Thursday, February 19, 2009
Syllabus Suggestions (part 1)
Spring quarter is fast approaching, and that means it's time for me to choose the books for my new crop of romance classes! I get to teach a pair of them next term: a "liberal studies" survey (i.e., it's not primarily for English majors) and an Honors senior seminar, which is supposed to be "interdisciplinary" in its approach, as there are Honors students coming from a variety of majors.
So--what should I teach?
1. Where to start?
I like to structure the survey historically, and students seem to like that, too. As a rule, I've started with The Sheik, and that's always gone well, but I've often thought about starting things much, much earlier (say, with Daphnis and Chloe) or back in the 19th century (say, with Pride and Prejudice), or a little earlier in the 20th century (with A Room With a View, for example, or with Grace Livingston Hill's The Finding of Jasper Holt).
The appeal of starting with a Greek romance or the Austen is that it would let me establish the deep roots of the genre. The Hill appeals to be as a way to place evangelical romance at the start of the tradition, in a way that would certainly make the scandalous nature of The Sheik particularly vivid to my students.
I've also gotten much more self-conscious about presenting The Sheik as the start of things when j. dixon's The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon, 1909-1990 does such a fine job of introducing one to what was going on before it in the world of popular romance.
So, that's dilemma #1: where to start the class?
2. Early Texts, or Recent Ones?
Since I'm not going to drop The Sheik, although I may put something before it, the next question I face is how much weight to give earlier romance novels--which are historically significant, but often less engaging for my students--and how much to skew the class toward more recent authors and texts. My own experience as a reader was not at all chronological, since I started with recent work and went backwards, but that's not the most effective way to structure a class, I suspect. (Maybe someday I'll try that, but not this year.)
Here's how the dilemma plays out in practice. After The Sheik we'll turn to Georgette Heyer's Devil's Cub, which was hard for some of my students, but is a perfect complement to the E. M. Hull novel before it. I also see now that Regency Buck is back in print here in the US. Should I teach that one instead? It would introduce my students to the Regency genre, while DC is set in an earlier period, but it lacks the delightful element of a heroine who shoots the hero, which is always so popular. The Grand Sophy is another option, although it's from considerably later in the century, 1950 as opposed to 1932 for Devil's Cub and 1935 for Regency Buck. Hmmm... Advice?
In any case, having taught Hull and Heyer, the next likely text would be Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt, back in print for the first time since I started teaching this class. I don't love it, as a novel, but historically it's certainly significant, a way to talk about Gothic romance and its centrality in the 1960s. (I've tried using Mary Stewart's Madam, Will You Talk? to teach the roots of romantic suspense, but it doesn't have the whole house element that's so crucial to romantic suspense, somehow.) Mistress of Mellyn will also make a fine set up for Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower, which I always teach, and always teaches well.
That's four, maybe five novels, and brings us halfway into the quarter. Historically, though, we're only at 1972, and we only have five weeks left to cover romance since the 1980s. Hardly enough time to cover the major trends, authors, subgenres, etc., of the past three decades, even if I positively shoehorn books into the syllabus, as I did last fall. (13 novels in 10 weeks. The students were not amused.) On the other hand, if I want to slant the class towards more recent novels, which of these do you think I should cut?
Must run to a dentist's appointment--fun, fun!--but I'll post more about the classes when I can. All help, as always, appreciated!