[DWJ] Classic books

jstallcup jstallcup at juno.com
Wed Nov 4 16:28:35 EST 2009

Oh yes!  I teach both Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick in my 19th American
novels course.
Let me tell you, I was scared the first time I taught Moby Dick,
particularly since I had never studied it in a class.  I was sure that
all the students were going to "get" it in ways that I didn't.  So I got
myself several Cliffs Notes type publications and read up on the
"symbols" and "themes" etc.  Then I was worried that it was going to be a
slog.  But in fact, everytime that I've taught it, it has been a fabulous
experience.  There's so much to talk about, so many threads to follow,
that everyone finds something that they like about it.  And I lost that
sense of "I have to know everything so I can teach it to my students." 
There's no way to do that with Moby Dick, and I found that it was
perfectly ok to let them discover things that I didn't know or hadn't
noticed.  (That was a good lesson for me in general).  

If you haven't read it simply because it has a daunting reputation, I
assure you, it's a rollicking good read.  If you get at least as far as
the chapter in which Ishmael and Queequeg meet and share a bed, I think
you'll be hooked.  Oh, and speaking of sex (from another thread), I would
argue that there's tons of sublimated sexuality and eroticism throughout.
 Just read the chapter A Squeeze of the Hand and tell me that that's not
about sex!  
And I love Uncle Tom's Cabin, too.  I have to admit that the treacly
sentiment is not off putting to me at all (hey, I'm a huge fan of Elsie
Dinsmore--what can I say?).  So I'm open to the emotional effect of the
sentiment and find myself getting completely worked up about it.  And
there's tons of stuff to talk about in terms of rhetoric--Stowe does very
interesting things with her use of Christian imagery and sentimental
language and situations.  And her thematic uses of the domestic and and
other "feminine" concerns are fascinating to me as well.  It's another
one that goes over well with my students; we always have tons of things
to talk about.  In particular, we talk about the issue of being an "Uncle
Tom."  Of course it's a perjorative term now, in part because of the way
that we currently define what constitutes revolutionary behavior.  But in
the context in which Stowe was writing, Tom was in fact a completely
heroic figure.  If U.S. culture had taken slightly different directions
on questions of religion, resistance, and revolution, he might still be
seen as heroic.  
On the other hand, there's Wide Wide World by Susan Warner (which I pair
up specifically with Moby Dick so we can talk about women's journeys and
men's journeys). This novel tends to drive my students wild with
irritation.... but for all that, it's a lot of fun to talk about.
And then there's Elsie Dinsmore...

On Wed, 4 Nov 2009 07:33:53 -0000 "Jane Scarlett" <mail at janescarlett.com>
> > I disliked _Huckleberry Finn_ intensely when I read it, mostly 
> because of
> > the slavery thing and the way Jim is treated as a consequence.  
> I haven't read this, but read Uncle Tom's Cabin about a year ago, 
> and it was
> a real struggle.  Fascinating to see how much attitudes have 
> changed,
> because I found it horribly patronising, characters mostly 
> unbelievable,
> dreadful plot, mawkish sentiment.  Hard to reconcile the book with 
> the
> impact it had at the time.  Has anyone else read it?
> Jane
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