Following is a tentative syllabus for the Spring 2003 LIT 3155: Modern Literature, a Web-dedicated Distance Learning course from USF's Educational Outreach.  To view the course Welcome Page, click on "Back" above or click on http//scholar.acomp.usf.edu8930/public/LIT3155_000S03/ 

 If you simply want to learn more about the University of South Florida, click here.

To get more information about distance learning, go to or to

To learn about the course software--WebCT--go to or to

For workshops in the use of many kinds of software, go to 


Click here to hear the Cyberprof speak.   (Your computer must be able to play sound recordings)




LIT 3155--Sections 798 & 799--Spring 2003  

(Ref # 16783 & 16782)

Syllabus for & Introduction to


Fulfills Liberal Arts Exit Course Requirement

Under "Literature & Writing" Or "Major Works & Major Issues."

It's also a Gordon Rule Course.




Introduction (click here first)

The Instructor




Assignments Calendar


Course Lectures



Term Paper

Writing Requirements

Course Content

Remedial Work

Modern World


First Assignment



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Hello and welcome to the WebCT version of "LIT 3155: Modern Literature," a Web-dedicated Distance Learning course offered by the University of South Florida's Educational Outreach and the English Department.  


"Web-dedicated" means that there are no classroom meetings because everything is done on the Web--lectures, discussions, quizzes, exams, term paper, e-mail.


This syllabus reviews the mechanics of the course, how the course is conducted and what you need to do to fulfill its requirements.  After reading through this, you should then review, under "Contents" off the Home Page, "Grading of Writing" and "Introduction to the Lectures," which will provide further important introductory material.


Obviously, a certain knowledge of the computer is necessary going in, and then one must learn to operate the WebCT software.  You can get help with this in the Outreach office in SVC 1072 or by contacting Academic Computing at the numbers listed on the Welcome Page, but the instructor will tutor you as you go along, and the software provides its own tutorial if you click on the WebCT links available to you along the way.  Mostly, it just takes a little commonsense and a willingness to experiment.  When you get to the course home page, go ahead and click on all those buttons and links!   See what happens!


The word "modern" in the course title refers to the last hundred years.  Pared down to the essentials, this course requires you to read literary works from the beginning of the 20th Century to the present and lectures on them, and then to demonstrate what you've learned by participating in on-line discussions, taking eight quizzes (minimum) and two essay exams, and turning in a term paper.   


Simple enough, and pretty much the same as in a classroom course, but while most students adapt quickly enough to doing such assignments in this new learning environment, some don't.  And so, a word of advice:  The way to avoid becoming one of those students who don't adapt is by making a special, conscious effort from the first day to sense the reality of "The Cyberprof" (the guy who's writing this) and understand the need to be just as "real" in response.  We're people, not computers, so let's act like that!  


That is, the words you will read in this course were not computer-generated and were not meant to lie inert.  "The Cyberprof," as I romantically call myself here, wrote them, with great educational zeal, hoping that you will invite them to jump off the screen into your mind and cause synapeses to fire and neurons to grow.  For that to happen, you must first realize that "The Cyberprof" is far more "present," spiritually and potentially, and far more accessible, than a classroom prof, and he expects the same of you.  Throughout the course he will be peering at you from inside your monitor, as the ghost in your machine, so to speak, waiting for you to write some words in response to his words.  For example, most days he checks and answers email almost hourly, and you need to be almost as vigilant in checking for emails.  They key to this course, in fact, is answering emails promptly and doing exactly what they say to do!

--The Ghost in Your Machine Peering at You—


That is, you must appreciate that the omnipresent Cyberprof expects you to assert your own cyber-presence.  To do this, you may need to become more actively involved in the educational process than normally.  There can be no shy or non-participating students in a Web course.  Everybody  must "talk."  A lot.   If you don't, you will just drift off into cyberspace and become lost.  But that's the beauty of the Web course.  You're not in a classroom where you have to contend with the perhaps intimidating presences of other students.   It's just you.  And me.  And nobody's looking, except an encouraging Cyberprof who's eager for your response.   So assert yourself.   


