The literature of aging is sparse in comparison to that of youth and adulthood: while the Bildungsroman is an old and established genre, there is no such thing as the Alternroman.
There should be, though, as we in the developed world are living longer than ever, and perhaps such a genre may still come about. Meanwhile, it often seems the developing world and our own ancients had more respect for old age than modern, youth-mad culture.
We’ll start with the Roman philosopher Cicero and see what he advises, then jump to the twentieth century to assess Hemingway’s classic of the old and tormented fisherman, compare him to Wallace Stegner’s aging academic in The Spectator Bird, then compare that stodgy WASP to the flamboyant 74-year old Caribbean Londoner who narrates Booker-Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman , and engage with some extraordinarily witty and articulate grande dames of recent decades.
Is there a consensus about what it means to get old? Or is aging a highly individual experience? How, specifically, is it gendered? And how does pondering one’s own end intersect with contemplating the end of our world? How has the psychology of aging changed, and how does it remain the same, in the Anthropocene?
Natania Rosenfeld is a writer, independent scholar and Professor Emerita of English at Knox College. She has published two books of poetry as well as a scholarly book, Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and a chapbook of personal essays.
- Diana Athill, Somewhere Towards the End, any edition.
- Cicero, How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life, any edition.
- Bernardine Evaristo, Mr Loverman, any edition.
- Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, any edition.
- Wallace Stegner, The Spectator Bird, any edition.
- Elizabeth Strout, Olive, Again, any edition.
- Abigail Thomas, What Comes Next and How to Like It, any edition.
- For the first class, please read Cicero’s How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.
Cost and Registration
This class is full, but you can still register for the waitlist on Learning Stream.
Six sessions, $235 ($210 for Newberry members, seniors, and students). Learn about becoming a member.
To register multiple people for this class, please go through the course calendar in Learning Stream, our registration platform. When you select the course and register, you’ll be prompted to add another registrant.Register for the Waitlist