The Little Professor
The Little Professor is relocating to ritzier quarters at http://littleprofessor.typepad.com
Some of the responses to this post
seesaw between acknowleding academic "lifestyle issues" and arguing that you can't complain about the market while refusing to apply to college located in X. On the one hand, I'm not
very sympathetic to excessive pickiness: if I had held out for a job in a warm climate, I'd still be an adjunct. On the other hand, I suspect that most of us aren't "free" to take any position. Jews and other minorities have to think very carefully before taking jobs in certain areas (and no, that isn't code for "down South"). Academics with families can't just relocate to areas with poor schools. Two-career families may not be able to support losing the second career. Housing and rental prices can rule out accepting a position in a city like San Francisco or New York. (And people like myself who have been foolish enough to acquire nearly 5,000 books need a house
, not a studio.)
Speaking of books, this week's acquisitions:
- Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Anti-Semitism: A History (Sutton, 2002). General survey by a remarkably prolific historian (although not quite in the Jacob Neusner class there...).
- Louis Edwards, Oscar Wilde Discovers America (Scribner, 2003). Historical novel about Wilde's 1882 trip to America, as seen through the eyes of his black valet, Traquair.
- Una Pope-Hennessy, Agnes Strickland: Biographer of the Queens of England (Chatto & Windus, 1840). Only full-length study of the popular historian. An excerpt from Strickland's life of Jane Seymour is available online.
- A. M. Fairbairn, Catholicism: Roman and Anglican (Hodder and Stoughton, 1899). A critique by a famous (and still influential) late-Victorian evangelical theologian.
- Father Charles Chiniquy, The Priest, the Woman, and the Confessional (Revell, 1880). Virulent and best-selling anti-Catholic screed by a priest-turned-Presbyterian.
1. I dislike writing exams.
2. Some professors think that allowing cheat sheets is a sign of the coming apocalypse, but I find that they force students to actually study
for the exam.
should win a prize for "Funniest Book Review Currently Featured on a Blog."
4. Elizabeth Rundle Charles' Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family
was translated into German, Finnish, Danish, and Swedish. While the subject (Martin Luther) explains the German translation, why into Finnish? And why was Deborah Alcock's The Spanish Brothers: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century
translated into Czech? (An even better question: why is it still in print
5. Life would be much easier for all concerned if somebody would publish a bibliography of Religious Tract Society fiction. Really. You
try figuring out dates of first publication for some of those novels.
I was startled by how much I actually remembered of Elizabeth R
, considering that I was in elementary school when I first saw it. In terms of production values, the miniseries has the usual BBC problems: obvious sets, mediocre video quality, somewhat problematic acting once one gets beyond the principals. (The entire budget must have been blown on Elizabeth's gowns.) On the other hand, Glenda Jackson so effortlessly dominates the proceedings that, really, the viewer isn't paying much attention to anyone else. As in other biopic miniseries (bioseries?)--Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic
comes to mind--there's very little sense of temporality. Events just seem to happen, and only one thing seems to happen at a time. Thus, Mary Stuart appears, vanishes off the radar, then suddenly reappears in episode four, forcing the scriptwriter to engage in some desperate exposition. On the other hand, despite six different writers, the miniseries maintains a tight thematic ship. If there is little sense of temporality, there is certainly considerable reflection on mortality. For the filmmakers' Elizabeth, marriage and death are inextricably linked, reversing the traditional association of marriage and posterity. In some ways, the plot is an extended danse macabre
, propelled by the tension between national and personal history. Existing simultaneously in "two bodies" as queen and woman, Elizabeth cannot find any safe way to marry both
; the execution of Katherine Howard becomes for her an object lesson in the impossibility of royal marriage. As interpretations go, this struck me as considerably superior to that offered by the historical trainwreck Elizabeth
, in which the queen gets it on with Robert Dudley. It was as though the makers of the later film couldn't even begin to imagine
that somebody might opt for celibacy, let alone have plausible psychological reasons for doing so. (Fine performance by Cate Blanchett, though.)
Meanwhile, the undergraduates are preparing for midterms and the graduate students are gearing up for George Meredith's The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
(scroll down for e-text). This is the first time I've taught the book, so we'll see how the students respond to the infamous ironic narrator. After that, it's the quarter break, or at least it would be if I didn't have exams to grade.
