When I hear people, particularly romance readers and writers, talk about being born in the wrong age, they are typically speaking of a longing to dance at Almack’s, experience life at some intriguing court, or be claimed by some heart-stopping, chest-thumping alpha in a kilt. I don’t share those sentiments. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m eager to experience all of these things vicariously through the pages of a well-written book. I’ll even go so far as to concede that an occasional chest-thumping alpha, with or without kilt, can beguile me for a few hours, beta lover though I am. But the only way I’d sign up for time-traveling is if the ticket came with a guarantee to have me home by midnight. I’m sure I’d be more than ready by then for toilets that flush, showers that run hot, warm, or cold at my command, clean pajamas, Internet access, and, before bedtime, a reading lamp for a quick chapter or two in a paperback I paid under $10 for . I like my mod cons and have no wish to give them up even temporarily. I don’t even like camping. A friend, a camping enthusiast, once said to me accusingly, “Your idea of primitive is not having reservations at the hotel.” He was right. I’m afraid time traveling conditions might make a camp site seem positively luxurious.
However, I’ve been reading articles recently that make me wish I were now eighteen or twenty or even twenty-five and enrolled in college. I’m not one of those people who changed majors a dozen times--or even half a dozen. From the time I was old enough to understand what “major” in an academic context meant, I knew I’d be an English major. I never wavered from that idea. And I loved most of my course work from Greek tragedies to epic poems to Arthurian tales to Elizabethan plays to metaphysical poetry to 19th-century novels to modern and contemporary poetry to Southern literature, my field of specialization. I still read poetry and literary fiction along with romances and mysteries, and I can become just as defensive when some of my romance-reading friends dis Milton or Faulkner or Woolf as when some of my academic friends denigrate Nora Roberts (their usual target since she’s often the only romance writer they can name).
Even so, there were English courses I was forced to take that I loathed. I’d have more choices now. My course work could be fun! Just think--instead of taking that course in early American lit that had me sleeping in class, I could take “Reading the Historical Romance Novel.” Instead of ruining my eyes reading obscure 18th century plays that can be found only on microfiche, I could take “Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion.” Instead of horrifying my American lit professor with my suggestion that there should be two versions of Moby Dick, one without “all that whaling stuff,” I could be analyzing Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me, Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades, Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous, and Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me in a course called “Popular Literature: Romance.”
These are all actual courses. “Reading the Historical Romance Novel” is the title of the course Lauren Willig and Cara Elliott, both Yale graduates, taught at that university's Saybrook College last spring. I was not at all surprised to learn that eighty students applied for the eighteen spots in Willig and Elliott’s course. Had I been among their number, I would have been the first one to register. The syllabus includes a full week devoted to Lisa Kleypas and Loretta Chase and another devoted to Julia Quinn. The supplemental reading list boasts more than two hundred titles, including too many of my favorites too count and a few that were new to me. There’s even a section on beta heroes. Sigh! (You can see both the syllabus and the supplementary reading list at Cara Elliott's website.)
According to the Guardian, approximately seventy students are already registered for “Harry Potter and the Age of Illusion,” which will be offered at Durham University (UK) as part of the Education Studies BA degree. That same Guardian article quotes the university as saying that the course will require students to place Rowling’s series "in its social, cultural and educational context and understand some of the reasons for its popularity." I’m betting that the Cap’n over at Romance Writer’s Revenge would go for a Ph. D. if they offered enough courses like this one.
The “Popular Literature: Romance” course is one Eric Selinger has been teaching for several years at DePaul University, one that lists the novels I mentioned as required reading. The course also offers students a chance to do a project on a subgenre or “exemplary text” not covered in class. I once had to work on a project that required me to count the number of performances of a Colley Cibber play. There are no words adequate to convey how much I would have preferred a project on any one of at least a dozen dozen “exemplary texts” in romance fiction.
Reading about these courses definitely makes me feel as if I were born in the wrong age. I bet I would never have cut class.
What about you? Have you ever felt you were born in the wrong age? Would you be ready to sign up for a ticket today if time travel were possible? Do the course descriptions make you wish you could be a student taking courses like these?