Three Places in New England: A Tour of 19th Century Art and Literature

This course will examine three quintessentially New England locations— a bustling city, a down-east shoreline village, and a rural mountain town. 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 settings, within a few hours reach by steamer or trolley, and far from the madding crowd, became possible. We will explore these three 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. Art and other relevant handout materials will provide a picture of the era to accompany the literary narrative. The goal is trace our fictional characters back to an era now shrouded by the veil of time. Three titles will be required for class discussion.

Instructor: Richard Friswell

Five Mondays: February 20, 27; March 6, 13, 20

5:30–7:30 P.M.

Wasch Center Butterfield Room $125

Richard Friswell
Richard Friswell is a cultural historian and associate director of the WILL program. He is publisher and managing editor of ARTES magazine, a fine arts publication. He is an elected member of the International 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. His MEd is from Boston University, and his MPhil is from Wesleyan University.