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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | Two good parodies »

May 22, 2004



When my students meet Eliot's narrator on their own, they're generally frustrated with it, and deride it as didactic and boring.

But once we stop and close-read virtually any particular narratorial announcement or intervention (for example, what exactly is being hinted at when we learn that "Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress"?), they begin to see that the nuances of Eliot's style can't be so easily dismissed. (Of course, this then leads inevitably to a complaint that they can't take the time to close-read an entire novel--but many students will at least profess a desire to do so.)

I have a secret dream of offering a senior/grad seminar on Carlyle--for goodness sakes, my chair offers a course on Edward Taylor!--but it'll probably have to wait until the No Child Left Behind Act has re-instilled in every child a deep love of reading, and a mastery of rhetoric and irony.

Chun the Unavoidable

I frequently don't teach Carlyle. It's rather easy. He's clearly in the third category you mention. Once I played "Devil Went Down to Georgia" twice before we began our discussion of Heroes and Hero Worship. When the students asked me why I had done that, I told them I thought it was a mighty fine song.

Hopkins is tricky. I think I'm going to give up on him in the old Brit Lit II


I loved Hopkins (still do), but I studied philosophy and theology for my undergrad, so I got out of *those* English classes.

I find it hard to believe (well, maybe not, having taught college freshmen myself) that an undergrad would be incapable of appreciating glorious, glorious Hopkins.


Interventionist narrators can work, but it helps if they have a distinct personality of their own. The Good Soldier is a good case in point: the novel is as much (or even more) about the character of the narrator -- and, god help us, about the ways storytelling and fiction function -- as it is about any element of the "plot." But it usually teaches well at anything above the introductory level. You could reasonably argue, though, that there's a major distinction between a novel told from a first-person POV and one with an omniscient and intrusive narrator who sits entirely outside the story, and that the latter is what drives students bonkers. Since I teach mostly 20th century, I don't have to worry about this so much...

(and yes, I've found that length's a killer. Interestingly, teaching a 500-page novel over 2 weeks is usually less successful than teaching two 300-page ones in a week apiece. It isn't the total number of pages read so much as the sheer mass facing them all at one time, even with clear and manageable page assignments for each day of class. This drives me crazy).

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