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Philip Roth’s Great Books: A Reading of The Human Stain


Philip Roth belongs to the first generation of American novelists for whom a university education in the liberal arts was the norm. This essay charts Roth’s developing acquaintance with classical literature, the starting point for Great Books courses in the 1950s, and the implications for his fiction of his understanding of the difference in scope and purpose between the two representative classical genres. It focuses on The Human Stain (2000), the novel in which he reflects most directly upon what tragedy and epic once did, and what might happen to novels if they became more like the one or the other.