This Week in My Classes

I think one of the commenters on Footnoted is right that the most hostile reactions come from people who have an inaccurate idea of what goes on in ‘lit departments.’ I also think that essays like Wasserman‘s don’t consider academics when they think about the state of literary culture because (a) for a mix of good and bad reasons, most academic writing and scholarship is not directly or visibly connected to or known in that culture and (b) our classroom work is typically forgotten, disregarded, or misunderstood outside the academy. I don’t suppose that my own classroom is either wholly typical or exemplary, but I think it might contribute somewhat to the demystification of our profession, now that the teaching term is underway, to make it a regular feature of my blog to outline what lies in store for me and my students each week. As I have just two classes this term, thanks to the teaching relief I get for coordinating the graduate program, the list won’t be long (unlike most of the readings we’re doing!). And so, without further ado…

  1. English 3032, The Nineteenth-Century British Novel from Dickens to Hardy. Having begun Monday with an overview of literary and historical contexts for the novel in our period, we are launching today into our study of Trollope‘s odd little charmer The Warden. A small man in a big institution has a small problem that is a big one for his conscience; while sorting through this dilemma in his plot and for his characters, Trollope is also working out his own style of realism, in contrast to “Mr Popular Sentiment” (Dickens). Today I’ll be offering some generalizations about Trollope, then zeroing in on his interest in individuals working in complex institutions (the Church of England, in our particular case), then looking at the characterization of the main players in The Warden, especially Mr Harding (love that imaginary cello!) and the chief combatants, John Bold (he’s bold–get it?!) and Archdeacon Grantly (“Good heavens!”).
  2. English 5465, Victorian Women Writers–the Novelists. Here too we have begun with an overview of literary and historical contexts, this time with an emphasis on women’s situation in the 19th century and how this affected (or, as Gilbert and Gubar notoriously argued, “infected”) their literary options, attitudes, and styles. To kickstart the term’s discussion, we read some 19thC essays on ‘lady novelists,’ one of them (of course) being George Eliot’s (in)famous “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.” “Be not a baker if your head be made of butter” is a good line for anyone who ventures into print–perhaps especially for bloggers…

And now, off to class.

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