In the stories we tell about teaching and research, we generally cast teaching as the beneficiary of burning the midnight oil over, say, obscure Reformation polemics or the works of the Bollandists. Scholarship keeps us attuned to "what's going on," keeps us energized, keeps us from eternally lecturing from the proverbial yellowed sheet of paper. (Whether, in this age of iPads, anyone lectures from yellowed sheets of paper is, of course, open to question.) And scholarship does do these things, even if the scholar in question never teaches the subject of his or her own research. (Bad religious poetry from The Protestant Magazine? Probably not going to be attractive to undergrads.) My work on anti-Catholicism, for example, is proving awfully handy in the Gothic course; I gave a down-and-dirty brief lecture on anti-Catholic tropes just this week, as it happens.
But we rarely talk about how teaching provokes or affects our research. This evening, while prepping tomorrow's class on Horace Walpole's The Mysterious Mother, I suddenly found myself working out how to talk about the White Lady of Avenel as a non-problem in Walter Scott's The Monastery and The Abbot duology. (Why she's usually treated as a problem: supernatural figure wandering about loose in the otherwise realist first novel, who then gets the delete-key treatment in the second. See also the history of critical unhappiness with The Bride of Lammermoor.) Or, more directly, an article I have coming out in just a few weeks emerged from a "wait, haven't I seen this before?" moment while rereading Vanity Fair for a seminar. Both instances, you'll note, were very spur-of-the-moment, very unexpected--something that's also important for scholarship. How can we ever know what will help us to learn some new thing or break through some old mental block?