This semester I'm taking a class called "The English Novel," where we read seven British novels. I think overall I'll really like what we read and I think that this class has tons of potential for discussion, thought, and analysis.
Backtracking to last winter, I took a class dealing with British literature from the 1800s-ish through modernity. It was absolutely amazing. Seriously, I've never had a class like that. We not only discussed the literature and its history, but more importantly, we analyzed the themes, ethics, humanity, the meaning of life. (Okay, so that sounds dramatic, but I'm actually being serious.) We talked about right and wrong, life and death, love and hate, and the applicability of all those themes. It was probably the most intellectually and emotionally enriching class I've ever taken.
Fast forward to now, and I'm starting to feel frustrated. I see so much potential for this English novel class, but so far, our discussions haven't really stimulated me at all. We're reading Persuasion right now, and there are so many things we could talk about. Anne is such a relatable character, and Austen explores so many universal themes, but we barely seem to scratch the surface of the novel. We seem to talk more about the events of the story and only touch the underlying intents and themes. I don't want to seem like I'm completely discrediting the class, because we do mention important issues (e.g. class issues, family relations, romantic relations, Austen's intent with portraying characters and themes as she does), but we don't flesh them out as we did in my British lit class last winter. We don't discuss why the social class divide is right or wrong, we don't thoroughly analyze the ethicality of Lady Russell's role in dissuading Anne from marrying Captain Wentworth, we don't probe Anne's psyche and try to understand her thoughts and actions, we don't seek to make the novel universal and apply its lessons and themes. English 333 is just falling a bit short for me.
I mean, I'm finding myself exploring those ideas on my own and discussing them with Katie, but it's not the same as a discussion in a classroom with twenty-five other students who all have different perspectives, experiences, and opinions that lend to the issues at hand. One of the things I love about literature is its timelessness: if the literature is good, then you can learn, understand, and appreciate the history behind it and still be able to extract epiphanies, lessons, and truth that can be applied right now. That's the magic of literature for me: it transcends the time in which it was written and lives to edify me, a 21-year-old college student in the 20th century.
I know that all the books we're going to study in The English Novel (Persuasion, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, Middlemarch, Jude the Obscure, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Mrs. Dalloway) have all of those qualities of great literature, but I'm not sure if we're really going to explore the depth of these novels.
So maybe English 292 spoiled me, but so be it. I'd rather be spoiled in superb literature teaching than never realize what literature really is.
If you made it this far in the post, kudos. I was caught up in my self-defined purpose of what it means to be an English major. I'll hop down off my soap box now.