Tag Archives: close reading

What does a Romantic Classroom Look Like?

Reflections, questions, & forum for response.

The dawn of another academic year always comes with a slew of first year Teaching Assistants. Graduate students must now stand up in front of the classroom and, if any of them are like me, spend more time reflecting on their own learning processes than ever before in their academic life. Like so many gradate TAs I don’t have the option to choose which courses or syllabus to teach, but rather am assigned courses that vary between English Composition 100 and Intro to Literature. I’m not complaining as each opportunity provides the space to learn a new topic that otherwise might have slipped my academic history.

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Great Balls of Fire: Lightning Storms in Emma Courtney

This week, I was inspired by Arden’s posts of “brief cuts” from her dissertation to go back through ideas I’ve had in courses but have set aside for the time being. I stumbled onto one nugget of research that I found for a class on “Romanticism and Thing Theory,” taught by Prof. Jill Heydt-Stevenson in 2014, in which we were asked every week to identify a “thing” in the texts assigned and dig up historical research on it. Personally, I found the assignment fascinating as a way to learn more about some of the obscure cultural shorthand on the Romantic period (seriously, who knew there were so many different kinds of carriages?). For Mary Hays’s The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796), I looked into classifications of lightning to better understand one pivotal scene between Emma and Augustus.

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Finding “Romance of the Forest” in a Scrap of Toilet Paper

Like many who have read Ann Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, I began the novel with the knowledge—one could even say the predisposition—that I would find in it the moments that Jane Austen parodies in Northanger Abbey. In Northanger, Catherine Morland finds a scrap of paper that she is certain will prove to be the last testament of General Tilney’s late wife—only to find that the memento is actually a laundry bill. This scene is one of many in which Austen communicates how Catherine’s excessive engagement with gothic novels has prejudiced her ability to interpret her immediate surroundings and experiences. I’ve read Northanger a handful of times and have always been a big fan, so I approached Radcliffe’s work anxiously, waiting for her heroine, Adeline, to find some damning piece of paper, which would fulfill my own expectations of gothic horror conventions.

Sure enough, a little over 100 pages in, Adeline stumbles upon the manuscript of a man who had years before been captured and killed in the abbey where she and her guardians, the La Mottes, are hiding from the French authorities. The “MS” horrifies yet captivates her, and for the next few chapters, she continually rushes back and forth between the room where she keeps the manuscript and the other rooms of the abbey, where she finds herself having to fight against the Marquis de Montalt’s sexual and marital advances. Her attention is torn between the written fragment of the past—much of which has been obscured by the erosion of ink on the page—and the immediate dangers of her present.

Did it fulfill my desires for cliché yet disturbing gothic goodness? Absolutely. But when I got to that part of the novel, I didn’t think of Northanger Abbey. Instead, a completely unexpected picture flashed through my mind:

portmanvforvendetta

 

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“Monumental” Ghosts: The Spectral Statesmen of 1813

It was a dark and stormy night, less than a month before Halloween, when the leading story in The Examiner volleyed the first chilling claim of the morbidly resurrected: “It may startle our readers to advance such an opinion, but really the most vivacious persons, now living, and making the most noise in the world, seem to be dead men” (561).

Indeed, in the frosty days of fall, dead statesmen were top news for England’s press. It seemed that nary a dead man could refrain from leaving his grave to wreak new havoc on the world. Louis Alexandre Berthier, for example, was reported dead by the Dresden newspapers, only to reemerge a week later as the Major-General of Napoleon’s French armies. Napoleon himself, The Examiner declared, “was assassinated many years back, since which time he has more than once met his death in a similar way, and is now, with a want of sympathy hardly to be expected in a dead man, preparing for new scenes of slaughter in Germany” (561). Continue reading “Monumental” Ghosts: The Spectral Statesmen of 1813

Teaching Close Reading: Nietzsche, Metaphor and Romantic Poetry

This fall, I’ve been assigned to instruct a class called ‘Introduction to Writing about Literature.’ While the course is designed to transmit a specialized skill-set (textual analysis), it’s not organized around a historical period, event, or philosophical discourse. As an instructor, I’m required to jump around—across periods, genres and continents—in an effort to give students the most comprehensive possible familiarity with literature in English. The only thing that holds the course together is a persistent focus on form and figuration. This is both liberating—it’s great to get close to some of my favorite texts in the classroom–and a little terrifying—unmoored from thematic, historical and philosophical contexts, I’ve found myself wondering if I know anything about how literary language works. In this post, I’ll outline some of the theoretical and pedagogical dilemmas I’ve bumped up against teaching close reading and then explain how I’ve decided to talk about metaphor and figuration in my requirement-level lit course. Though the post turns on my own experiences, I’m hoping that the problems and solutions that I address here may be relevant to readers working out their own ideas about how to teach and test close reading skills.

