The Madame Bovary Effect–Sexual Awakening in the Modern Novel: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Joseph Luzzi - Context Travel

The Madame Bovary Effect–Sexual Awakening in the Modern Novel: A Four-Part Course with Dr. Joseph Luzzi


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What makes the French author Gustave Flaubert’s groundbreaking novel Madame Bovary (1857) a quintessentially “modern” novel—and how does its protagonist Emma’s sexual awakening establish a pattern for other authors to follow? What would other nations’ literary versions of “Emma Bovary” be like?

Led by award-winner author, scholar, and teacher Joseph Luzzi, Professor of Comparative Literature at Bard College, this four-part course will explore the magical reach and influence of Flaubert’s masterpiece alongside the broader issue of women’s “socio-sexual” identity and its extraordinary effect on the development of the modern novel. We will pay special attention to the relation between the physical expression of love and its tension with the morals and social constraints of different times and cultures. Philosophical and historical concepts of love, gender, and sexual identity will also form part of our conversation of such leading authors as Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, Edith Wharton, and more.

Finally, we will also think about how the literary issues we discuss continue to inform our own notions today of the representation of sexual awakening and all its cultural implications.

Lecture 1: The Poetics of Desire

Our first session will set the stage for our exploration of women’s “socio-sexual” identity by examining the texts and contexts of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (France, 1857) and Letters (selections, 1830–1857), and Anton Chekhov’s, “Lady with the Dog” (Russia, 1899) and “Russian Master” (Russia, 1895).

Lecture 2: Sexual Identity, American Style

During our second session, we will delve into the development of the distinctly American construct for sexual identity through texts such as Daisy Miller (USA, 1879) by Henry James and The Awakening (USA, 1899) by Kate Chopin.

Lecture 3: Sex and the “Modern” Woman Writer

Our third session will explore the perspective and texts of the modern woman writer, focusing on such works as Edith Wharton’s Summer (USA, 1917) and To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf.

Lecture 4: The “Madame Bovary Effect” Today

During our final session, we will examine the lasting effects of Madame Bovary, tracing the evolution of these themes in contemporary literature.

Joseph Luzzi received his PhD from Yale University and is Professor of Comparative Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College, where he has taught since 2002 after being a visiting faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania. A frequent contributor to publications including the New York Times, TLS, and Chronicle of Higher Education, he is the author of 5 books, including My Two Italies, a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love, a Vanity Fair “Must-Read” selection. His work has been translated into multiple languages and his many awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, Dante Society of America Essay Prize, and Wallace Fellowship at Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. In 2017 he was named Cittadino Onorario/Honorary Citizen in Acri, Calabria, his Italian parents’ birthplace. His next book is Botticelli’s Secret: The Lost Drawings and the Rediscovery of the Renaissance, which will be published by W. W. Norton. Professor Luzzi is the founder of the Virtual Book Club, an online community of readers dedicated to exploring some of the best books ever written. Learn more at JosephLuzzi.com.

How does it work?

This is a four-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on the subject, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $140 for four lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture please let us know and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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