Discovering Ourselves Through Great Books

by JORIS HEISE
1st ed., January 1995, 262 pages, $26.95 
ISBN 978-0-89641-232-3

As you use this book you will gradually become more acquainted with three people.

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The first person is the narrator of this book chatting with you about other books, other poems, authors and movements. A second person will be the "narrative voices," a chorus of poets and authors who tell stories, recite poems, and reveal some truths that surprise you. A third person is you yourself — your older, wiser, growing-up self starting to explore the deeper pool of truths into which we step as adults and in which we start swimming. We discover an environment better for us than was childhood's small horizon.

These three persons engage in a discussion of what is true — truth that is found not "out there, " but in personal dialogue. As you listen with the narrator of this book to the various literate voices of authors down through the centuries, you will be accepting, objecting, and considering partial truths. From this discussion between yourself and the narrator, you will come to recognize and acknowledge people, ideas and other things we hold in common. You will meet persons like Hamlet, ideas like survival and fate, tensions like sex and money — a vast fund of spiritual meaning.

Meaningful truths that are Felt and Common form our shared ground and our cultural home. In the process of building ourselves — our interior castle and our private den, your experienced voice and mine meet and in the meeting put together brick and mortar, wall and floor, context and adornment of our minds.

This book starts by exploring traits we need to enjoy insight into any literature. These same psychological traits seem necessary to appreciate those books many persons have called "great." Specifically, "great books" refers to the constantly growing, multi-cultural, and open-ended inheritance of important books in our Western Tradition. Other great books are becoming available to us, but we are still learning the cultures that produced them. In the Western Tradition, we already live in the continuous stream.

Second, this book offers "tools of the trade" — specific ways to study characters and themes, points of view and settings of the works. These tools build on and presume your high school studies, but surpass them in their inclusion of your experiences in adulthood.

The final section of the book offers you a fast-forward look at your literary tradition — from the Greeks about 2500 years ago. In that section, we pass quickly through various ups and downs of literary story-telling into our present day.

This in NOT a survey of literature; it is rather an opportunity for you to look over and learn some elemental things about the literature that has shaped you and your world. Significantly, some authors, such as the unknown creator of Gilgamesh and Latin writers like Ovid and Seneca, have profoundly affected our world, although few persons realize their importance. Other authors, famous and very popular in their day, have long since gurgled down the drain of history.

When you finish the book you will know more about great writers — the chorus of narrative voices. You will hear them say some things with which you may agree — or sharply disagree. I hope you find them like the Chorus of a Greek Play, speaking insights, suggesting feelings, offering directions and voicing popular opinion.

You will also know more about the whole picture of our literature — its sweep and diversity, its openness and its relevance, its contradictions and — yes, its personality. And you will know more about yourself — that you share common conclusions with a literate community, a sense not so much of common values, but common problems, common tensions, common mysteries.

The Greek motto, "Know Your Self," is the emphasis of this book. All our writings mirror your Self — your growing spirit and your open heart. This book is for that part of you which seeks to explore the realms of your human existence, by going where someone "has gone before" and is surprised to find wonderful ever fresh new worlds.

CONTENTS

PART I — PREPARATIONS FOR READING LITERATURE

  • Chapter 1: Imagination is the Power to Create a World for Others and Sustain its Believability
    Imagination Means Creating a Fictional World that Enlightens Our Real One
    The Western Tradition and the Individual Person

  • Chapter 2: Literature in General — Its Role in Our Lives
    The Quality of the Creator's Imagination
    The Quality of the Reader's Readiness

PART II — TOOLS OF LITERATURE

  • Chapter 3: Character Study
    Character — Coming to Judgment
    What Kind of Person is this Character
    Character — How Real Does the Character Seem
    Characters — Evidence and Evidence Traits
    Character — Growth and Change
    Example: The Grapes of Wrath

  • Chapter 4: Setting
    Importance of Setting
    Example: The Divine Comedy
    Expressing the Importance of Setting
    Setting Can Affect Us

  • Chapter 5: Point of View
    Importance of Point of View
    Examples of Point of View
    Point of View if NOT the Author
    An Example: The Scarlet Letter
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 6: Imagery
    General Introduction
    Kinds of Imagery
    An Example: "Dover Beach"

  • Chapter 7: Themes
    General Introduction
    Patterns of Themes
    Self vs. God
    Self vs. Others
    Self vs. Self
    Self vs. Nature
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 8: Plot
    What is a Plot?
    Kinds of Plots
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 9: Uniqueness

PART III — LITERATURE FROM THE GREEKS TO THE PRESENT

  • Chapter 10: General Information
    History and Literature in General
    Developments of the Western Tradition

  • Chapter 11: The Greeks
    Development of the Greek Way of Life
    The Trojan War
    Greeks — Daily Life
    The Sixth Century B.C.E. and the Age of Pericles
    Greeks and the Western World
    Specific Greek Works
    Specific Literary Elements
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 12: Latin Literature
    History
    Specific Influences
    Roman History to the Empire
    The Empire
    The Pattern: A Conclusion

  • Chapter 13: Literature of the Anglo-Saxons and the Legend of Arthur
    The Anglo-Saxons
    Arthur, the Myth and the Man
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 14: The Middle Ages
    History
    Literature of the Middle Ages
    Religion in the Middle Ages — Guide to its Literature
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 15: The Renaissance
    The Issues
    Literature of the Era
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 16: The Age of Reason, or the Neo Classical Era, The Enlightenment, The "Augustan Age"
    Culture of the Times
    Literature of the Age of Reason
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 17: The Romantic Era
    Introduction
    Some Writings
    Conclusions
    Connections Between Romantic and Neo-Classical: A Final Word

  • Chapter 18: The 1800s on Both Sides of the Atlantic
    Introduction
    England the Victorian Era
    The United States
    English-speaking Writers in Common
    Victorian Poetry
    English Poetry
    United States Poetry
    Fiction Became Very Popular
    Plays
    Non-fiction Prose
    Conclusions

  • Chapter 19: Post Victorian and Modern Eras
    Traits of Modern Literature in Western World
    Modern Literature — History and Suggestions