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John Clare, Biopoetics, and the Romantic Lyric

When I read the blurb for Sara Guyer’s book Reading with John Clare: Biopoetics, Sovereignty, Romanticism in the NASSR bulletin this past July, I felt both fascinated and puzzled. What could Romantic lyric poetry possibly have to do with biopower and its institutional controls? What constitutes a “biopoetics”? A few months have passed and I’ve finally found the time to ask these questions of the book itself, which I’ve found to be a challenging, but ultimately rewarding, read. In this post, I’ll share some insights I’ve gleaned from Reading with John Clare–insights about Clare’s poetry but also about Romantic aesthetics and its legacies more generally.

reading with John Clare

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Guest Post: A “Radiant” Digital Edition of Wordsworth’s Prelude?

By Peter N. Miller

Dedicated readers of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude must at some point grapple with the disconcerting question of which version of the poem they’re looking at.

In 1799 Wordsworth produced a fair-copy manuscript of what would later be called The Two-Part Prelude. Between 1801 and 1805 the poet drastically revised this material to create a longer autobiographical poem, which consisted at various points of five books, eight books, and thirteen books. Wordsworth continued to revise the work over the coming decades, breaking Book 10 in two in 1829 to create a fourteen-book Prelude. His most substantial final revisions came in 1839, yet the poem was still not published, in any form, until shortly after the poet’s death, in 1850. To confuse matters further, Wordsworth never actually called The Prelude by that name. For him it was always “the poem to Coleridge.” The poet’s widow, Mary Hutchinson, suggested the title The Prelude. There is not a poem called The Prelude, it would seem, but multiple poems, each with a certain claim to legitimacy. Continue reading Guest Post: A “Radiant” Digital Edition of Wordsworth’s Prelude?

Graphic Learning: Examples of Well-Researched Comics

It seems pointless to argue that graphic novels have an important place in literature at this point. Personally, I took two classes during my undergraduate career that incorporated such texts (including Satrapi’s Persepolis and Bechdel’s Fun Home), but more often than not this is a rare occurrence and something I did not encounter in my graduate coursework. Graphic novels often do not get the attention they deserve, in part because many deem them déclassé due to their graphic nature and/or subject material, but also because they are hard to teach. While graphic novels can be analyzed through literary theory (and should be), the format itself, and most notably, the visual element of such narratives, are in a scholarly discipline all their own. One cannot teach, or even fully enjoy a graphic novel, without at least a bare minimum knowledge of art theory and visual composition. (Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art and Critical Approaches to Comics: Theories and Methods are good places to start.) But then again, neither of these things occupies some alien universe detached from what we as literary scholars already tackle. Continue reading Graphic Learning: Examples of Well-Researched Comics

Planning My First Brit Lit Survey

At my university, the opportunities to teach an upper-level course are present but few. After passing comprehensive exams, you can apply to teach a survey course corresponding to your area of specialty. The second-half of British literature is particularly hard to come by, and typically a PhD candidate gets to teach it once before graduating. This is my semester, and I am thrilled!

I have been teaching general education classes for six years. I can count the number of English majors I have taught on one hand. But now, I have two full classes of English majors or minors, who ask me questions like, “Percy Shelley? Any relation to Mary Shelley?” (Isn’t it crazy to remember a time when we didn’t know every intimate detail of the Shelleys’ marriage?).

I am two days in. And here’s what I can report so far: I love my job.
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On First Looking into…Manfred

By Julia Malykh

The enchanting sensuality of Lord Byron’s closet drama Manfred (1816) lies in its depiction of a power struggle. On encountering the text, it is easy to underappreciate Byron’s magnetic innovation by writing off Manfred as a fictionalized account of the poet’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh—in keeping with his personal reputation as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Upon a closer look, however, it becomes clear that Byron’s dramatic poem is a series of tableaux depicting power struggles between a Byronic hero, Manfred, and a Byronic heroine, Astarte. Continue reading On First Looking into…Manfred