December 5, 2007

Next Term in My Classes: An Anticipation

I haven't finished with this term's classes yet (my 19thC Novel students wrote their exam this afternoon, and I have papers coming in tomorrow and Friday)--but I've raised my head just high enough above water to notice that next term's classes aren't quite ready to be launched yet. If I don't want to be competing for the photocopier with everyone else on January 7, I'd better get the details sorted soon. Because book orders were due months ago, though, I do at least know what we'll be reading, and, since I'm a stickler for chronological order, what order we'll read them in. Here's what's in store:

English 2040, Mystery and Detective Fiction:
English 4604, The Victorian 'Woman Question':
I've enjoyed Mystery and Detective Fiction a lot when I've done it before. Part of the fun is getting outside my usual territory a bit, not just in the reading list but in some of the questions we kick around, such as why Agatha Christie, apparently the best-selling English language author of all time, is not a staple in literature classes, or how to acknowledge the impositions of genre conventions or requirements without dismissing the results (for instance, characterization is a victim of the puzzle mystery form, since you need a lot of plausible suspects). I'm looking forward to it.

But this year I'm particularly excited and apprehensive about the 'Woman Question' class. I've taught it several times before with a mixed genre reading list that I have always thought was very successful: lots of formal and thematic variety, lots of stimulating juxtapositions. I always particularly enjoy the 'fallen woman' cluster: "Jenny," "A Castaway," "Lizzie Leigh," "Gone Under," Aurora Leigh, The Mill on the Floss.... But I thought it would be good for me to shake things up a bit, so I reconceptualized it as a fiction-only course with a special focus on novels that take us past the 'matrimonial barrier' (or, in the case of Gissing, see that barrier as insurmountable). You see where this got me, though: with more pages than I have ever assigned in any one course before. Book ordering somehow makes me all giddy with the sense of possibilities--and now I'm facing the consequences. I'm not regretting my choices; I'm just well aware that careful planning and handling is called for. While I was invigilating my exam today, I doodled around with ideas for assignments that would keep some kind of steady buzz going about the readings without overwhelming the students with busywork when they need to keep reading (and reading and reading). I'm a firm believer in the pedagogical value of frequent short written pieces, so that they can practice focusing and expressing their insights and get regular feedback as they move towards their big essays. I also like to make sure everyone has to write at least something on everything we read! But I want a lighter touch than usual this time, I think, so that they stay energetic but also engaged. Given what I've been doing myself lately, naturally I've been wondering about some kind of class blog arrangement. BLS (once WebCT) has a blog option built in which would overcome some of the privacy issues that arise if you required students to post their ideas in an open-access forum. Ideas welcome, blog-ish or otherwise! I have a couple of weeks to make my final decisions.

And then before too much longer (since they are doing the timetable so early this year, with an eye to recruiting, I think) we'll be facing requests for course descriptions for 2008-9 [update: they're wanted by January 25, as it turns out--yikes]. I doodled around with ideas for those too today, resolving (among other things) that I really am going to take a break from Jude in the Dickens to Hardy course. I'm thinking Tess: maybe a change is as good as a rest? Hey--I could do a whole 'bad girls' theme, with Maggie, and Lady Audley, maybe Bleak House, and Ruth... (you see how it goes!).


Anonymous said...

It's probably too late for this, but perhaps an emergency bookstore requisition? Two strong recommendations: Dorothy Sayers's Murder Must Advertise and, even more strongly, E. C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case. The latter is kind of the Tristram Shandy of detective fiction: already self-conscious of the genre in fascinating ways, barely minutes after said genre had been established.

And no Sherlock Holmes or Edgar Allan Poe?!!! Maybe they're represented in the anthology....

Rohan Maitzen said...

Don't worry: the anthology has all kinds of stuff, early and modern, including Sherlock Holmes--though, oddly, not Poe, who we will be doing via electronic texts. I'm a big Sayers fan and will be doing Gaudy Night in my upper-level seminar on Women & Detective Fiction, but I have a lot of options in choosing works for this course and find I want room for more contemporary writers. Thanks for the suggestion on the Bentley: I don't know it, but I'll definitely look it up for next time.