“Springing forward” seems an optimistic way to put the feeling I always get at this time of term that we are hurtling downhill towards its end: papers and tests and proposals come in even as you’re still planning lectures and making up slides and handouts and trying not to show up without your books … Add in the time shift and a series of storms to remind us that it’s definitely still winter and it has been a busy and tiring week.
But good things happen in the second part of term too. For one thing, students have got their bearings in the course materials and expectations, so I can spend less time on logistics and reminders and saying “it’s in the syllabus.” And for another, the reading and discussion continues and sometimes even gets better because we’ve all warmed up. In Pulp Fiction last week, I thought there was a noticeable improvement in the students’ Reading Journals, as if they “get” The Maltese Falcon better than they did Valdez Is Coming–which, I’ve belatedly realized, is a more subtle novel than I thought, hard to get an interpretive grip on if you aren’t used to reading that way. Though the actual plot of The Maltese Falcon is plenty bewildering as it unfolds, the prose and the issues and the characters give us more to grab on to. The class is writing their papers on it now: we’ve got an editing workshop for their drafts on Friday, then they turn in revised versions next week and we start our unit on romance, which I’m quite looking forward to. I hope they are too!
In Victorian Sensations we’ve started Rhoda Broughton’s Cometh Up as a Flower. When I first read it I wasn’t convinced of its merits, but it turns out the magic trick is to read it right after you finish reading East Lynne! What a relief to turn from Wood’s dreary moralizing and Isabel’s unrelenting gloom and repentance and the whole tawdry, disorganized assortment of subplots to a sassy young heroine who hates her sister, canoodles with a handsome soldier in the garden and finds it blissful, not shameful, and just adores her dear old dad! Not much actually happens in Broughton’s novel, but in the context of our discussions of other sensation novels, that in itself has provoked some discussion, as has figuring out what made Broughton’s very different work equally scandalous–mostly, Nell herself. In general, the consensus in the class seems to be that Nell is refreshing, if not altogether likable; there will be lamentations, I’m sure, about the turn her story is about to take as well as the shift in her tone from defiant to repentant by the end. I’m so impressed with this group of students: often on the way to class I’m wondering a bit anxiously if we’ll find enough to talk about, and I always end up surprised that we’ve run out of time and I have to shut down discussion. One factor is that there are always two students charged with bringing in talking points to get us started, and of course I bring notes and materials myself–but basically, they’ve got this, which is great.