HC421H - Inside-Out Prison Exchange: Ethics, Religion, and Literature: George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda

Professor: Steven Shankman

4.00 credits

  • CRN 16708: Tuesdays at Oregon State Penitentiary

This course is open only to CHC students. An application and instructor approval are required to register for this course. If you are not familiar with the Inside-Out Program, please check out the information on the Honors College website here:  http://honors.uoregon.edu/story/inside-out-prison-exchange-program and watch the Inside-Out documentary here: https://uoprisoned.org/inside-out. Students may only take one Inside-Out class in a given term. However, given the limited spaces available, students are encouraged to apply to multiple sections if their schedule allows.

An Information Session will be held on Wednesday, May 8 from 4:00-5:00pm, in the CHC’s Shephard Library, located on the third floor of Chapman Hall. 

Applications are closed as all seats in this course have been filled. Please email Professor Shankman (shankman@uoregon.edu) if you would like to be notified in the event that a seat opens unexpectedly. 

This class will be held on Tuesday evenings at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem; transportation will be provided.  We will leave campus between 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. and return by 10:30 p.m., with class being held from 6:00-8:30 p.m.  

As Gary Saul Morson remarks in his recent book Wonder Confronts Certainty: Russian Writers on the Timeless Questions and Why Their Answers Matter (Harvard UP, 2023), George Eliot is arguably the greatest non-Russian philosophical novelist. Like the great Russian novelists, George Eliot (christened Mary Anne Evans on November 29th, 1819) confronts the central questions about the meaning of life. We will read and ponder Eliot’s final novel, Daniel Deronda (1876), which is a love story; a commentary on the British class system; a description of the challenges faced by a number of Jewish people who are part of a small, minority population in mainly Protestant Victorian England; and a reflection, by a major novelist who is also a serious religious thinker, on Judaism and its relation to ethical responsibility.  

The novel consists of two seemingly separate but in fact intertwining plot structures: the first centers on the journey of the witty, beautiful, and self-absorbed Gwendolen Harleth from the pursuit of the pleasures of worldly fulfillment at the expense of ethics and of the spiritual life towards a more spiritually attuned existence. The second plot focuses on Daniel Deronda’s discovery of his Judaism and on the relation of this discovery to the pursuit of the ethical life. We will focus on the interplay between what the influential literary critic F. R. Leavis took to be two irreconcilably different and unrelated plot structures.  Mordecai, Daniel Deronda’s spiritual mentor, is modeled on the Jewish thinker Emanuel Deutsch, author of a book on the Talmud, a text known for its probing discussions of ethical issues. Before writing Daniel Deronda, George Eliot became friendly with Deutsch, who taught her Hebrew and whose book on the Talmud she deeply admired.

Please note that the Inside-Out format of this class is dependent on the prisons allowing the course to take place.