I made a two-hour trek to Syracuse
yesterday to participate in a reading group for upstate NY Victorianists. (Apparently, the University of Chicago
has a good record in upstate NY--two fellow alumni were there.) What made this so fun was precisely what some people seem convinced no longer exists in academia: the joy of discovering new things, engaging in dialogue with other people, and discovering "resonances" (as one attendee put it). There is
joy in the kaleidoscope of literary history. This kind of joy is different from that which derives from, say, the reading of a really great novel--reading Middlemarch
for the first or fifth time, for example--but it's still a joy nonetheless.
(Er, yes, I do believe that there is such a thing as "great" literature. It's just that I tend to write about not-so-great literature.)
touches on an issue near and dear to my heart, namely, the difference between jargon and profundity. When it comes to literary criticism, I fear that I'm a strong believer in sound matching sense--a position I reached during my brief stint as a copyeditor, when I realized that most jargon could either be translated easily into plain style, in which case there was no reason for the jargon, or not translated into anything at all, in which case there was a problem. While there is legitimate technical jargon out there--the terms used in prosody, for example, or narratology--I can't be bothered with something that appears to have been written by the Postmodernism Generator
. Even some of the shorthand terms are problematic. What does it mean to commit "violence" against a text? Why are we "interrogating" everything? Are imperialists really suffering from "anxiety"? I've seen some critics try to justify tangled, over-nominalized and over-abstract prose by arguing that they're trying to make the reader "think" (apparently, the ideas are insufficient to achieve that end) or that they're trying to demonstrate that language is not a neutral medium of communication (surely we've all figured that out by now?). That kind of writing does not "provoke" anything--er, save boredom, perhaps. (I should add that jargonism is not just a sin of the postmodernists: the last time I complained about style in a book review, I was reviewing a relatively conservative and certainly non-postmodern philosophy-and-lit study.)
Incidentally, I see that The Salt-Box
(scroll down to Oct. 1) and I had similar job-hunting experiences, although it sounds like I'm more of a historicist than he is. I suspect that's what at issue is where we work: while there are certainly some teaching campuses where theoretical orientation is a Big Thing, most of them are far more interested in a potential faculty member's ability to talk to undergraduates. I don't think I was even asked
about my "theoretical commitments," or lack thereof.
This week's acquisition (slow week):
- The Martyr of Florence; Or, the Home of Fiesole (Shaw, 1887). Anti-Catholic historical novel set during the lifetime of Savonarola.
Continuing my DVD kick, I've just started rewatching the brilliant miniseries Elizabeth R
(1971). Coincidentally, my essay on royal life-writing for the women's history companion emphasized representations of Elizabeth I, precisely because she was the most problematic figure for nineteenth-century women writers: in a culture that had come to value the monarch insofar as it exemplified domestic virtues--the queen as national homemaker, as it were--there was little room for Elizabeth I's theatricality, political acumen, and apparent "inauthenticity." (I'm still waiting for my copy of this
book; remind me to specify air mail next time...) The best online source for Elizabeth I is probably Luminarium: Elizabeth I
(images, primary texts, secondary sources).
Meanwhile, today's lectures are a double dose of Browning's "Porphyria's Lover"
and "My Last Duchess"
. (The two students who are in both my Brit Lit survey and my intro to lit are going to have a severe case of deja vu, I fear.)
I spent a good chunk of yesterday afternoon reviewing episodes from the Granada Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
, since I'd like to show an episode to my graduate students later in the semester. One of the problems with adapting Holmes to the screen, of course, is that the stories are so narrator-driven: the narratives are all about Watson watching
Holmes and mediating his brilliance to the reader. Holmes himself would be insufferable as the narrator (and it's telling that the stories Holmes tells himself are among the weakest in the canon). But on screen, Watson can become a bit player, not to mention appear like a fool. While the Granada series did not invent the "intelligent Watson," it did do a nice job of inserting a certain distance between Watson-the-narrator and an imagined "real Watson," who's smarter than he lets on. (As I usually point out to students, Watson is in fact a brilliant observer.) In any event, I'm going back and forth between "The Resident Patient" and "The Norwood Builder," both of which allow us to see Watson's own deductive skills at work.
Tonight we finish off Bleak House
in my graduate course. The undergraduates, meanwhile, are dealing with Tennyson and Keats (all about odes
). The Tennyson is the standard undergraduate fare--"The Lotos-Eaters," "Ulysses," "The Lady of Shalott," and "Mariana"--but when I'm teaching upper-division Victorian poetry, I like to throw in "St. Simeon Stylites"
as well. The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester has a fine page devoted to the Elaine of Astolat
legend, which includes two versions of "The Lady of Shalott."