To encourage responsiveness, this course is structured so that you must actively engage with the material on an almost daily basis and respond to The Cyberprof about it several times a week and perhaps to other students as well.  If you make that response, you will find that you will not only get as much out of this course as out of the best of the classroom courses, but you may even get more.    This course offers a lot of learning, but nothing happens unless you reach for what is offered.  That is true of all courses, but it is doubly true of Web courses.   


The table of contents above provides links to the various aspects of the course.  You can either just scroll down through this syllabus or use the table of contents above (by clicking on "Back to Contents after each section and then clicking on the titles of the sections, in order or as you wish).


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  Instructor: Dr. Richard Dietrich

English Department, CPR 358B

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On the left, a portrait of the professor as a genial sort.

He must not have been grading papers at the time!!

Below is what he looks like when he's grading papers:






Since many Outreach students do not live within easy reach of the Tampa USF campus, and some will actually be taking this course from out of the state and even out of the country, this Distance Learning course has been designed precisely so that you don't have to meet with an instructor in person.  But that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't.  There is actually a real office in a real world where we can meet--Cooper Hall 358B, just east of the USF Library. Call me at 813-974-4025 or, better yet, e-mail me at to arrange an appointment.  Whether we meet in person or not, I certainly expect to "hear" from you often through the course's email and in Chat Room or Bulletin Board discussions.  The telephone can also be used if you’re not afraid to date yourself by using outmoded technology!


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With so many wonderful books written in the modern era, it was very difficult to limit the course to just these books and just these authors.  But I think you'll find these books right on the mark in the way they cover the decades and the major issues.  If you can’t find course texts at the USF Bookstore or other local bookstores, you can look for them in a library or order them off the Web at or or  (where books are usually cheaper and quickly delivered).   All books are on reserve in the USF library if you do not wish to purchase them.  Here's the list:



# Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman (1904): Penguin.
# D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928): Signet.
# E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India (1924): Harcourt Brace.
# Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1969): Bantam Dell.
# Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon (1977): Signet/NAL.
# Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All (1990): Bantam.
# Tony Kushner’s Angels in America I & II (1994): Theatre Communications
# Daniel Quinn's Ishmael (1995): Bantam.  

# A grammar handbook of your choice.   (If you already have a handbook, then you don't need another one, but if you don't have one, the Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers, by L.Q. Troyka, is being used in Freshman English and is therefore readily available in the USF Bookstore.  It comes with interactive CD-ROM and special exercises available at their website). 

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[The link to the "Daily Assignments Calendar" you will find on the course Home Page.]

The Daily Assignments Calendar indicates what work or lecture you should be reading when and specifies exact deadlines for turning in exams and the term paper and the taking of quizzes.  The Calendar will be supplemented by emails that will announce times for Chat Room and Bulletin Board discussions and other unscheduled events.

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["Course Lectures" are accessed from the Home Page under "Contents."]

The lectures provide fairly detailed analyses of the individual works and their historical context which should enlighten on some of the most relevant points, but they are by no means exhaustive and they don't pretend to infallibility.   Their purpose is not only to inform but to demonstrate how a professional reader with many years of experience and deep knowledge of both literature and the scholarship on it interrogates a work of literature in order to understand it better.  The hope is that you will learn more about the process of reading from observing a professional do it. 

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The Email page is for private discussions, mostly between you and me, and should be checked daily and religiously.   Instructions on how to operate the email will appear in an early email.     

There are two ways you can get involved in public discussions about course material-- through the Chat Room and through the Bulletin Board.  











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That this is both an Exit Course and a Gordon Rule course means that it is about improving your writing skills as well as  learning about literature.  The Gordon Rule requires you to turn in at least 6,000 words of writing that is to be graded for its quality of expression.  The exams will provide practice in writing paragraphs, and the Term Paper will provide practice in writing essays.   Email and Chat Room and Bulletin Board discussions will provide more informal practice, but please note that you are expected to write as correctly as possible in those environments as well.  Don't use email to practice bad writing!!  More specific information about how writing will be graded will be found in the lecture entitled "Grading of Writing" under "Contents" on the Home Page.


