St. John's College, the "great books" school in Annapolis and Sante Fe, N.M., has dropped five works from its current list of 107 famous volumes, including "The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx."
Also toppled from the 285-year-old institution's literary pedestal are two works by Sigmund Freud and two by Friedrich Nietzsche, although other works by the three authors still are required reading for the 675 students on the college's two campuses.
The books, removed "probably because we had too many heavy German metaphysicians on the list," according to college spokeswoman Rebecca Wilson, have been replaced by five 20th century works of fiction. The new titles on the list are William Faulkner's "The Bear," Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," James Joyce's short story "The Dead," Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" and Ford Maddox Ford's "The Good Soldier."
While the recent change was one of the largest single shifts in the college's great books curriculum since it was adopted in 1937, a total of 90 works have been removed during the intervening 44 years, or an average of just over two a year. The original list of 92 authors has been reduced to 64, so their works may be studied in greater depth, says Wilson.
Among the authors whose writings recently have fallen from grace and the St. John's list are Charles Dickens, Henrik Ibsen, Henry Fielding, William Makepeace Thackery and Emile Zola, as well as the ancient authors Livy, Cicero, Horace and Ovid. Herman Melville's "Moby Dick," long a St. John's favorite, was "a victim of its own popularity" and cut from the list several years ago, says Wilson, because too many students were writing papers on it. Another Melville work, "Billy Budd," replaced it.
The list has hovered at about 100 titles since the Great Books curriculum was created 44 years ago by two former Rhodes scholars and University of Virginia professors, Stringfellow Barr and Scott Buchanan, who wanted to give modern students a classical liberal arts education.
The study of these books makes up the major portion of the curriculum, supplemented by a laboratory science course and tutorials in math, music and foreign languages, in which at least another 50 other major writings are studied -- including the works of Aristotle and Darwin in biology and Descartes in math.
The two Freud works stricken from the list by the college's instruction committee are "Civilization and Its Discontents" and "Beyond the Pleasure Principle." Freud's "General Introduction to Psychoanalysis" remains. Also removed were Nietzsche's "Birth of Tragedy" and "Thus Spake Zarathustra," although the latter will be given a passing glance. "Beyond Good and Evil," by Nietzsche, is still on the list, said Wilson.
Barr, the college president, and Buchanan, the dean, left St. John's in 1946 after the U.S. Naval Academy threatened to take over the school's historic campus, according to Wilson. They tried unsuccessfully to found a similar college and subsequently took other teaching posts. Barr is now in an Alexandria nursing home and Buchanan died several years ago, Wilson said.
Similar nonelective curriculums have been tried as programs or courses at institutions like Columbia University and the University of Virginia and once were common at schools and universities in England and Europe, said Wilson. "But in modern times this is unique," she added.
St. John's receives relatively few applicants from the thousands who inquire about its unusual program, Wilson said.
"More than 5,800 high school seniors wrote for more information about the school this past year. We were getting 200 letters a day," Wilson said. But only 220 actually applied for this year's freshman class; 105 were accepted.
Many may be deterred by the cost ($8,400 this year), the requirement to learn Greek and French or by the compulsory three- and four-year science and math courses, said Wilson. But those who do come to the school are talented, with "42 percent of this freshman class having some sort of National Merit Society rating," she added.
It is not all work and no play, at least on St. John's downtown Annapolis campus, which was founded in 1696 as King William's School and in 1785 was absorbed into a newly chartered St. John's College. The school has a highly acclaimed intramural program for men and women students, one of the few elective courses. It was founded when the college dropped out of intercollegiate athletics and ended fraternities in a 1937 reorganization.
And for years St. John's has held a zany "real Olympics," a one-day celebration of spring in which costume-clad students play games around Annapolis based on the Greek and Roman works they've studied. The myth of Sisyphus has students pushing balls uphill without hands, and on nearby Dorsey Creek, said Wilson, there is a small-boat reenactment of the battle of Salamis as described in Herodotus -- one of the dozen Greeks, along with Plato and Aristotle, who is still required reading.
St. John's also has a summer graduate program in which master's degree students take a two-month Great Books course.
The Sante Fe campus was created in 1964 because the small Annapolis campus could not be expanded and St. John's prefers a small student body. Students and faculty regularly rotate academic years between the two institutions.