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Growing Up, Growing Old: The Literature of Youth and Age

ENGL 486.601
W 6:30-9:10

The title of Simone de Beauvoir's book Coming of Age refers to aging. Yet aging begins from the moment of birth. In this course we will focus on two critical moments in an individual's life passage. Readings will be drawn from the 19th and 20th Centuries, primarily from Britain and America. Some of the texts show the protagonist's successful growth into intellectual and spiritual autonomy. Others reveal the ways in which young and old alike are either coerced or challenged by the constraints of family and society. But since the texts are chosen for their literary quality as well as their thematic relevance, we will see that the narrators have the imagination and intelligence to analyze their situations in illuminating ways. Texts will include novels, short stories, poetry, memoirs and ethnographies. Among the works of fiction will be Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, Muriel Spark's Memento Mori, and short stories by Henry James, William Trevor, Edna O'Brien, Grace Paley and Alice Munro. The list of memoirs will include Edmund Gosse's Father and Son, Maxim Gorky's My Childhood, Geoffrey Wolff's The Duke of Deception, Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life and Lillian Hellman's An Unfinished Woman. We will also read from Barbara Myerhoff's ethnography, Number Our Days.

Writing assignments will include short response papers, a longer critical piece, an interview and a take-home final.

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