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Thread: Dickens and school

  1. #16
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    Other more interesting 19th century options: Frankenstein, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Scarlet Letter, almost anything by Jules Verne. Of course, some of those are more interesting than the others, but I think all will be more enjoyable to students than Dickens . . . though The Scarlet Letter is debatable, I admit. I know there are others I just can't think of.

  2. #17
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Apr 2012
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    P&P I find more difficult (in language) than JE. Not so in symbolism, because there is only one symbolic part in the whole novel (Austen was still experimenting), but the language is somewhat demanding. Not too much, but all the irony requires a more open mind than with other writers.
    This surprises me. I found P&P no problem at all. It was almost as easy reading as something by Nick Hornby.

    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    To add to the problem, Victorians like to write about social issues. Exaggerating them a little sometimes. Dickens's image of the workhouse in Oliver Twist, for example, is severely exaggerated. Some places were awful, but some were fine, apart from the fact that the people in there were frankly prisoners. A demeaning and humaliating experience no doubt.
    Other times they were not exaggerated, but played down a little. Also in Oliver Twist the street children from the East End are portrayed in a somewhat funnier way than they should be, judging by Gustave Dorée's pictures from around 1830.
    I am no expert in Victorian literature, but I suspect Dickens dominates our view of Victorian society. Even though few of us may read his books, they are screened and televised constantly. I think this is a slight problem because however good a writer he may have been, his was only one person's view. It would be a bit like forming your view of society from reading one newspaper columnist.

    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post

    But if you don't have any context about the Victorians and their issues and ideals, you will at best understand the words (probably not), but not what they are trying to say. Which is the whole point of novels, after all.
    Something I find interesting when reading an old book is to see how issues and ideals have either changed or stayed the same. For example, in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, I was surprised to learn that terrorism was a national concern even back then. I did not think Tom Brown's School Days was a particularly good book, but I was interested to note how much values had changed. People hitting each other around the head at fairs would definitely not get past the health and safety officer these days. Collecting birds' eggs is not an approved passtime any more; neither is vandalising farmers' property. OTOH, the piousness of one of the schoolboys would be risible these days. So, I am not sure you need to be fully aware of the political and sociological background to enjoy these books. You can pick up on it.

    When I started reading GE recently, I expected to be surprised more about the differences in social conditions and values between now and then. I wasn't really. I should have been more shocked by level of child abuse and domestic violence. Again, I think that was because we are exposed so much to Dickens through the media. I was more surprised about the poetry of his language, and his ability to write convincingly of children.
    Last edited by kev67; 05-08-2012 at 01:34 PM.

  3. #18
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Still, I suppose there is only so much to be gained in choosing literature you think the would engage the pupils. My secondary school was a girls' grammar school before my year, when it became a mixed comprehensive. I don't think some of the teachers welcomed the transition. I remember the English teacher was given a particularly hard time by the horrible lads in my form. I think she thought she might engage our attention more by choosing a science fiction book, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, to study. It made absolutely no difference. Anyway, at the time I was also of the opinion that even a good book would not survive all the dissection in Eng Lit classes, so you might just as well choose some crummy Victorian novel to do it on. You wouldn't want to spoil a book you might enjoy. While reading GE recently, I really wanted to discuss it with someone, but back then, I regarded all the analysis as deadening because we constantly had to break our flow. Lastly, I resented what I took to be someone's attempt to impose their taste in literature on me. I didn't see the point: I knew what I liked. Maybe I am a bit jaundiced, but I suspect all this might explain why a lot of people are put off classic literature, and Dickens in particular, because he was used so much back then (though not so much now it sounds like).

  4. #19
    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Ha, you were in the same situation as I! Well, I was the last year in my school with only girls (the year after was mixed). I think particularly in lit class that is a problem. In the year below us there were two boys (!) in about 200 girls... The number increased as time went on, but they only attained a number of about 6/200 by the time they reached year five and we were in six .

    I don't know how teachers dealt with those boys. We were mostly allowed to choose something from a list of books (we only read twe Dutch novels collectively and spent a few classes on those), so I expect that boys would take something that suited their taste and was not too romantic by the time they reached that point. The rest of the time was spent on theory and issues rom other novels adn writers. As such, offering you a framework to think about things, not one analysis of one thing in particular.

    Indeed, I think overanalysing is detrimental. You can address some issues, point out some of the language (metaphors and things), styles figures, motives, themes etc., but do not overdo it. Too much time on one book is mind-numbing.

    I also believe that reading stuff in class is boring for most people. As they are not reading themselves, they get bored. Or even worse, you let them read in silence and they fall alseep. Of course, as a teacher, then you have to rely on your students' reading the things at home. If you are past the stage of respect, you can forget that they read it, at which point your 'class' is no longer a class. That's probably the point they have reached in the UK.

    Judging by the plot of A Tale of Two Cities I read online yesterday, I find that very confusing to read in excerpts.
    One has to laugh before being happy, because otherwise one risks to die before having laughed.

    "Je crains [...] que l'âme ne se vide à ces passe-temps vains, et que le fin du fin ne soit la fin des fins." (Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, Acte III, Scène VII)

  5. #20
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    If you are teaching a Tale of Two CIties to a class, you just got a huge gift with The Dark Knight Rises,which is FULL of references, both verbal and visual, to the Dickens classic. It is odd that Batman might leads kids to Dickens, but such is the way of literature.....

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