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Brown University

The Fiction of Relationship

Brown University via Coursera

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As individuals we are defined by relationships, by our connection to people, places, and things. Such connectedness can be not only emotional or erotic or political or environmental, but even textual, enacted through writing. In this course we explore the nature and meaning of such connections in ten major works of narrative fiction from the 18th century to the present. These include: Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost; two works by Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener and Benito Cereno; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; two stories by Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” and “The Country Doctor”; Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse; William Faulkner’s Light in August;  an anthology of stories, Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges; The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas; Tony Morrison’s Beloved; and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

As this course will demonstrate, the most critical relationships in our lives—the linkages both known and unknown—are not always easy to get a fix on, but literature offers us a special sighting on these arrangements. Through exploratory readings of these narrative works, the course will seek to make relationship visible, bringing our traffic with the world and with others into clearer focus.


  • Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut (1731)
  • Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
  • Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1853) and Benito Cereno (1855)
  • Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis” (1915) and “A Country Doctor” (1919)
  • Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • William Faulkner, Light in August (1932)
  • Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (1956)
  • Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace (1967)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)
  • J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)

Taught by

Arnold Weinstein


4.7 rating, based on 9 Class Central reviews

Start your review of The Fiction of Relationship

  • Anonymous
    I took this class earlier this year as my second (at the time) experience of a MOOC (which then swiftly became concurrent with my third experience--I'm since on my 5th this year). I have to say that this was an absolutely brilliant course--the choice of texts is wide-ranging and interesting, including some that--even as a literature MA--I'd never read. And the quality of the lectures is outstanding--humane, intelligent, stimulating. I can't recommend this course highly enough (though I have been trying to do so to anyone who will listen!). If Prof Weinstein were to be offering another MOOC, I'd jump at the opportunity to take it.
  • Nan Halberg
    Very interesting and challenging, at least to me. I hadn't taken a literature course for many years, and found it difficult to shift my thinking and writing to understand and communicate about underlying meanings of 'fiction' and 'relationship'. I completed the entire course except for the last assignment, when other activities got in the way. The course gave me a shift of perspective and introduced or re-introduced me to some outstanding fiction.
  • Profile image for Nada Sadek
    Nada Sadek
    This was a great course. Unlike the usual literature courses that tend to overanalyze, Professor Weinstein gives a fresh and interesting perspective to each of the stories discussed. There is also an optional discussion group after the lectures that is very helpful.
    Highly recommended to anyone interested in reading the classics or literature in general. The choice of novels and short stories in this course is great.
  • Anonymous
    Although I wasn't aiming for the certificate I really ejoyed the whole package: the reading list, discussions, and lectures were really really good.
  • Anonymous
    can't do much better. There are example, mini-quiz and it's explained easy to understand
  • Anonymous
    Excellent lectures and discussion. Choice of reading however was a bit too oriented toward anguish and violence.
  • Anonymous
    Terrc course with amazing Prof. Arnold Weinstein of Brown, famous writer and critic of numerous books, including "A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life." Literature masterpieces of Brontë, Prévost, Kafka, Woolf, Faulkner, Morrison, Coetzee, Melville were rediscovered, rethought, and retaught ingeniously. It was a journey of discovering truth about selves and others.
  • Anonymous
    The professor and the literature were incredibly great !!! Please, Please offer this course again !!! I keep checking back to see if it is offered again .
  • Maggie M

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