“The best part of a writer’s biography,” wrote Nabokov, “is not the record of his adventures but the story of his style.” Henry James—AKA ‘The Master’—heightened the reach of his style and made himself perhaps the most profound and far-ranging composer of fiction in his day, which straddled the 19 th and 20 th centuries. We will find that adventure and style are not opposed: the style is the adventure, the right word the discovery. Our purpose will be to read closely (and, I hope, penetratingly) a few of James’s masterly short stories. Together we will discover why one could spend an entire year on just one of his stories—or even on just one of his finely carved sentences. We will meet a few of his characters, work through some of his intricately webbed plots, and try to live in his world, to imbibe its atmosphere; to learn of its duties, beliefs, ideas, notions, customs, refinements; and taste its wines.

During this five-week course, we will study two of Jane Austen’s later novels: Emma, often considered the crown of Austen’s achievements as a novelist, with its intricate social drama and its heroine whom Austen was not sure anyone else would much like; and Persuasion, Austen’s final novel, in which she in many ways goes beyond her typical romantic plot to create something uniquely reflective, elegiac, and exultant, akin to one of Shakespeare’s Romances. We will dig into the moral questions and fundamental human problems Austen engages in what might appear to be simply comedies of manners; we will explore her use of humor in these two works and its relationship to serious philosophical and theological reflection; and we will examine the narrative techniques Austen discovers and develops in these novels that change the landscape of narrative fiction forever.

Over the five week period we will read The Mowgli stories in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books, James Barrie’s Peter Pan (the novel), Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, and E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.