In both of my classes, we are now on the final book of the term. The bad news is, this means that in both of my classes, we aren’t working on Middlemarch any more. It was fun while it lasted, that daily double dose! I tried to do different things in them, especially once I’d done the basic introductory work. I also tried to work up some new material, particularly in the interests of covering some topics or plot lines that I haven’t always had time for. And for the 19th-century fiction class, I took pains to crack open some of the more neatly crafted lectures I had prepared over previous years, both to get the students more involved and to give myself more room to wander around people and ideas. For our final session I talked about forgiveness and secular grace in the novel, bringing in some of the ideas about how Eliot humanizes the religious impulse that I talked about in this long-ago post on ‘George Eliot and Prayer.’
Now we’ve moved on to Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day in Close Reading and Jude the Obscure in 19th-century Fiction. I love The Remains of the Day, both to read and to teach. It invariably moves me to tears, but Ishiguro approaches Stevens’s tragic fallibility with impeccable delicacy as well as moral rigor. I wrote a bit at The Valve once about why I admire it so much.
On the other hand, I don’t much like Jude the Obscure. Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s also very moving, and it’s extremely provocative. It’s also depressing and not particularly well written–at the level of sentences, anyway, though on a larger scale it is pretty carefully built. I really should take up a different Hardy novel (can’t avoid him altogether as the course is called “Dickens to Hardy”), except every year when book orders come due (this year, April 1!) I feel too rushed with ongoing immediate business to scope out the alternatives. Tess of the d’Urbervilles seems an obvious choice. Maybe I’ll just order that for next year’s version–except (another disincentive to mixing things up) I’m very aware of how helpful it is to work with familiar texts, especially at the end of term when everything else is very busy, and especially in a term when I will be teaching three courses including one with all-new prep, which will be the case in the fall. A final point in favor of Jude is that it is generally very popular with the students. Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion of ‘What’s On Order?’ In the meantime, I must get my thoughts together for Jude this afternoon. “Nobody did come, because nobody does” is pretty much my whole idea so far. Happily, the gloom will be offset by the stunningly beautiful weather. It’s supposed to go up into the mid twenties today!
Update: I just remembered that we’ve switched the terms for my classes so I need to have the Mystery books for next year decided pretty soon but I have longer to consider my options for the 19th-C Fiction class. So–any suggestions for how best to get out of my Jude the Obscure rut? I haven’t read The Mayor of Casterbridge in ages–is that a popular one with students? Does Tess teach well? I could do some Hardy re-reading in the summer.