Searching for the Great American Novel (Premium Program)


Searching for the Great American Novel

Professor Joseph Luzzi / Bard College

Each class will be presented from 7:00 – 8:30 PM EDT

Part 1 – October 11th

Part 2 – October 13th

Part 3 – October 18th

Searching for the Great American Novel

In 1869, as our nation was recovering from the devastations of the Civil War, the critic John William DeForest described the quest for “the Great American Novel,” suggesting how difficult it was to capture the complexity and diversity of the American experience in a single book. The past century and a half has seen many remarkable attempts by a wide range of authors to meet this challenge and distill the essence of U.S. history into the pages of unforgettable writing.

In this 3-part course, we will explore the books that best represent this quest to tell the American story, answering such questions as: What does it mean to be “American”? What books have had the greatest impact on U.S. history and culture? How can fiction illuminate the hard truths of American life? We will explore how masterpieces ranging from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, and more, reveal the characters and conflicts of the American spirit.

We will also discuss the landmark contributions of writers including Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Ellison and contemporaries ranging from Marilynne Robinson to Jonathan Franzen in this ongoing quest to create the elusive, comprehensive portrait of what some of our earliest political leaders called “the American experiment.”


Joseph Luzzi is a Literature and Italian Professor at Bard College, and was previously a Visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received the Scaglione Prize for his teaching. He is also the author of the audio course, “The Art of Reading.” Professor Luzzi previously taught at Yale University, where he was awarded a Yale College Teaching Prize.

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