A handful of major novels by two leading figures in the history of fiction. We’ll read the first two novels of George Eliot (pseudonym of Mary Ann Evans): Adam Bede (1859) and The Mill on the Floss (1860). We’ll also read three major works by Thomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). These beautiful works tell moving, often tragic stories of desire and ambition confronting obstacles typical of their age (in particular, the Victorian period’s rules on class and gender) but also universal. We’ll consider such issues as: what do we owe to other people? How can we balance personal aspiration and duty or responsibility? What makes for a free society, and what hinders it? What causes societies to stagnate or to progress, and at what cost?