One of the delights of teaching undergraduate literature in the community college English Department is that the course combines British authors and Americans. It’s an absolute natural, right? Same language? Same origins? Well, similar – of course, all that was long ago and the wench is dead!
Many of my students are, themselves, immigrants, so English is already a second language. But we persevere. We read various Brits and some Americans.
With interesting results. A young woman recently did a paper on David Copperfield, and she became so contemptuous of Uriah Heep (an unctuous Dickens’ character) that midway through the novel she lost control and actually began to call him Pariah Heep. I noted the error, but couldn’t bring myself to deduct from her grade. I figured she lost control and couldn’t help herself. Uriah is a bit much.
The anthologies are excellent; there’s Mark Twain and Hemingway and Fitzgerald, of course, and Jane Austen and James Joyce. And much more!
Sometimes it doesn’t work as expected. The students particularly love dramatizing plays aloud. New York theaters are too costly for their pockets, but they are enthusiasts. And we have had great successes – and failures. We had an absolute “dream” cast of volunteers several years ago for a reading of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”. We were almost ready to go when we lost our female lead. Stanley Kowalski, the brutal brother-in-law, was too brutal for her. He really made her cry. But the play – and the day – were saved in a memorable performance: another female student, whose day job was in the jails at Riker’s Island, volunteered and did the part beautifully. Once Stanley Kowalski began his vicious mischief, he had to cope with a pro. THAT performance would have made it on Broadway!
I have not forgotten it, and I’ll bet Stanley Kowalski remembers it, too. I think the entire class had a walloping good time!