C-18 L has an interesting discussion thread going on about unteachable texts and authors (archived here; scroll down to "Teaching..."). Coincidentally, the subject came up again last night at a retirement party. I usually joke that the world contains three kinds of books--namely, the good, the fun, and the interesting. You can teach good and fun, but interesting should be saved for one's own research.
In my admittedly limited experience--six years of teaching--what usually has apocalyptic results?
- Anything with lots of topical references. Alexander Pope's The Dunciad is absolutely hilarious, but the footnotes drive students up the wall. As I've mentioned before, Byron's Don Juan causes angst for similar reasons (and, as a Romanticist pointed out last night, it just goes on for soooo long...). Has anyone ever tried teaching Thomas Love Peacock?
- Help! Rhetoric! Style! Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France induces great pain and suffering. Don't even get me started about what happens when students first encounter anything by Thomas Carlyle (and you can't avoid Carlyle when teaching the Victorians). Of the poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins always goes over badly with all but the most advanced and/or sophisticated undergraduates.
- It's long! My students always love short Robert Browning, but they consistently loathe long Robert Browning.
- Can that narrator! A lot of students object strenuously to didactic or otherwise interventionist narrators, which often lands George Eliot in hot water.