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Everyone who graduates from a university should be capable of writing literate prose that is mostly free of basic errors, but too often that does not turn out to be the case.  Never mind who is to blame for this sad state of affairs, let's just see what we can do about it in this course.  The fact that this exit course is also a Gordon Rule course gives you an opportunity to make one last attempt to fix whatever is wrong with your writing, so let's just concentrate on that.  If your writing on the first exam signals impending disaster, I will warn you (sort of like a virus detector!!) and require you to take corrective steps, most likely by reading a particular section of a grammar handbook and perhaps also by doing exercises on prescribed web sites or by taking a remedial quiz.  Points will be deducted from your numerical total if you don't do the remedial work assigned.

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All students must turn in a term paper (1/4) and take two essay exams (1/4 each) and eight weekly quizzes (quiz grades will accumulate into one final quiz grade)(1/4), each item counting for 1/4 of your grade. 

To please the WebCT Grade Calculator, grades are calculated numerically through most of the course as a percentage of 100%, but at the end of the course, when converting number grades to letter grades, I grade on a curve and a generous one at that.  This means that the numbers you receive on quizzes and writing assignments may suggest a lower grade than you will actually receive.  The last curve I gave in this course came out like this:   80 to 100=A, 70 to 79=B, 60 to 69=C, 50 to 59=D.  But the curve for this semester could be different. 

Final Grades are letter grades and will include pluses and minuses.  

You can add points to your final numerical total by demonstrating an active and intelligent engagement with the course.  At the end of the course I will check the logs for the number and quality of the responses you've made in email, Chat Room, and Bulletin Board responses, and if I think you've made a contribution that is both substantial and significant I will add points to your final average.

You can lose points from your final numerical total 

     1.  by turning in work late. 

    2.  by not showing up for a required chat. 

    3.  by not responding to email.

    4.  by not doing assigned remedial work or by not doing it satisfactorily.

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Quizzes are multiple choice.  There are two kinds of quizzes:


·        Content Quizzes over the works and the lectures.  Content quizzes are required. 


·        Remedial Quizzes over certain aspects of grammar, punctuation, and other aspects of writing.   Remedial Quizzes, either in WebCT or at prescribed websites, will be assigned to you only if your writing demonstrates a need for remedial work.  If assigned, then they are required.  


Content Quizzes must be taken after each work has been studied at times specified on the "Daily Assignments Calendar" (often beginning on a Friday morning at 7:00 AM and ending at midnight on Monday, but check calendar for variations). The weekly quizzes provide an "objective" check of your reading and comprehension of the works and the lectures on them, but mainly they serve as a learning device.   


Access the quizzes by clicking on "Online Quizzes & Surveys" on the Home Page, which will get you to a page where the times of access will also be posted.  Once you "open" the quiz, you will have a specified time to finish it, usually a half an hour.  After checking your score on the first try and going over the feedback on each question, you should then take the quiz a second time.  Your official score will be the average of the two tries.   Because you get to take the quizzes a second time, after reading feedback, I expect everyone to have high scores.  It's a gift, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth!  Learn from your mistakes.


Quiz grades will be cumulative and comparative, and a few days (normally) after each quiz you should click on "Check Your Progress" on the Home Page to see how you're scoring.   At the end of the course, the total quiz scores of all students will be entered as a percentage of 100%. This final quiz grade will then count as 1/4  of the final course grade.

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The two exams will test your comprehension of the works assigned and the lectures on the works.  Usually the night before the dates listed on the "Daily Assignments Calendar" for the exam, the exact exam topics you are to write on will be provided on the course web site as an attachment to an emailTreat the exam as a "take-home" exam and write a minimum of 1,500 words total.   Once you "open" the exam, you will have a specified time to finish (see the "Calendar").  You should download the exam attachment into MS WORD (the preferred word processor for this course) or whatever your word processor is (or copy and paste the questions into an email if you can't get the attachment function to work and you're short on time), write your essays in Times New Roman 14 pt., then upload the finished exam and send it back to me as an attachment to an e-mail.  I will then download the exam, grade it in my word processor, and send it back to you as an attachment to an email.  

