A Voice From the Shadows...

Alice Jane Cooley ajcooley at pobox.com
Wed Jan 19 01:30:25 EST 2000


Okay, I've been putting this off too, too long. I meant to send a proper
introductory message, but compiling the relevant details about myself
takes time and thought, so I'm just going to plunge in now and introduce
myself later. I will reveal only two things:

a) I was introduced to this delightful list several months ago by my
dearest friend, Alexandra, since which time I have been thoroughly
enjoying your discussions and always meaning to join in...
and
b) my claim to fame on this list must be that it was I who introduced
Alexandra to DWJ.

But the reason I suddenly decided to write is to make a late addition to
the thread about teachers and interpretations of literature and whatnot.
I must admit I have been fortunate in this respect, which is probably
one of the main reasons I have gone on to study English (there, I've
revealed another detail about myself) but I do have a funny story to
relate. An antidote, really, to some of these awful accounts of teachers
forcing their opinions on students. My Grade 13 English Literature
teacher was one of the best: a wonderfully pleasant and mild-mannered
British man with an extreme fondness for _Hamlet_. He let us voice our
opinions and have nicely rambling discussions. We had a heated debate
over whether "The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" was about prostitutes
or not. (I confess that the discussion was heated mostly because of my
vehement efforts to argue that it was NOT. Overparticipate? Moi?) We had
a group assignment at one point to invent a plausible plot for a Thomas
Hardy novel (my friends and I got really into it, and came up with
something convincingly ghastly, replete with pointless coincidences and
appropriate place-names from the map of Wessex). So you get the picture
-- this was not a teacher to squelch or belittle student's opinions and
ideas. But everyone has his or her limit. We had read the following
poem, called "Erosion", by the Canadian poet E.J. Pratt, and we were
discussing it in class. I include the full text for your enjoyment:

It took the sea a thousand years,
A thousand years to trace
The granite features of this cliff,
In crag and scarp and base.

It took the sea an hour one night,
An hour of storm to place
The sculpture of these granite seams
Upon a woman's face.

So we were talking, in the vague way that one does in highschool
classes, about what the poem meant, and so on. Everyone seemed to have a
general consensus on that; everyone seemed to "get it", so to speak.
Except for one girl, who bravely put up her hand and voiced a different
opinion. She thought the poem was about a cliff falling over and
squashing a woman. Our English teacher, in the most polite and
apologetic way imaginable, replied that perhaps, though it was always
good to keep an open mind, it was possible to say of certain
interpretations -- such as, for example, this one -- that they were...
well... wrong. It was the only time I remember him ever making such a
statement in class, and it stands out in my memory for that reason.

Well, that's my story. Eventually I'll write a proper introduction, and
abandon the electronic shadows for once and for all! Wa ha ha!


Alice

P.S. Elise wrote:
'I just can't get past the idea of Julius Caesar saying "Weni Widi
Wici."'
Do other people know the little book _1066 And All That_? It's an absurd
account of English history, and the humour of it is something of an
acquired taste, I think, but I can't resist quoting the following
passage:
"Julius Caesar was therefore compelled to invade Britain again the
following year (54 B.C., not 56, owing to the peculiar Roman method of
counting), and having defeated the Ancient Britons by unfair means, such
as battering-rams, tortoises, hippocausts, centipedes, axes and bundles,
set the memorable Latin sentence, "Veni, Vidi, Vici," which the Romans,
who were all very well educated, construed correctly. The Britons,
however, who of course still used the old pronunciation, understanding
him to have called them "Weeny, Weedy and Weaky," lost heart and gave up
the struggle, thinking that he had already divided them All into Three
Parts."

P.P.S. I just finished rereading HMC, and I have to ask -- how many
other people got out their calculators and divided 10 000 by 365 to find
out exactly how old Howl is? He's older than I thought.

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