I'm dealing with an entertaining, albeit complicated, literary-historical problem: the "first" novel that is not first.
In Book One, I pointed out that Agnes Strickland, who was frequently credited by the Victorians with inventing the "lives of queens of England" genre, had in fact done no such thing. The Strickland case is, by and large, one of publicity (she finished her project, it was well-advertised, it became a bestseller, etc.). This time around, the issue is a bit more difficult to deal with. Again, the Victorians were convinced that Novel X was the first of its type--in fact, a radical departure from novels that had gone before it. Except that my most recent research (of the close rather than distant reading variety) makes it clear that, no, Novel X isn't the first of its kind; it's not even the second, third, or fourth. However, Novel X makes nineteenth-century readers forget the existence of its predecessors. Now what's going on?
The most obvious answer has to do with accidental timing: it comes out the same year that a particular religio-political issue goes from Moderately Toasty on the heated discourse rating scale to something approaching Five Alarm Blaze. (There's no indication that the timing was planned.) But Novel X had at least two other advantages. First, there are more venues in which it could be reviewed. Second, it comes out in the decade that production costs begin to drop, thanks to the spread of machine-made paper. Cheaper production costs mean a wider spread in the kinds of books available to the reading public, and this book was at the lower end of the scale (4s. 6d. in its first edition); it soon caught on as a gift book and proselytizing tool, in addition to direct sales. So: great timing; more publicity; much cheaper.
2) These techniques vary in usefulness, depending on the discipline, class size, role in the major/GE program, level of instruction, content, classroom layout, time of day, available technology, instructor's skill set, the university/college environment, and student demographics.
3) Depending on changes to any or all of these variables, these techniques may or may not work from one course to the next. They may or may not even work across two sections of the identical course taught during the same semester/quarter.
4) Not all techniques are suited to all instructors.
5) The instructor's perception of a technique's efficacy may or may not match the students', and vice-versa.
6) The instructor's perception of a technique's "enlightening," "liberatory," or other X quality may or may not match the students', and vice-versa.
7) Students may or may not agree with what pedagogical theorists think is helpful for them.
Short version: All instructors have to assemble their own pedagogical toolkit from the many resources out there and restock it (and recreate it) as necessary. There is no one single way of being effective. There is no magic spell (previous post on this blog to the contrary) that will make all pedagogical techniques effective all the time. It is very difficult to generalize from one instructor's experience to the next. One gets on with it.
Clare Clark, We That Are Left (Houghton Mifflin, 2015). Historical novel about the increasing fragmentation of an aristocratic English family in the WWI era. (Amazon)
Joanna Scott, De Potter's Grand Tour (FSG, 2014). At the beginning of the twentieth century, a Belgian man vanishes near Greece. Secrets emerge. (Amazon)
Gabriel Glickman, The English Catholic Community, 1688-1745 (Boydell, 2013). Monograph arguing that the English recusants were actively engaged on the national and international stage, not just keeping a low profile. (Amazon [secondhand])
1) Reading: A couple of monographs, some articles, finishing up a double-decker.
2) Writing: 700+ words of chapter two.
3) Miscellaneous: A whole lot of miscellaneous, which is why nothing much has been happening here. I had to finish up the revised version of an article for a workshop next week, read some proofs, start working on next semester's courses (eek), and begin contemplating a letter of rec. I also agreed to write another article that will be due towards the end of 2016. That's another reason why Book 3 1/2 will have to pause temporarily, or at least slow down a bit, once the sabbatical is over: I have three articles of varying lengths to write, plus at least one conference paper.
