Each month, we will explore influential works in a supportive and lively masterclass environment, guided by leading academics and intellectuals.

Event details

Following the runaway success of the first two series, Melbourne Masterclasses is proud to present 10 Great Books 2016. Each month, from February to November, we will explore influential works in a supportive and lively masterclass environment, guided by leading academics and intellectuals. From Bronte to Keynes to Homer and Yeats, discover a series designed to get you discussing, understanding and challenging the legacy of great books.

The 2016 series is the third in an annual series that presents a different list of works each year.

Time and venue


  • Once a month, commencing 23 February 2016, on Tuesday evenings, 6.15 - 8.15pm.
  • Old Arts (Building 149), The University of Melbourne, Parkville

Highlights and preview

Sessions and speakers

Sessions and speakers may be subject to change.

1. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with Stephanie Trigg, 23 February

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight may not be a “book” as such, but it is one of the great medieval romances, preserved in a single manuscript in the British Library. The tale follows the adventures of Sir Gawain after he accepts the challenge of the monstrous green knight who appears at Camelot one Christmas, inviting one of Arthur’s knights to chop off his head. The poem includes brilliant scenes of fourteenth-century court life, juxtaposed with evocative descriptions of the natural world. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight explores the nature of chivalric identity in the changing social world of England in the period of the Hundred Years’ War. We’ll read the poem in translation but will also look at some sections in the original Middle English.

Presented by medieval scholar Professor Stephanie Trigg, whose books include Shame and Honor: A Vulgar History of the Order of the Garter (2012) and Congenial Souls: Reading Chaucer from Medieval to Postmodern (2002). Stephanie teaches medieval and medievalist literature in the English and Theatre Program, and is Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

2. John Maynard Keynes, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, with Robert Johanson, 29 March

John Maynard Keynes was one of the most influential economists and public intellectuals of the 20th century. His great book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, was published in 1936, after the Great Depression. It provided intellectual credibility for views Keynes had been arguing publicly and fiercely for since World War I. His arguments with Frederick Hayek on the role of government spending and its dangers set the terms for a debate that still goes on today. By 2000 his views were considered out of date and wrong but since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007, Keynes' views and insights have resurged making it timely to review this influential book.

Robert Johanson BA, LLM (Melb); MBA (Harvard) is chairman of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited. He is Deputy Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and chairman of the University’s Investments Committee, the Australia India Institute and The Conversation Media Group. He has worked as an investment banker for over 30 years.

3. W.B. Yeats, Easter, 1916, with Glyn Davis, 26 April

100 years ago this month a group of rebels seized the General Post Office in Dublin and declared an Irish republic. The British response defined Irish politics – and art – for the next generation. In this Masterclass we focus on Easter, 1916, the response by poet W.B. Yeats. As Ireland slid toward civil war, Yeats wrote further poems shaped by his growing political engagement, from the concerns of the Ascendency in An Irish Airman Foresees His Death to the apocalyptic vision of The Second Coming. These three poems provide a vivid insight into the artist and his times.

Presented by political scientist Professor Glyn Davis, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. His most recent publications include The Craft of Governing – the contribution of Patrick Weller to Australian Political Science (2014; ed. With Rhodes R.A.W.) and The Republic of Learning (Boyer lectures, ABC Books 2010).

4. Michel de Montaigne, Essays, with Veronique Duché, 24 May

The Essays by 16th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne are unique. Written in a turbulent period of history, in which Old World confronted New World, this book pioneered the modern essay as a literary form: “I have no more made my book than my book has made me”, writes Montaigne. This lecture will explore in depth the writings of the humanist and show the surprising modernity of their author.

Michel de Montaigne: Essays. Translated by M. A. Screech. London, Penguin classics 2013

A. R. Chisholm Professor of French, Véronique Duché has extensive experience in teaching French literature and linguistics. She has published many articles on French Renaissance literature and edited several 16th century novels. Her research explores theoretical problems and issues concerning genre as well as translation into French during the Renaissance.

5. The US Constitution, with Timothy Lynch, 28 June

Described as ‘the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man’ the Constitution of the United States has a fair claim to being the greatest legal document ever written. A key foundation for the growth of the most powerful nation in history, the Constitution still determines the nature of American politics and power.

Timothy J. Lynch is the Director of the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Associate Professor in American Politics at the University of Melbourne. His books include Turf War: the Clinton Administration and Northern Ireland (2004), After Bush: the Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy (co-authored with RS Singh, Cambridge, 2008), a winner of the Richard Neustadt Book Prize, and US Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion (Routledge, 2013). He is editor-in-chief of the two-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History (2013). Tim’s editorials have appeared in the Age, the Conversation, the Guardian, the Herald Sun, the Spectator, and the Wall Street Journal.

6. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, with Joy Damousi, 26 July

Dreams have held fascination for millennia, and until the latter part of the nineteenth century, were usually considered to be prophetic: guides to the future not the past – and certainly not to the unconscious. Dreams had intrigued scientists, neurologists and philosophers well before Freud made them his concern. Freud’s novel contribution in The Interpretation of Dreams was to transform how dreams could be understood and analysed. Radically he argued that dreams were meaningful, could provide insight into the unconscious and had therapeutic value. Written in 1900, available in English in 1913 and widely popularised after the First World War, The Interpretation of Dreams became a widely read text as dream analysis became increasingly popular during the inter-war and post-war periods. While the scientific veracity of his approach has been hotly contested, throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Freud’s view that dreams are the ‘royal road to the unconscious’ has endured through the work of psychoanalysts and captured the imagination of intellectuals, artists, filmmakers and novelists.

Joy Damousi is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Professor of History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has published widely in the field of the history of psychoanalysis with publications such as Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia and co-edited Psychoanalysis and Politics: Histories of Psychoanalysis Under Conditions of Restricted Political Freedom.

7. John Milton, Paradise Lost, with Justin Clemens, 23 August

John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost was first published in 1667, and was recognized as an instant classic. Turning on the Biblical story of the Fall of Adam and Eve, Paradise Lost shows unparalleled literary range, from intimate conversations between a man and woman, through total war between angels and devils, all the way up to the creation of the cosmos itself.

Associate Professor Justin Clemens has published extensively on psychoanalysis, contemporary European philosophy, and contemporary Australian art and literature. His recent books include Lacan Deleuze Badiou (2014); Psychoanalysis is an Antiphilosophy (2013); and Minimal Domination (2011). In addition to his scholarly work, he is well-known nationally as a commentator on Australian art and literature, and his essays and reviews have appeared in The Age, The Australian, The Monthly, Meanjin, Overland, Arena Magazine, TEXT, Un Magazine, Discipline, The Sydney Review of Books, and many others.

8. Homer, Odyssey, with Nikos Papastergiadis ,27 September

Homer’s Odyssey is the epic poem of a homecoming. However, it is also a marvellous tale about the multiple worlds that Odysseus confronts, and an insight into the way a world is made through cunning, reason and art.

is the Director of the Research Unit in Public Cultures and a Professor in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. His publications include Modernity as Exile (1993), Dialogues in the Diaspora (1998), The Turbulence of Migration (2000), Metaphor and Tension (2004) Spatial Aesthetics: Art Place and the Everyday (2006), Cosmopolitanism and Culture (2012).

9. Barbara Baynton, The Chosen Vessel , with Jonathan Mills, 25 October

The Chosen Vessel is a bleak tale concerning the plight of a young woman, trapped in the isolation of a remote part of Australia in the late 19th century. Exposed and vulnerable while caring for her young baby, the woman is in an unhappy marriage, in a harsh, unforgiving landscape. The plot is compact and simple – there are only three characters. Jonathan Mills was attracted to the idea of writing a chamber opera based on The Chosen Vessel for a number of reasons; it is a concentrated, highly dramatic story with an unusual blend of agora- and claustrophobia; the paradox of locking oneself in a tiny hut, in the middle of a vast, unending, unexplored landscape provides a powerful psychological motive for the Wife’s actions, and in the face of extreme danger.

Sir Jonathan Millsis a prominent, Australian-born, composer and festival director, who resides in the UK. He is the composer of several award-winning operas and works for chamber ensemble and orchestra. His opera Eternity Man was recognised by a Genesis Foundation commission in 2003 and his oratorio Sandakan Threnody won the Prix Italia in 2005. He has been director of various festivals in the Blue Mountains (near Sydney), Brisbane, Melbourne and Edinburgh, UK where he was the director of the Edinburgh International Festival between 2007 and 2014. He is currently Director of the Edinburgh International Culture Summit, a UNESCO recognised biennial meeting, Vice-Chancellor’s (Professorial) Fellow at the University of Melbourne and a Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh. In 2015 he was inaugural Artistic Curator of the Lincoln Center Global Exchange, New York.

10. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, with Deirdre Coleman, 29 November

2016 brings us the bicentenary of the birth of Charlotte Bronte. It will be a big year for Bronte celebrations around the world, with much of the attention focussed on her most popular novel, Jane Eyre. My Masterclass will cover the following topics: the Brontes' Irish background, fairy tales, the woman question, and the white West Indian creole.

Presented by Professor Deirdre Coleman, an expert on eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, whose books include Romantic Colonization and British Anti-Slavery (2005), Maiden Voyages and Infant Colonies: Two Women's Travel Narratives of the 1790s (1999) and Coleridge and 'The Friend' (1988).