Tolstoy is on my mind; he doesn’t let up. I recently spent three hours — during those endless 30 mile-per-hour gusts all last week, courtesy of Tropical Storm Jose — rereading his story, Master and Man.

The relentless snowstorm in the story was oddly matched by what was going on outside my window. Thereafter I lurched onto The Kreutzer Sonata. I had last read it a half century ago and it reminded me (but who needs reminding?) of the brutality that accompanies the animal sex drive, no matter how humane and civilized we are.

From there I traveled onward to The Death of Ivan Ilyich. The death sentence that story inexorably inflicts on poor Ivan reached me at age 77 as it was unable to 50 years earlier. Back then it was an abstract proposition; now it is a palpable premonition. He could be any of us.

I am forever grateful for Tolstoy’s literary gift. No one ever sought out the truth more than he. Yet I come away from his later work thankful not to lodge inescapably in his mind (his plight, not ours), and not to obsess over life’s bedrock conditions as he seemed destined to do, before passing them on to us.

Melville, by contrast, is cunning and crafty, a genius at penning narratives that get us to sense (but not quite decipher) disturbing scenarios just beyond our understanding. He is the master of opaque encounters, in which what had seemed clear transforms into mystery. Full of feints and indirections, his stories gradually pull out the rug from under us. They do not come at us (as Tolstoy’s do) with pile-driver force.

The next two writers (Chekhov and James) that I will discuss this fall at a series on great short stories have little in common, yet they are more alike than either Melville or Tolstoy. With Checkov, I will be straying from my own areas of expertise. I have never taught him before, but when I decided to steer us through six of the world’s great short story writers, there was no avoiding Chekhov.

The easiest of the six to read, he is the hardest to pin down. You will recognize exactly what he wants you to see; you just won’t quite know why he wants you to see it.

As for Henry James, I cut my teeth on him 50 years ago. I chose him for my doctoral thesis, and that thesis, revised, became my first book. It was the ticket that got me from Harvard to Swarthmore. I have James to thank for that.

The Turn of the Screw is perhaps his most fraught, harrowing shorter work. As for The Beast in the Jungle, all I’ll say here is that it has haunted me my whole life. The book of personal reflections I’m engaged now in writing owes more than I can say to that story by James.

This brings us to Joyce and Kafka, our two 20th-century modernists. Dubliners is exquisite, if you’ll allow that word for a set of stories where pathos has replaced ethos, where nothing helpful can happen. Because this is so, readers sometimes come away from these stories thinking that nothing is going on. It will be my pleasure to guide us into the beauty of Joyce’s stories, a miniaturist achievement whose intricacy you grasp only when you relinquish your desire for large-scale happenings.

No less, for some readers, Dubliners may serve as successful point of entry to a writer they had assumed (thanks to the daunting reputation of Ulysses) to be unapproachable.

We will finish our sessions with Kafka, a writer whose limpid prose anyone can read, though not without fear and trembling. “I have experience,” he wrote, “and I am not joking when I say that it is a seasickness on dry land.”

His are perhaps the most quietly disorienting stories I have ever read. There is a rightness (should I say a sadistic rightness?) in moving from the seasickness on water that Melville’s Benito Cereno occasions, to the seasickness on land that Kafka’s stories gives rise to.

You may say, but I’m not signing up for a three-month trip through six writers in order to experience seasickness. So let us call it by another name; not seasickness but awakening, an awakening into kinds of readerly experience that you cannot properly anticipate. An awakening into the new.

Yet, as you continue to engage these stories, this new may begin to reveal itself as something you have all along recognized as, however unwelcome, in some measure, deep-down true. Melville’s Ahab urged Starbuck to train his mind beneath the familiar surface (the eye alone is insufficient for such penetration) to “the lower layer.”

I urge you all to come aboard this fall. But be forewarned, we will be heading toward the depths.

Philip Weinstein is the Alexander Griswold Cummins professor emeritus of literature at Swarthmore College. He lives in Aquinnah and teaches courses at the Vineyard Haven Public Library. His series on the short story begins on Wednesday, Oct. 4 with Herman Melville.