March 31st, 2012

Harriet Vane


Dear friends and readers,

Amazon is no longer presenting itself as primarily a bookstore. After having destroyed so many bookstores, ruthlessly marginalized so much of its competition, bullied individual authors, sidelined groups the store management will not keep their mainstream bland reputation, they have changed their front face to be a department store with the most frivolous of merchandise showing on the front page. Ugh. Yuk.

Harriet Vane

Dream list of what I'd teach; or A Counterfactual Blog (What if?)

Dear friends and readers,

On Trollope19thCStudies, a friend and I got into a conversation about William Godwin and he preferred St Leon to Things as They Are; or, the Adventures of Caleb Williams. On C18-l a listserv of 18th century people, members have been talking of how they assign John Cleland's The Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, popularly known as Fanny Hill. I'd love to participate but have learned that when your views are not popular or usual (for me I'd never assign it to a class as I've met young women who are understandably distressed by it and also have had some destructive encounters with students over novels and films that are sexually graphically frank).

The innocent virgin from the village come to town: the employment office (from Davies Fanny Hill Alison Steadman as the brothel-madam hiring Rebecca Knight as Fanny)

But the two remarks prompted me to write this this morning:

Caleb Wiliams is the three hard-worked polished narrative; it led to Frankenstein, Les Miserables: the pursuit of the hunted one is the paradigm first seen in Caleb. I've assigned it to students 3 times and each time at least one-third of the class got through the first volume; that's over structured and abstract (rather like one of Samuel Johnson's openings), but once they get into the 2nd volume, it's like Dracula. You can watch them turning the pages in absorbed riveting reverie as they follow the intense voice of the hunted down.

I will never get to teach any course in the 18th century novel but for fun a couple of times I've made a list of which books I would assign. Using the old "heroic reading" paradigm, where students were assigned 10-11 books a term (what I experienced in Queens College, CUNY, in the 1960s), here's my list of _sina qua non_ cut down to fit the time allowed (that is choices have to be made):

Lafayette's Princess of Cleves, Defoe's Journal of Plague Year, Fielding's Joseph Andrews, Prevost's Manon Lescaut, Richardson's Clarissa (abridged), Smollett's Humphry Clinker, Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest, Godwin's Caleb Williams.

If I dared I'd put in (lesser but important historically and good reads and not too long at all), Sterne's Sentimental Journey, Diderot's Nun, Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield, and, if I were to go outside the fiction, to the influential and important non-fiction, Johnson's Life of Savage and the Penguin edition of Fanny or Frances Burney's Journals (an abridgement of all 20 into one not very fat volume).

The paper would be to watch the 1997 BBC mini-series Tom Jones and write about it.

John Sessions as Henry Fielding when we first see him in the meadow (near opening of the 97 Tom Jy Simon Burke, Metin Huseyin, and Suzanne Harrison.ones,

Items to regret not being able to do as geneuinely worthy or significant or showing some type of fiction as too long or too many or don't make this cut:  I admit all French:  Montesquieu's Persian Letters and Graffigny's Letters of a Peruvian Woman, Rousseau's Julie, the New Eloisa (Julie, ou La Nouvelle Heloise)

I also omit Voltaire's Candide and Johnson's Rasselas on no good ground at all, except maybe not novels, philosophical political tracts.