The semester has blasted off, and I’m already revising my British Literature 1800 -Present reading list. Of course, I overload on the Romantics because, well, it’s the Romantics. This is probably a pitfall for all Romanticists teaching survey courses, though. There are numerous issues to cover in conjunction with the literature, which means often I find my syllabus littered with non-fiction prose, introductions, and histories more so than poetry and short stories, at least in the early years. By the time I round the corner to the Victorians, my students are relieved to be leaving behind so much poetry. It’s not until the end of the semester that they understand the subtitle to this course has some meaning: Aftering, Parody & Pastiche. You see, we look at the revisions to Romantic and Victorian literature, even Romantics within the Victorians, as the decades progress until we end with Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel, Endless Nights, on the last day of class — really a treatise in the Gothic tradition and early 19th-century print culture. By that last day or two, they get it; they really see it. But first, they must suffer through a hard mid-term exam where I ask them to memorize much about the Romantics and Victorians (including Wordsworth’s famous phrase).
This semester, I’ll contrast Wordsworth’s authorial production theory against Mary Shelley’s “creating out of chaos” production theory. Despite having assigned Shelley Jackson’s “Patchwork Girl” CD last semester, I didn’t assign Frankenstein. I like to reserve that novel for my TechnoRomanticism course where we languish over the novel for 10 weeks and read Romanticism into its narrative (ergodic and radial reading methodologies). 10 weeks — 10 weeks! on a single novel! I did this twice and enjoyed the conversation and results immensely. We even built a digital edition/archive as a class project. But, in the British Literature survey, we don’t have time to do this. And, quite frankly, I had become tired of teaching about the good (or bad?) Dr. Frankenstein. I had run out of ideas for engaging students in the production of the narrative and the progress of technology. I have to admit, I was leaving out Frankenstein in favor of more canonical works. I wanted them to immerse themselves in Lyrical Ballads and Biographia Literaria, or Keats’ lyrics and Shelley’s politics. Though we all consider Mary Shelley to be canonical now, in a survey how much of the Big 6 do I sacrifice to include her highly politicized, relevant novel? As long as I’m confessing, I was feeling guilty about not exercising my traditional literature chops of late, having become immersed in so much Digital Humanities work. I felt like I needed my street cred back in Romanticism. (Alan Liu has talked about his struggle to maintain his Romanticism focus while becoming a leader in Digital Humanities.)
Well, this semester, all be damned. I welcome Frankenstein back and realize how much I’ve missed this sickly, fainting doctor and Mary Shelley’s long sinuous descriptions of Nature. I’m anticipating that Jackson’s later hypertextual novel will make much more sense to students, as will Gaiman’s graphic novel. (We even have a treat here at San Jose State: it turns out that one of the artists who collaborated with Gaiman teaches in our animation/illustration department!)
We begin the novel next week and spend a mere 3 days on it: 1 per each volume. It’s not enough time, I know. But, then again, this is a survey course, a course for piquing student interest for other upper division courses in their favorite areas. Like last semester, this semester’s group of 25 is inspired and inspiring already. Perhaps it’s budget cuts or the dwindling number of classes; whatever is happening, I have mostly senior English majors in this lower division course. They have some savvy about their ideas and are enthusiastic, even during our evening meeting time.
So, Frankenstein, 1818 edition with the 1831 introduction, you are permitted entrée into our parlour.