Each of the exams will come in two parts, the first part consisting of a few short-answer "Reading Checks" that will ask you to cite the works and the lectures specifically, and the second part consisting of topics for essay answers that will ask you to use the lectures to explore beyond the lectures.  Your grade on the exams will reflect how well you achieved such things as completeness, relevance, coherence, organization, appropriate development, clarity and freshness of expression, and freedom from mechanical and compositional errors.   Errors will be highlighted and you will be expected to identify and correct them.

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are available for each of the exams (click on "Contents" on the Home Page).  Read the appropriate review before you take an exam.  These reviews are lectures that reinforce or expand on some of the more important points, and you are responsible on the exam for any new material therein.

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Write a 2,000 word (minimum) term paper in your word processor and upload it on this web site as an attachment to an email by the date indicated on the Assignments Calendar. 


The term paper is to be a coherent, well-organized essay on the vision of history provided by Daniel Quinn's Ishmael.  Your paper should explain how Quinn's character, Ishmael, sees the world's history, why he sees it that way, and what the relevance of this is to today's world.


The term paper is to be a research paper, but your research is to consist mostly of reading relevant material on the Web (especially at and other works of Daniel Quinn, such as Providence and The Story of B, which can be ordered from  or (sites which also provide important research material on Ishmael in their customer reviews and comments sections and which you are expected to cite in your paper).    I also expect you to find sites and information that I have not encountered yet.


For more specific information about the term paper topic and such formal matters as citing references and providing a bibliography, read the lecture on Ishmael under "Contents" on the Home PageThe lecture will get you ready for the writing of the term paper by calling your attention to questions that need to be answered before you begin writing.  Don't hesitate to e-mail me if you have questions. And don't wait until the end of the course to read Ishmael or to start your research.  Get started now!!!

A grade off for each day late.

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Occasionally there are problems with software and browser compatibility or with system crashes that may require you to try every maneuver you and your wizard friends can think of in order to get through an assignment.  For examples:

1. "Macs" are sometimes prone to compatibility problems.   If you encounter such problems, you will either have to borrow a friend's PC to turn in and receive assignments or you can go to a USF lab where you can use a PC.   


2.  "AOL," "Compuserve," and other highly proprietary browser/email systems are sometimes prone to compatibility problems, especially if you have older versions.    There are several things to try.   One, you can borrow somebody else's PC to turn in and receive assignments.  OR, you could get a USF email account on your computer (from Academic Computing) and use that instead of AOL or whatever.  OR, since AOL and Compuserve users are not required to use AOL or Compuserve as their browser, you could always exit AOL or Compuserve and just use NETSCAPE or INTERNET EXPLORER as your browser--either one would probably work better.  If you don't have an independent IE or NETSCAPE on your computer, you should download at least one of them anyway.


3. I will send exam attachments to you in two formats, WORD 2000 and HTML, and you should return the first exam in both formats so that I can choose which one looks better.  For the first exam, do your writing in your word processor and then send that and an HTML version back.  If your computer cannot convert your word processed document into HTML, you should try to find a computer that can.    


4. Your worst nightmare may occur when the USF server goes down in the middle of your taking a quiz or trying to beat a deadline.  There’s nothing you can do about that if you're taking a quiz but wait for it to come back.  I will make allowances if this occurs in the process of taking a quiz, providing that you let me know immediately by email.  You can avoid this potential nightmare by not waiting until the last minute to take a quiz.


5. If the server goes down as you're attempting to hand work in, you can in this emergency attach documents to your outside email and send it to my outside email address:  In fact, I will establish a back-up email system for the class outside of WebCT for just such emergencies, but use the course email system whenever you can.  


Part of the bonus education you may receive in taking a web course is in learning how to attach documents to email, how to upload and download, how to convert documents to HTML, how to hyperlink, and how to surmount compatibility or server problems.




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The literary works of the course are rich in meaning and can be approached in many different ways, but, to satisfy USF's Liberal Arts Exit Course requirements, we'll focus on how these works give expression to great issues of the modern era, from the concerns expressed in the British Literature of the first part of the era to the concerns of the American Literature of the second part of the era.   

