Monthly Archives: November 2006

Housekeeping #3

I have been a bad housekeeper. It seems like a good time now, before our second collaborative reading, to take stock of the status of The Long Eighteenth.

(Click the graphic to enlarge.)

Our upcoming reading will include posts by myself, Dave Mazella, Jen Golightly, Bill Levine, Alex Seltzer, Carrie Hintz, “KW,” Shayda Hoover, and Blanford Parker, as well as anyone else who chooses to jump in. (Don’t be shy!) I met with Blanford this morning and he is looking forward to our conversation.

Please feel free to publicize this event to your colleagues.

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Blogging or Web CT in Graduate Seminars?

We had our final meeting in my Austen and her Predecessors grad seminar last night, and I was pretty pleased with our final discussions of Persuasion. (It’s interesting, by the way, how personally I take those discussions, if it’s a book I’m really invested in. Fortunately for me, I find that Austen is one of the few writers I teach whose works are never a hard sell; students almost always come in with a lot of enthusiasm for, and interest in, her writing.)

I’ll probably post something more definitive on the course in a little while, perhaps after I see how the papers and final projects go, but for now I want to discuss a topic that emerged from my “unfinished business” post of last week. Since I’ve never blogged while teaching a course, I’ve been experimenting this term with using this blog as an additional venue for reflection and discussion, and it occurred to me that I could also encourage (i.e., require) my students essentially to do the same kind of writing, either in a public blog or in some Web CT format, which I’m not very familiar with.

After posting last week, I discussed it with the class, and I was surprised to hear that a number of my colleagues had been doing such things in their grad seminars for some time, usually by requiring students to post and respond to their readings or to one another. I was also surprised that students were as receptive to the idea as they seemed. I had a bad experience with an undergrad class listserv ages ago, and I’m very concerned about requiring something that would seem like “makework” to our students. But it also sounds like something that could be very effective for encouraging better discussion.

So I’m putting it out there. Any suggestions, advice, or experiences you’d like to share about using a blog or Web CT fora for class discussions at the grad level?

Thanks,

DM

What would you like to see in new editions of novels?

Strictly hypothetically, if a publisher were to produce a new line of 18c novels, what would you like to see in terms of editorial policy?

There are of course a dozen ways to buy, say, Robinson Crusoe. The market is competitive. You have the Penguin edition, the Norton, the Oxford World’s Classics, the Bedford Cultural Edition, and the Broadview. There are still others for general readers–Signet, Barnes & Noble, Everyman, etc.

If there were to be one more available, what would you like for it to include or exclude that would set it apart from the other editions? Do you and your students actually use the substantial textual and critical support routinely included in the Nortons and the Broadview editions? Do you find the current scholarly editions limiting or overwhelming? Are your students happy with their prices, the format, etc.?

Specifically, how would you feel about the return of the hardback edition? If Penguin, for example, were to publish the same text, introduction, and notes in a hardback edition with more durable paper within $5 or so of their paperback price, would you order that book for your students instead and do you think they would be glad you did?

Dates Finalized for Parker

I’ve heard from Professor Parker and he’s verified that the week of December 3rd is good for the group reading, so I will put it in our sidebar and send another note to C18-L. Please feel free to publicize this event wherever it is you publicize things! The conversation that comes out of this book should be useful to scholars at all levels and in most areas of interest in our era of English literary studies.

I also would like to remind the assembled that we still have twoone chapters (“Transitional Augustan Poetry” and “Johnson and Fideism”) available for anyone who’d like to lead discussion on those days. If we don’t have a volunteer, I will go enlist one of my colleagues, or, especially in the case of the Johnson chapter, I may just do it myself. Also remember that, as with the McKeon discussion, anyone should feel free to jump in with a post at any point in the conversation. The purpose of the schedule is merely to ensure we cover the whole book, not to stifle any other ideas that come to mind.

(Isn’t it nice not to be doing this with the constraints of either print or a conference panel?)

Also, Bill Levine, if you’re reading this, please send me an email at carrieshanafelt at gmail.com so I can add you to our roster of contributors. Done.

Rounding out the semester with Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving, with an appropriately Dickensian feast at mid-day, and without any Pumblechookian elbows being thrown. (Orwell once made a crack about Dickens’ endings, which simply imagined the future as a endless succession of enormous meals).

This is the second to last week of the semester, the time when I really start feeling regrets over what I haven’t said or discussed or elaborated properly during the semester.

[Incidentally, A colleague of mine in Anthro just told me that he uses Web CT to deal with this issue in his undergrad classes, since he can post whatever portion of his lectures he failed to deliver during the allotted time. I must say this is intriguing, though I wonder whether my undergrad students would follow those kinds of readings up, when it’s hard enough to get them through the required readings. I suppose it would work best if one lectured from fairly finished notes, which I generally don’t do.]

In any case, I’ve been thinking this week of what I haven’t really taken up in the Austen grad seminar, largely because during the give and take of discussion, it just never seemed the right moment. Maybe I’ll do an “Unfinished Business” segment in our next and final meeting, asking everyone to think of an issue that they’d wished had been followed up during discussion.

Here’s my unfinished business, anyway:

1. The literary status of the novel, as signified by the famous defense in Northanger Abbey. I’ve never bought the notion that NA represented a purely destructive parody of the gothic, for the same reason that the Juvenilia for me never represented simply the annihilation of sentimental paradigms.

