This Week in My Classes (April 7, 2008)

We’re almost done–not forgetting, of course, that after classes wrap up, we all move into our “papers and exams” frenzy–and then it’s May Administrative Madness.

In Mystery and Detective Fiction we go out on a depressing note, finishing up Knots and Crosses and then fitting in one more short story, Rankin’s “The Dean Curse.” When we get to exam review on Wednesday, I hope to have some general discussion of the issues I “led” with back when the course started and we read Thurber’s “The Macbeth Murder Mystery”: what, if any, are the essential differences between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction? And, equally important, if Thurber gets comic results by showing someone reading literature by the rules of genre fiction, what results did we get, reading genre fiction using the techniques of literary analysis? Of course, some of our readings had higher aspirations in the literary direction than others, but a course like this provides plenty of opportunities to wonder how and why those lines get drawn. I think I want to shake up the reading list for this course when I offer it again next year. One thing I’d especially like to do is add a Canadian novel, though at the moment I’m not sure which one to choose (suggestions welcome!). My criteria would be that it should be a novel that adds something distinctive to our consideration of the various genres of mystery fiction. I like reading Peter Robinson, for instance, but I’m not sure that I need him if I’m already doing P.D. James (and there, I think I might trade Unsuitable Job for a Woman, much as I like it, for A Taste for Death). Maybe Giles Blunt? I haven’t read his books yet but I’ve got a couple out from the library and they look promising.

In The Victorian ‘Woman Question’ we finish up with The Odd Women, a novel that sometimes seems designed to act as a concluding primer on the ‘woman question,’ as it features marriages (or courtships) that appeal to, subvert, explode, or reject all the Victorian models we’ve been considering in our other novels. I expect we’ll have some good discussion about Rhoda and Everard and their bizarre “romance.” Why does it end as it does? What’s against them that it is so difficult for them to know, or state, or claim, what they want? (What do they want?) And I’m sure Monica and Widdowson’s marriage will provoke comparisons to the Trevelyans’ in He Knew He Was Right. Speaking of He Knew He Was Right, will I use it again, the next time I offer this seminar? I may have to wait for the course evaluations for honest declarations of how the students felt about it; I really enjoyed our work on it, not just because of its contributions to the big thematic arcs of the course, but because of the conversations it inspired about why and how we value and criticize different kinds of novels.

Next week, when I don’t have classes to post about, I’ll post some thoughts about doing this series of posts on my teaching (yes, more metablogging).

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