Thursday, September 9, 2010

Born in the Wrong Age

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?


MsHellion said...

Oh, I would *SO* get my Ph.D. if they had a number of course like Harry Potter (and the popular romance fiction)--how cool would that be to take? Can you imagine my dissertation and oral defense? (I'd probably show up in costume.)

I *used* to think I was born in the wrong age, when I was 20 and young and romantic and didn't think things through carefully--but now that I'm older I realize that modern medicine is a pretty new concept, as are women's rights, and as is dental hygiene. All of which I need.

Plus, live in a world where Harry Potter doesn't exist? Perish the thought!

MsHellion said...

And even though I already have a BA (and it sounds like these courses would go towards a BA), I'd take them just for fun. I have no problem with that. *LOL*

TerriOsburn said...

I too used to say I was born 150 years too late. Now, I'm good. Though the chance to get dressed up and dance around a buzzing ballroom glowing with a thousand candles still sounds like the perfect dream. Like you (and Cinderella) I'd need to be home by midnight.

Okay, maybe by morning.

This classes do sound more fun than the traditional lot, but I'm not sure I'd want to study the thing I enjoy for entertainment sake. I remember taking a film class and though I loved movies, I really didn't like studying them.

But I'm lazy that way. :) I heard yesterday there's now a college offering a course on zombies. Students have to watch and analyze various zombie movies. I'm sure that one has a long waiting list, but again I'd have to pass.

quantum said...

I'm really enjoying Seidel's 'Till the stars fall' Janga, and reading your post reminded me of a conversation at a conf dinner many years ago. An eminent academic was holding forth on the inadequacies of the education system in a joking manner.

He proposed that we should start degree courses in topics that really interested students. Guitar playing was one of his examples, and he commented that Rock Stars like the Beatles had contributed far more to the UK economy than swathes of academic economists!

It seems that Helli's fame has spread to these shores. *grin*

I used to visit Durham quite a lot and remember that they were quite innovative,holding regular summer schools on the Roman Army for example, with trips to Hadrian's Wall. The Harry Potter innovation may possibly be an attempt to attract overseas students and their grants, in the face of govt cut backs to budgets here.

I would be very keen to buy a return time travel ticket, but would want to go to the far distant future. The plumbing would respond to voice commands and self cleaning of accommodation would be standard, with robots as personal servants.

I would particularly want to see where basic science stood. To know whether string theory had finally fulfilled its promise, whether mankind was moving to populate the galaxy, whether fusion reactors were supplying power, whether my own modest contributions had born any fruit, and so on.

If time permitted, a perusal of new romance authors would be irresistible as well. Would romantic love follow the paths we all know so well, or would something less physical and more ethereal be the norm?

You know, It's possible that I might want to stay! *smile*

Janga said...

Hellie, I thought of you immediately when I read about the HP course. And I love the image of you going into a dissertation defense in costume. It ranks right up there with my image of Eliot Gould in Getting Straight.

Yeah, taking courses for fun--that's what I want to do. Flying all over the world to do it wouldn't be bad either. :)

Janga said...

Eww, Terri! No zombies for me, thanks. I'm still scarred by those B grade movies I saw as a child. I loved the Westerns, but a lot of the second movies terrified me--zombies, mummies, weres, and things that go bump in the night.

Many people share your reluctance to analyze the things they love. I often had students complain that I was "destroying" a book or a poem by requiring them to write a paper about it. But I love such analysis. I wrote a biographical essay on Nora Roberts a few years ago, and the toughest part of writing it was keeping a tight rein on my tendency to analyze.

Janga said...

Q, I'm so glad that you are enjoying Seidel's Till the Stars Fall. It's one of those books that just talking about makes me long to reread it.

Somehow I'm not at all surprised that you'd choose the future as your time-traveling destination. Your question "Would romantic love follow the paths we all know so well, or would something less physical and more ethereal be the norm?" made me think of two "texts" far removed from one another in time and place in the cultural canon: Adam's conversation with Raphael about angel sex in Milton'a Paradise Lost--"if spirits embrace, / Total they mix, union of pure with pure /Desiring" and a certain scene in one of Ron Howard's Cocoon movies. LOL!