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Campus Classics

April-May 2008

For each Penguin Classics newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic. Alfred Mac Adam of Barnard College Columbia University shares his thoughts on teaching the Penguin Classics editions of Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education.

"Mad Love," a comparative literature course, traces the history of overpowering passion (and the flimsy means allotted us to avoid it) from Plato to the twentieth century. The students move forward like reluctant mules through Greece, Rome (Dido in The Aeneid), the Bible (David and Bathsheba), the Middle Ages (Dante), and the Renaissance (Fernando de Rojas), and then suddenly come alive when we read P. W. K. Stone's admirable translation of Laclos's epistolary novel, equipped with a frankly inflammatory cover by Fragonard (The Bolt). The godlike and doomed miscreants, Valmont and Merteuil, send the students into paroxysms of admiration and puritanical rage. This cools when they confront Robert Baldick's version of Flaubert, with its cover from Courbet (Man with Leather Belt), not because of the splendid translation but because they discover they are Frédéric Moreau and share both his youth and his susceptibility to a love that can culminate only in disillusion. These Penguin Classics are the pierced heart and suffering soul of the course.

Alfred Mac Adam
Professor of Spanish and Portuguese
Barnard College, Columbia University
Course: "Mad Love"