In the first part of the modern era, Great Britain, as it was known then, still had the greatest empire the world has ever known, and its responsibility and ambition were global. With the collapse of that and other European empires after World War II, much of that responsibility, and some of that ambition, passed to the United States, when it attempted to substitute a certain “Western cultural colonialism” for the literal colonialism of the European powers.  You may be amazed to see that many of the global problems and issues America has faced in the second half of the century are very similar to or the consequences of ones faced by the British in the first half.  We are the inheritors of a tradition of world leadership, whether we like or not, and our literature reflects the international perspectives of a nation at the center of things.  As we attempt to impose Western business and political and artistic values (music and movies, mainly) upon the rest of the world, we’re having to deal with the same resentments and backlash that the imperial European powers, especially the British, did in a previous time.


These problems and issues often turn on questions of identity--of personal, social, ethnic, national, political, racial, and sexual identity--and on how all our personal and cultural differences have been exacerbated by large overarching debates in the realm of ideas, such as between science and religion, democracy and authoritarianism, nationalism and internationalism, individualism and communitarianism, patriarchal values and matriarchal values, nature and civilization, and so on. The modern era has been an incredibly exciting time to live in, partly because of this lively debate, but also it has been one of the most dangerous of times because so much of the debate has been acted out in bloody, violent conflict. The great literature of the age has done a wonderful job of capturing all this in forms that are compelling, enlightening, and entertaining. And in studying the literature that embodies the great issues of the modern era, you should learn something too about literature's special way of expressing and communicating, something that's relevant to understanding and appreciating the literature of all ages. As with every literature course, this course aims to help you better appreciate how important literature can be in getting to know yourself and your world.

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One significant way of understanding the modern era is as the site of a struggle not unique to it but one that has probably had more serious consequences than in any other century.  I refer to the struggle between absolutist and relativistic views of life, or, to see it another way, between views inherited (which tend to be passed down as "absolutes") and views invented (the very process of which tends to make us question the absolutes as human inventions and see all values as relative to the age and the person).


Encouraging invention, modern science has made us more keenly aware than ever before of how life is ever in process, constantly changing and evolving, the very atoms that make us up being constantly in motion (our body cells are completely replaced by a different set every seven years, it seems).  Furthermore, the very planet we reside on is hurtling through space at incredible speeds and, geologically volatile, changing its character minute by minute; the very universe is constantly under construction, as stars die and new stars are born, and the whole rushes into deeper and deeper space, so that we never inhabit the same space for two consecutive seconds. 


And all this physical motion seems to be increasingly mimicked in our culture.  It seems that with life always being open to something new, with the universe itself always under construction, that that open-endedness and unceasing creativity at the heart of things encourages us to question things as they are and be eager to make changes.  Many of us have even become addicted to change, partly as a producer of exhilaration but also as an instrument of hope (because things can be made better!).  This addiction is more characteristic of the modern era than of any other time.  Since Homo sapiens came on the scene, the earth has never seen such change wrought by its creatures as it has seen in the past hundred years, so much change that our mere cultural changes affect the very earth itself!


For many, however, and perhaps for everyone at one time or another, even those addicted to change, this flux at the heart of life is confusing as well, sometimes disquieting and dizzying, and sometimes it makes us wish that, behind all the flux, there were something permanent, something we could consider eternally and universally true, other than blindly-operating physical laws that seem indifferent to human values and human happiness.  Or is all truth, at least as human beings can perceive it and discuss it, relative to the time and the place and the person?  Which, as said, are constantly changing.


This central question then finds its way into all dimensions of life.  In the realms of values and ethics, race, ethnic, and gender identity, international relations, and questions about the well-being of the earth itself, there appears to be a constant shifting of boundaries, as though there were a plate tectonics at work, so to speak, in our social and political and all other phases of our lives.  Nothing is nailed down, it seems.