I always thought that there was some kind of criticism–displacement–recuperation process going on there, with new forms of distinction developed for fiction and fiction-readers, with the result being a certain “psychological” realism being equated with literariness, at the expense of bodily displays of sentiment, exotic location, “melodramatic” plot, and the broader view of society and the social order fostered by novelists between Richardson and Wollstonecraft. So I think that the refunctioning of the sentimental novel (and the sentimental heroine) that occurs in Austen must entail a new sense of what the novel as a genre can and cannot, should and should not, attempt to accomplish. For me, this is the big literary-historical significance of Austen: she helps redefine the function of the novel “after” the sentimental novel has run its course (a demise, of course, that she helped to hasten)

This brings me to my other unfinished business:

2. Austen’s relation to the prudential narratives and conduct-book morality that we can still sense in, say, Evelina’s struggles with propriety and delicacy, seems really strategic, if not inconsistent. I suppose this is where I agree with Marilyn Butler, though I’m not sure it represents an aesthetic fault in the way that Butler assumes.

Sense and Sensibility to me has the classic didactic structure of the comparison of the respective fates of parallel characters, and features a not-quite-punitive lesson for its imprudent “sensible” Marianne, and a not-quite-satisfying reward for its prudent, quietly stoic and “sensible” [in the other sense, right?] Elinor. One might say that the point of the novel is to question whether lives as arbitrarily determined as E and M’s can be described as “lessons to be learned.” But the prudence of E does not really seem to guarantee much happiness, and the imprudence of M, though certainly dangerous and self-indulgent at times, does not seem inferior to the calculation and self-seeking of the Steeles. So my guess is that the real issue in S&S lies in the viability of the didactic structure that she has nonetheless retained for this novel.

So there you go. Two unfinished thoughts that somehow never came up in discussion, with only three more hours of classtime before this semester comes to an end.

Best,

DM

Postscript: Though the Web CT option might work fine for an undergrad class, I’m still thinking about ways to make the relatively limited number of hours in a grad seminar work more effectively.

I’m seriously considering adding some type of blogging or online writing component (possibly Web CT, but maybe just a regular public blog) to the seminar to deal with this problem of my own sense of unfinished business, though I’m very conscious of the limited number of hours grad students have available to prep their classes, and whether going through my afterthoughts in this manner would be productive for anyone. I also wonder how formal my own presentations would have to become to work in this format. And, lastly, I should note one thing: when I wondered aloud about students bothering to make it through such notes, I was thinking about my undergrads, not my grads. (Thanks to SD for helping me clarify this point)

Best wishes,

DM

Finals bad! Hulk smash!

Briefly, I will note that I’ve updated the Parker reading schedule here. There is just one chapter up for grabs, though I encourage any of our contributors to feel free to post at any point during the reading alongside the scheduled posts.

As I think about things coming up in December, I realize I have to give a final exam to my British Literature Survey students. I am dreading both writing the exam and grading it, as both will make me come face-to-face with the problem of what different groups of students are actually learning from my class.

This is, as I’ve mentioned before, my first class whose focus is on absorbing a body of literature, as opposed to learning about writing or analytical methodologies. (My evaluator seemed to think I had turned my Brit Lit Survey into a methodology course, which I think was a compliment.) At the end of the semester, I not only need evidence that my students are able to analyze poems and do a lit-crit research paper on a novel, but I also require proof that they, like, read the stuff on the syllabus. I can’t pass someone who can’t name some Romantic poets.

In the past, when I’ve been told to give a final exam, if my students seemed to be keeping up just fine with the material during the daily writing, I’ve followed the example of one of my favorite undergraduate professors and cancelled the final, asking them all instead to read a shortish novel of my choice and to lead a discussion during the allotted final hours. I would grade them on their ability to focus on passages, come up with interesting interpretations, and respond to one another’s ideas. Usually, I bring a nice red velvet cake and some nut brittle. It’s a pleasant way to end a semester, and everyone goes home feeling good about themselves.

But this semester, there have been too many students, too many readings, and too many absences for me to keep up with who is doing the reading. Every day, when they come into class, I ask them difficult analytical questions as a little seven-minute writing prompt. When I get their responses, it is easy to tell who the best students are because they have clearly read the material to a depth that allows for this level of thought. The rest of the responses I get are usually so off-base that I simply cannot tell whether they’ve not done the reading, or whether they have, but need help knowing what it means. There is a level of difficulty that allows the best students to shine, but levels out the rest of the students to the point of unevaluability.

So in order to give some kind of credit for just having followed along at a basic level, I have to give a quizzy final. Of course I’d rather do an analytical thing where I ask for differences between Renaissance and Augustan aesthetics, but not all of my students are really able to follow along at that level. Some of my students will feel cheated because sitting around memorizing the syllabus isn’t going to help them, and the students who missed a lot of classes will certainly fail, since they’ve missed so much lecture and discussion content. On the other hand, if I give a quizzy “who/what/when” final, the better students in the class, who are keeping up marvelously with the sense of the passage of time and the changes in prose and poetry, may not remember what the titles of the poems we read are, and they will wonder what all that heavy-duty talk about aesthetics and ethics was about.

Is it possible to balance the two? Who here has written final exams for lit surveys before? What did you do? What worked? What didn’t?

Patriotism and Nationalism in the Long Eighteenth

My exchanges with Jen over the late-18th novel, romantic or otherwise, have reminded me of how problematic a term like “nationalism” really is when we discuss most writers in the long eighteenth. Nationalism, like Empire, seems like a word with a teleology built right into it, and which consequently makes it hard to read contingent events as anything BUT movements toward some nineteenth-century destination. But is this really true?

For one thing, patriotism is even harder for us to understand than some so-called “rise of the nation,” because of patriotism’s associations with radicalism and Wilkite agitation in the mid-century. But clearly one of the stakes in the 1790s was about which conception of the nation, and of the people, either radical or conservative, would win out over the other. To the participants in those debates, the outcome hardly felt preordained.

So what kinds of primary texts, genres, and authors, and what kinds of scholarly arguments do you draw upon when you try to think about the nation in the long eighteenth?

Best,

DM