The Fiction of Relationship

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Course Date: 01 September 2014 to 08 December 2014 (14 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

What is the nature of our relationship to others and the world? How can literature help us see these relationships more clearly? This course seeks to explore such questions through adventurous readings of ten great works of narrative fiction from the 18th to the 20th century.

Estimated Workload: 12-15 hours/week

Course Instructors

Arnold Weinstein

Arnold Weinstein received his B.A. in Romance Languages from Princeton University in 1962, and his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University in 1968. He studied in Paris at the Sorbonne, and did graduate work at both the Université de Lyon and the Freie Universität in Berlin. His entire career has been at Brown University where he is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor of Comparative Literature.

Professor Weinstein has received numerous academic recognitions: a Fulbright award as graduate student, a Fulbright professorship (for Stockholm University) in American literature, and a stint as “Professeur invité” in American literature at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. He has also won three Research Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Professor Weinstein is the author of eight books: Vision and Response in Modern Literature (1974), Fictions of the Self: 1550-1800 (1981), The Fiction of Relationship (1988), Nobody’s Home: Speech, Self and Place in American Fiction from Hawthorne to DeLillo (1993), A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life (2003), Recovering Your Story: Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Morrison (2006), Northern Arts: The Breakthrough of Scandinavian Literature and Art from Ibsen to Bergman (2008), and Morning, Noon and Night: Finding the Meaning of Life’s Stages Through Books (2011). Northern Arts was named by The Atlantic as runner-up for Best Book of 2009, and Morning, Noon and Night was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction in 2012.

Professor Weinstein has also received significant recognitions for his teaching. He was named Best Humanities Teacher of the Year at Brown University in 1995, and he was awarded the Sheridan Award for Distinguished Contribution to Teaching and Learning at Brown University in 2012. He has also given more than 250 lectures for seven courses on World Literature produced by The Teaching Company. His Brown University courses deal with American and European and Scandinavian literature, from the 18th to the 20th century, as well as interdisciplinary courses such as Literature and Medicine, and The City and the Arts.

Course Description

As individuals we are defined by relationships, by our connection to people, places, and things. Such connectedness can be not only emotional or erotic or political or environmental, but even textual, enacted through writing. In this course we explore the nature and meaning of such connections in ten major works of narrative fiction from the 18th century to the present. These include: Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost; two works by Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; two stories by Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” and “The Country Doctor”; Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; William Faulkner’s Light in August;  an anthology of stories, Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges; The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas; Tony Morrison’s Beloved; and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

As this course will demonstrate, the most critical relationships in our lives—the linkages both known and unknown—are not always easy to get a fix on, but literature offers us a special sighting on these arrangements. Through exploratory readings of these narrative works, the course will seek to make relationship visible, bringing our traffic with the world and with others into clearer focus.


Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?
Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

Is there a Signature Track option for this course?
Yes. If you choose to do so, you can sign up for the Signature Track in this course. This is entirely optional, and if you prefer not to take advantage of the Signature Track you’ll still be able to take the course for free.

What resources will I need for this class?
You’ll need a computer, reliable internet connection, and ready access to the 10 works discussed in the lectures.

What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?
You will learn to see relationships—your own and others’—in a new light.


  • Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut (1731)
  • Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
  • Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) and Benito Cereno (1855)
  • Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “A Country Doctor” (1919)
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • William Faulkner, Light in August (1932)
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (1956)
  • Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace (1967)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  • J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)

Course Workload

12-15 hours/week

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