Ilja Wachs

Ilja Wachs Chair in Outstanding Teaching and Donning

BA, Columbia College. Special interest in 19th-century European and English fiction, with emphasis on psychological and sociological relationships as revealed in works of Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoevski, Balzac, Stendhal, James, Flaubert, and others. Dean of the College, 1980-85. SLC, 1965–2022

Previous Courses


Studies in the 19th-Century Novel

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

This course entails an intensive and close textual encounter with the novelistic worlds of the 19th-century realist tradition, the first fictional tradition to accept social reality as the ultimate horizon for human striving. The 19th-century novels that we will study are all intensely critical of the severe limitations to human wholeness and meaning posed by the new social world that they were confronting. At the same time that they accept the world as a setting and boundary for human life, the novels seek to find grounds for transcending its limitations. We will explore in these novelists’ works the tensions between accepting the world as given and seeking to transcend it. At the same time, we will try to understand why—in spite of a century-and-a-half of great historical and cultural change—these novels continue to speak with such beauty, depth, and wisdom to the issues posed by the human condition. We will read the works of novelists such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Stendhal, Eliot, Austen, Dickens, Twain, and Goethe.