading Klara and the Sun into three parts, allowing participants to pause after reading only the first section, to take stock of what they have read, what they have felt, and how the first section of the novel propagates reading skills and sympathies that enhance an appreciation of the rest of the novel.
Widely read and well reviewed, Klara and the Sun asks readers to explore what it means to be human in a world where technology extends not only our capabilities but our perceptions. The novel invites us to consider how smart technology influences our sense of self, our experience of memory, and the necessary framework for sympathy—an understanding of another being’s inner life.


Yet the novel also immerses readers in a narrative schema that is by turns simplistic, convoluted, romantic, reserved, hallucinatory, and comforting. This seminar allows participants to spread out their reading of the novel with progressive discussions to explore how the interpretive work that Ishiguro’s prose asks the reader to perform is in fact a valuable experience of the novel’s main themes of sympathy, humanity, love, and loss.
Sessions will also include comparisons to other contemporary writers and to other novels by Ishiguro as well as film adaptations of his work.

Schedule

Week 1: To be read ahead of time: Part One (pages 3-45)
Week 2: Parts 2-3 (pages 49-177)
Week 3: Parts 4-6 (pages 181-303)