This Week in My Classes (March 3, 2008)

We’re back from our ‘break’ and, if this year is like years past, the time from now until the end of term will seem to go by in a crazy rush. Here’s what’s in the works for this week:

In Mystery and Detective Fiction, we’re finishing up The Maltese Falcon. Today we talked about Flitcraft, as mentioned here. Next time we’ll watch a clip from the film version, probably the concluding scene between Sam and Brigid as preparation for a class debate about the morality or other implications of Sam’s choice to turn her in. I must say I find this novel one of the most depressing I teach–not because its elements are, strictly speaking, sad in themselves. The Remains of the Day, for instance, is much sadder. But Ishiguro’s novel, while also showing the costs of life without love, shows us (indirectly, implicitly) the alternative, suggesting it is attainable, worth aiming for even if in the end you miss. Hammett emphasizes the costs as well (note Effie’s revulsion in the final chapter, and Sam’s shiver), but only Effie seems to strive for something better, warmer, more human, and we can tell that she persists in her kinder, gentler world view only by being (willfully?) oblivious to the realities of the world she lives in. Can love and hope be sustained only through ignorance? Sigh.

And in The Victorian ‘Woman Question’ we’re reaching the end of He Knew He Was Right. What a great read. Once you’re about 500 pages into it, surely you’re hooked. Before the break I took some time in class to inquire how the students were feeling about the novel. Admittedly, those who are hating it are not likely to ‘fess up to their professor–or perhaps they would, given an opening, since they seem a pretty candid bunch, and have expressed some blunt opinions before. Anyway, I was interested in how appreciative several of them seemed. One said that she turned to Trollope with relief after doing the reading for other classes, partly because of the directness of his narration and project, and partly because she felt she could care for so many of the characters. Several have praised the novel’s humour and are clearly taking pleasure in the twists and turns of the subplots; a few particularly emphasized the appeal of the ‘secondary’ characters, who strike them as lively and distinct. I’m feeling pleased about my gamble in assigning it (my brooding over which is recorded here and here especially). Mind you, there will be some culture shock when we move to Middlemarch next week: I think they will find it much slower going, though perhaps now they won’t be intimidated by its length!

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