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Lifelong Learning at Swarthmore

A Message from the Director

Hello from Swarthmore,

I hope you had a good summer.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Phil Weinstein, Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English Emeritus, will once again share his deep knowledge of literature with us in the upcoming LLS class on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

The timing for reading Tolstoy’s famous novel is not unproblematic: since Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, engagement with Russian culture has been fraught with difficult questions. While our class will focus on the literary dimensions of War and Peace, questions of Russia’s place vis-à-vis western culture and politics are an important part of the work.

The sheer heft of this epic novel (around 900 pages) might raise some concerns, but spaced over two-week intervals across the fall semester, the reading can be done in a leisurely fashion (Phil recommends the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). After Joyce’s Ulysses and Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, a return to 19th century realist fiction might be a very welcome reading experience.

I would like to thank you for your continuing support of the Lifelong Learning program and look forward to seeing you in class (on Zoom) in September.

Director, Lifelong Learning at Swarthmore

Fall 2023 Course: "War and Peace"

At a time when most Americans have trouble thinking positively about Russia, it may be productive to launch a six-part engagement with Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Our aim is to come to grips with the literary dimensions of Tolstoy’s big book, not with the problematic history of post-Tolstoyan Russia in the last hundred years. That said, it is not surprising that Lenin was deeply interested in Tolstoy and wrote brilliantly about him. Tolstoy’s abiding concerns — the drama of class differences and commonalities, Russia’s relation to European culture and powers, among others — continue to resonate long after his death in 1910. 

"Not a novel," Tolstoy said about his epic novel, yet his refusal of novelistic norms does not keep War and Peace from being a supreme example of 19th-century western fiction. Realistic, recognizable, filled with intricate and sympathetic characters, this novel does what great novels do: it informs, enlarges, deepens, and entertains its readers. It also does more: it seeks not just to rewrite history but to articulate a philosophy of history, intermingling the real and the invented in ways that baffled Tolstoy's critics. Reading 200 pages per session (every two weeks, for three months), we shall take the time necessary to try to do justice to Tolstoy's masterpiece.

I’d like to close these brief remarks by remembering the tremendous legacy Tom Bradley left for those who studied Russian literature with him. Were Tom still here, I wouldn’t dream of proposing this course. As it is, even though my approach will differ necessarily from his, many of us will be thinking of him during the discussions ahead.

Philip Weinstein is Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor Emeritus, at Swarthmore College, where he taught in the English Department for many years. His publications focus broadly on modern fiction. Unknowing: The Work of Modernist Fiction explores Proust, Kafka, and Faulkner as representative modernist masters, and Becoming Faulkner opens up the uncontrollable turbulence that is a keynote of both Faulkner's work and his life. (This book won the Hugh Holman Award as the best book on Southern literature published in 2010.) After retiring on Martha's Vineyard, he has continued to offer a wide array of courses sponsored by the LLS Program. These have attended to Joyce, Faulkner, and a range of 19th and 20th century novelists. His most recent course — “Uncanny Voyages” — began with Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche, as background for approaching "the uncanny" in the work of Kafka, Freud, and Faulkner. Fiction has long been his favorite genre, and War and Peace is a supreme work of fiction — requiring, and amply repaying, the sustained attention this course will bring to it.

WHEN:  Mondays at 7 p.m. ET 
DATES:  Sept. 18, Oct. 2, Oct. 23, Nov. 6, Nov. 20, Dec. 4. (six classes)
PROGRAM NOTES:  The class will be held online using Zoom; participants will need to download Zoom to their computers to participate. A meeting link will be emailed to you several days prior to the first class. Classes are RECORDED for members. Class readings and the link to our Moodle Class will be provided to all registrants after registration.

Register now for "War and Peace"

Questions? Please contact Mary Carr at 


More About Lifelong Learning 

  • Courses taught by senior or emeriti members of Swarthmore College faculty and other experts.

  • Courses offered in each of the divisions of the College: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences/engineering.

  • No grades, no academic credit, just learning for learning's sake.

  • Open to everyone: alumni, their adult family, friends, Swarthmore College staff, and all friends of the College are welcome.

  •  Virtual classes are not limited in number of participants.

Questions?  For questions about course material, contact Professor Hansjakob Werlen at For all other questions, contact Mary Carr at .

Thank you for your support of Lifelong Learning at Swarthmore.