This restless, shifting quality of life, this endless, inevitable questioning and attacking of the established and the fixed, is wonderfully evoked in the works that you will read in this course.  These writers will make you feel that you have lived through some of the most crucial experiences of this century, experienced the major tensions and cultural upheavals of the age for yourself, and thus hopefully bring you to a wiser historical perspective.


Our works themselves give different perspectives on each historical issue, coming as they do from different times and places and persons, but this just reveals the richness and diversity and growth of ideas in the modern era.  Now it's true that every literary work is historically situated, that its author is conditioned by the cultural and intellectual forces of a certain time and place, but at the same time the great writers strive for a degree of universality to make it possible to speak to the future, to us.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how works as old as your grandparents and great-grandparents still have much to say to us, if we would only listen to them. And in listening to the past, we not only gain a valuable historical perspective on it but we also get better connected to it, and that connection in itself serves as a kind of anchor against the winds that blow. Which is what one of our works, The Song of Solomon, is centrally concerned with: how to get anchored through an understanding of our connections to the past.


Okay, good luck with the course.  You have some very exciting and fascinating works to read, and I envy you the reading of them for the first time.  My hope is that in reading them and the lectures on them, you'll come to realize more and more the following great truth:



Reading for pleasure and reading for understanding are really the same thing.


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Your First Assignment

is to read " The Revolutionist's Handbook," which appears after George Bernard Shaw's 1903 play, Man and Superman, and which at the beginning of the century nicely captures the mood of revolt that so characterizes the entire modern era, in which people no longer believe that they must accept their lot.  We have come to believe that "Progress is our most important product," as the old GE TV commercial used to put it.  But what progress?  Shaw's play suggests that there's more than one kind of progress, and that it is moral and spiritual progress that matters more than scientific, technological or business or any other kind of merely external progress.  And he asks, must we have revolution to accomplish this progress?  If so, is there more than one kind of revolution?  "The Revolutionist's Handbook" attempts to answer such questions.


Shaw actually wrote "The Revolutionist's Handbook," but he's pretending that the hero of his play, John Tanner, wrote it. Of course insofar as Shaw wrote this as his character, Tanner, would have written it, you could say that, figuratively speaking, Tanner is the author. It's part of the overall fiction that he is the author.  But, remember, that's a fiction.  Meaning that it's true to the fiction but not literally true outside the fiction.


When you read the play, Man and Superman, you'll discover in the opening pages why it helps to have read "The Revolutionist's Handbook." You'll be one-up on Roebuck Ramsden, an older character who hasn't read it but who doesn't hesitate to condemn it anyway.  Ramsden throws it into the trash, unread.  And so the drama of the modern era begins with an older man refusing to listen to the ideas of a younger man, which is symbolic of the generational conflicts that have characterized this era throughout and which you'll find reflected in many of our works.


Man and Superman, by the way, also has a long, very informative preface, called an "Epistle Dedicatory," which it would profit you to read, but it's not required.  You are required to read the "Maxims for Revolutionists" that appear at the end of "The Revolutionist's Handbook."  They contain such provocative statements as "The Golden Rule is that there are no Golden Rules (p. 251)," which profoundly summarizes, at the start of the century, what the whole century is going to be about--the breakdown of absolutes. The only absolute left, in the minds of many, is that there are no absolutes.   At least as far as mere mortals can perceive.


Many of these maxims are also a lot of fun to contemplate--as, for example, one maxim goes: "He who can does, he who cannot teaches." Harrumph!  That's one that you may enjoy. Well, it's probably the case that I wouldn't be teaching literature if I could make piles of money publishing the novels and plays I write.  But Shaw, who was actually a great teacher, also realized that writers need good readers, and that teachers are needed to train and inspire readers. That's what we're here for.  My hope is that as you read my thoughts about and questionings of these masterworks of the modern era, you'll learn better how to engage a work in the sort of dialogue that leads to greater understanding and appreciation of it, and ultimately to intellectual and spiritual growth and a richer existence for yourself.



I trust you understand that my readings of these works are not meant as final or absolute, but just as the readings of an experienced professional who loves what he’s read and learned from it and who wants you to love it and learn from it too.




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