The most striking thing about Pan, the "origin story" for the Peter Pan we all know and love (?), is its desperate quest to be as unoriginal as possible. It's not just that, as Alison Willmore points out, the film's "chosen one" plot has become the default mode in contemporary science fiction and fantasy, but that Pan spends much of its time quoting other genre films in a heavy-lidded wink to the adult audience. Bilge Ibiri, among others, notes that Hook is clearly drawn from Indiana Jones, but the character's disappearance/reappearance to save the day at the end isn't Jones--it's Han Solo from Star Wars, complete with a "flyboy" reference, no less. The orphanage is Oliver! with the addition of monstrous nuns (surely Peter's mom could have thought this through a little better). The extreme long shots of characters wandering through the Neverland landscape have been lifted from Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. All the fight sequences look depressingly like the Wachowskis crossed with wuxia. And Peter's triumphant flight scenes have all been lifted from, well, Superman. (Yes, there are Peter Pan references too, from Hook breaking and entering with a hook to his complaint that Peter doesn't need to "crow" about flying.) It's big-budget cinema as Frankenstein's monster, really--dead material from other movies, stitched together and animated with CGI.
Pan also attempts to have some politics. Blackbeard's obsession with eternal life clearly derives from the old story about Ponce de Leon's quest for the Fountain of Youth, and his destructive mining project, his enslavement of orphans, and his genocidal plots against the natives are similarly supposed to evoke European imperial conquest. Twentieth-century England doesn't appear to be much of an improvement, not least because the convent is actually in the business of selling children to Blackbeard--the Church, far from providing some sort of safe haven, here goes hand-in-hand with the vicious conqueror. In a bit of heavy-handed symbolism, the statue of the Virgin Mary operates a trap door; the real Mary is Peter's mother Mary, who, far from being a pure virgin, was a warrior and Blackbeard's lover before being impregnated by a fairy prince. (Peter may be a Messiah figure, as Hook quite explicitly points out, but he's Peter Pan, not Christ.) So: anti-imperialism and pro-environmentalism, yay? Well, no, not really. For starters, while the film is indeed multiracial--the orphans, pirates, and natives are all indeed, as even Blackbeard says, of all nations, races, etc.--the leads who Get Things Done, for better or for worse, are all, shock and surprise, white folks, while the only non-white folks who get any lines are outright villains (Bishop), weasels (the Smeagol-ish Smiegel), doomed (the Chief), or resentful of the chosen guy (Kwahu). On the one hand, the film makes a point of being supposedly colorblind; on the other, it, just, um, makes all the leads white. Including the faux Native American-with-a-jumble-of-other-ethnicities-thrown-in princess, "the only Caucasian among a multi-cultural band of insurrectionists." Meanwhile, because this is a children's film, we have the strange experience of watching Blackbeard systematically murdering Tiger Lily's tribe, leaving behind, not corpses (that would be distressing), but poofs of colored powder. Having dispatched the natives, Blackbeard can wait for their remains to simply blow away (which is an allegory in its own right, but not one, I think, that the film intends). Pointedly, we are not allowed time for any of the deaths to resonate; the only character worth mourning, it seems, is Mary, by both Peter and, ironically enough, Blackbeard (who murdered her in the first place). This has not, to put it mildly, been thought through: the film wants to have a veneer of "adult" politics (imperial exploitation is bad!) while not shocking the kiddies (no dead people on our screen, please, despite the film's rather high body count). The result is a cynical product that fails to learn its own cliched lessons about believing in yourself.
1) Writing: 1207 + words on chapter two, which is the pre-existing draft that I've now turned into separate chapters. I'd like to add about ten pages or so total to what's currently here. May or may not do chapter three this semester--I really would like to rough out chapter one first.
2) Reading: some tracts; working on a double-decker; Michael Prince's book on enlightenment dialogues. I'm also dealing with some frustrations in re: books that look relevant, but deal so exclusively with canonical figures that they're entirely unhelpful. (It's not that the books are unhelpful when dealing with high Romantic poets, but they don't help me analyze minor religious novelists, whose priorities have very little in common with Wordsworth's, let alone Shelley's.)
3) Miscellaneous: first read-through of an article I'm refereeing.
Two-month-old kittens chowing down in July (L to R: Ozias Midwinter, Allan Armadale, Lydia Gwilt)...
...and five-month-old kittens chowing down in October (L to R: Allan, Lydia, Ozias).
Kittens grow with amazing speed. In three months, they've all tripled (or nearly tripled) their weight and size--Allan, the biggest, weighs more than seven pounds. Note the adult coats, instead of baby fuzziness. They've also begun teething.