The Once Good and Noble
A Visual and Literary Journey into America’s Past
Instructor: Richard Friswell, Faculty, Wesleyan’s Institute for Lifelong Learning
Classes: Thursdays: 10:00 – 12:00, September 14, 21, 28, October 5 & 12
Fee: $125 members/ $150 non-members
This course will examine four quintessentially American locations—19th century Boston, a down-east shoreline village, a rural mountain town, and New York City at the dawn of the 20th century. The late 19th century was one of national ambition, with an emerging middle class, broad industrial expansion and urban development. Metropolitan and rural settings were competing for dominance, as national priorities shifted. Along with this new-found prosperity came a uniquely modern concept: the ‘vacation.’ For the lucky few, retreating to idyllic coastal or mountain settings, within a few hours reach by steamer or train, and far from the madding crowd, became possible.
We will explore these four culturally diverse settings through the eyes of artists and novelists of the period. We first visit Boston, one of America’s oldest cultural centers, and the setting for William Howell’s novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885). It follows the eponymous hero in a rapidly-expanding city, as he navigates Boston society and manners. We then go to the coast of Maine where author, Sarah Orne Jewett tells the tale of a Boston intellectual who travels to an isolated coastal village to write. Her semi-autobiographical tale, The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), is both revealing and enlightening. From there, we go to the hills of Western Massachusetts to meet Ethan Frome (1911), a mysterious local character whose history arouses the interest of a stranger in town. Author, Edith Warton’s description of Starkfield, Massachusetts’ landscape and people is both rapturous and poignant. Lastly, we will travel to New York City in the early 1900s, as seen through the eyes of novelist, Betty Smith, with her A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1942). It is a coming-of-age novel about a second-generation immigrant girl, Francie Nolan, living in a tenement neighborhood of Brooklyn, as she struggles to rise above her surroundings.
Art and other relevant handout materials will provide a ‘picture’ of the era to accompany the literary narrative. The goal is to trace our fictional characters back to a period now shrouded by the veil of time. Participants will be asked to read all four books outlined above. Sign-up now and get a head start on summer reading!
Weekly class will be held in the auditorium of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.
Advanced reservations are required for the series. Please contact the Education Department at 860-443-2545 x110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard J. Friswell, M.Ed., M.Phil, is a cultural historian and associate director of Wesleyan University’s Institute for Lifelong Learning. He is publisher and managing editor of ARTES magazine, a fine arts publication. He is an elected member of the Inter-national Art Critics Association, and author of a collection of autobiographical short stories, Balancing Act: Postcards from the Edge of Risk and Reward. Friswell lectures and speaks widely on topics of modernism, its art, literature and history.