I’ve been shocked, amazed, and oh, so happy about the response I’ve gotten over my decision to assign The Bachelorette season 15 in my Victorian literature class. I usually lean into my tendency to assign as many novels as possible, so that my students “know the feel” of Victorian culture inside and out, a process that, in my head, feels something like this:
Me: They’ve got to have a Bronte.
Also Me: Oh! Can’t miss the industrial novel!
Still Me: I’ve got to fit sensation fiction in there!
Also, Still Me: There aren’t enough women writers now *shoves in George Eliot*
Me Again: They’ve got to have queer lit. *throws in Wilde and James*
This year, I had a thought. Am I really teaching my students the “feel” of Victorian if I’m asking them to read in a way that the vast majority of Victorians were not? Particularly during the mid-century, Victorians read their novels in serialized format. Novels were published in parts, weekly or monthly, usually over the course of anywhere from 6 to 12 months.
Although I read Victorian literature for a living, I was struck by the effect of this recently, when reading Trollope’s He Knew he Was Right. The plot: a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful. She has not, but she will not say so in the way her husband demands, because she finds his accusation insulting. Neither backs down, and the two end up separating for essentially no reason. TLDR version: nothing happened. And this is a 900 page novel about that nothing happening.
It took me a solid year to get through it. At times it was indeed a slog. But a strange thing happened after 12 months when I finally finished it. I couldn’t get the characters and their lives out of my head! To this day, I probably think about that novel more than any other, not because I liked it more, but because I spent more time with it….Just like the Victorians would have.
This year, I’m taking a cue from a Victorian professor of my own once, who only assigned 2 novels for the entire semester. I certainly didn’t learn less. I had, instead, more time to process, connect, and synthesize my reading. Like my Sunday Game of Thrones viewing, the reading became embedded in the rhythms of my life, and so, the chronicity of the characters felt more “real,” as I walked with them through months of my own life alongside imaginary months of theirs.
It struck me, as I’ve already alluded to via Game of Thrones, that while Netflix has revolutionized “binge watching,” before streaming media, we still lived in an era of serialization, where we had to wait in anticipation to see the next episode of a show we’d connected to.
It also struck me, one evening, while I was watching The Bachelorette, that the show itself is nothing more than the Victorian marriage plot writ large. And Hannah B’s belated discovery of having made “the wrong” choice was so alike Tess of the D’Urbervilles, that the two begged to be paired. Below is my course schedule, should you feel like following along. We’ll read Tess and watch an episode of The Bachelorette every Thursday. Post observations if you want, using the hashtag, and interact with other users following along.
Tess Ch 1-4
Bachelorette Ep. 1
Read to end of Phase the First
Bachelorette Ep. 2
Tess Ch XII – XVII
Bachelorette Ep. 3
Tess Ch XVII-XVIII
Bachelorette Ep. 4
Tess Ch XXIV XIX
Tess Ch XXX-End of Phase the Fourth
Bachelorette Ep. 6
Tess Ch XXV-XXXVIII
Bachelorette Ep. 7
Tess Ch finish Phase the Fifth.
Bachelorette Ep. 8
Tess Begin Phase the Sixth – p. 261
Bachelorette Ep. 9
Tess Finish Phase the Sixth
Bachelorette Ep. 11
Tess Finish Book
Bachelorette Ep. 12