Frankenstein, again?

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The semester has blasted off, and I'm already revising my British Literature 1800 [1780]-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.

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Katherine, I'm so glad


I'm so glad you are teaching the Patchwork Girl. I taught it one semester for a course in which we investigated adaptations of Romantic works. One question, though: how do you assign individual readings? I admit, the first time I taught Jackson, I had difficulty both assigning pages for the class and making sure they read the material. I would love to see how other teachers dealt with this amazingly uncontrollable text.

Roger, I don't assign

Roger, I don't assign individual readings. We have 2 days on PG: first day of discussion after they've gone home in and attempted to "read" it; second day of discussion, they return after having gone home to play with PG instead of "read" it. The second day of discussion *always* goes better. And, this semester, I've foregrounded PG with Frankenstein and a discussion about the feasibility, verisimilitude, and authentication of the creature/monster in the novel. (In fact, one student brilliantly asked what if the creature were really alive and in our society now.)

I'm less interested if they've read it deeply, especially since we will be close to concluding our semester. There's no way to quiz them on it. But, I do pick out key areas to discuss closely during our 2 days. And, I try to avoid plot discussions at all costs. We also drag out our Frankenstein themes from the start of the semester and look for it in PG.

And, finally students have some help. There are handy tutorials online already for PG. This is a moment where they need to see the tutorials in order to abate some frustration. And, in traditional English Departments (where I'm stationed), we don't teach our students to read visual texts. I try to reveal to my students that by including PG in a Brit Lit Survey course, we are exercising those faculties (and they get a reading rubric of sorts from me).

This is one "text" where you, as the instructor, have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Interested to hear how it goes!