Friday, May 12, 2017

British Literature Class Notes -- Week 15 (May 11)


We had a wonderful final class for our British Literature class.  We finished our last reading selection, The 39 Steps by John Buchan.  While the book is full of implausibilities, the action of the plot made it a fun read.  The discussion questions that the students brought not only had us talking about the book but about all of our literature selections this semester.  We rated their our reading selections.  All of the students agreed that Beowulf was the least favorite book and Great Expectations and Pygmalion were the more favored books.

We only took about a third of our class time to discuss the book because I had planned a final exam.  It was a Jeopardy game and the class divided themselves into two teams..  (You can go here and play it for yourselves.)  The students did well!  

My goal is to have grades out by the end of the weekend..  I have to say that this is one of my favorite classes to teach. 

Assignments for Next Week:

Links for this week:
Class Notes

Have a wonderful summer!
Mrs. Prichard

Thursday, May 4, 2017

British Literature Class Notes -- Week 14 (May 4)


We are on our final book, the 1915 espionage/thriller The 39 Steps by John Buchan.  The class seems to like the book.  Not only is it shorter, it has an engaging plot and feels more contemporary in its style.  In class we discussed the the questions that each student brought to class.

If students are interested, they might want to watch excerpts from a 2008 BBC version of the book or a scene from a stage play.  The movies made from this book follow the serious, dangerous tone found in the book while the plays are more farcical.   We will finish the book for the last week in class.

This week, our final week together, we will finish our discussion of The 39 Steps and will also have a final exam. This exam will look more like a game of Jeopardy.  No studying will be required; on the other hand, students have mentioned that treat would be nice, so they may bring something to share with the class.

Assignments for this week:
-- Finish The 39 Steps

Links for this week:
Class Notes

Looking forward to our class,
Mrs. Prichard

Saturday, April 29, 2017

British Literature Class Notes -- Week 13 (April 27)


We enjoyed another good discussion about our literature this week.  We've reached the end of a classic from the turn of the century, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.  As we read  quality works, we not only discuss themes, character development, and plots as they appear in the literature, but we also talk about the same ideas and how we see them reflected in our own lives.

I appreciate the discussion questions that they bring to class.  Every week, each one of them has a good set of insightful questions that promotes our lively discussions and helps us unpack our reading selection.

We are beginning our final book for this class:  The Thirty-Nine Steps.  This adventure novel written by Scottish author, John Buchan, is one of the first espionage thrillers.  His main character, Richard Hannay, has been described as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.  It first appeared in 1915 as a serial in Blackwood's Magazine.  According to one commentary, this book would not have been a success "without Buchan's brisk characterization, loving evocation of Scottish landscape and his switchblade prose."    

I forgot to mention in class that for the last week I will be assigning the students a reflection paper.  This is their only writing assignment for the semester.  Also, we will have a final test on the last day.  But no worries, it will be in the form of a game!

Assignment for Next Week:
-- Read p. 1 - 42
-- Write 3 Discussion Questions

Links for this week:
Class Notes

Have a great weekend!
Mrs. Prichard

Friday, April 14, 2017

British Literature Class Notes -- Week 11 (April 13)


We had a great week in class; in fact, this might have been one of my favorite classes of all time.  We were reading Victorian poetry this week, focusing on three poems:  "The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred Tennyson, "My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning, and "Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manly Hopkins.

Before discussing "The Lady of Shalott,"  I paired the students and asked them to illustrate their assigned section on the board.  They did a marvelous job!  When poetry is also a story, it helps to draw what we're reading.  After we have a good understanding of the story, we can read for more of the aesthetic qualities of the poetry.

Our next reading selection is a delightful play by George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion.  As a kid, one of my favorite musicals was My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn.  As a play, the students should visualize this as a performance while they are reading.

Assignments for Next Week
-- Read introductory material for Pygmalion
-- Read Acts I, II, and III of Pygmalion

Links for this week
-- Class Notes

Have a blessed Resurrection Sunday!
Mrs. Prichard





Introduction to Pygmalion

What’s Up With the Title?
Shaw wrote Pygmalion in 1912, but he took its name from something way, way older: an Ancient Greek myth. The most famous of its many versions can be found in the Roman poet Ovid's Metamorphoses.

In the myth, Pygmalion, a sculptor from Cyprus, hates women, and especially hates the idea of getting married. Still, he gets tired of lying in bed alone at night, and decides to carve a beautiful woman out of ivory, a woman so beautiful that he can't help but fall in love with her. Which is exactly what he does. After making the sculpture, he can't help himself, and he kisses her and starts dressing her up and doing anything he can to make her seem more human. None of that helps to turn her into a human being, but he can't let her go. So, when the feast of Venus rolls around, he prays and begs and pleads with the goddess Venus to please turn this statue into a real live woman. Venus, sympathetic, or maybe just sick of Pygmalion's whining, grants his wish. When Pygmalion tries kissing the sculpture again, she starts turning warm and fleshy, and soon enough she is a real live woman. Pygmalion and his statue/woman get married, have a kid, and live happily ever after.

Pygmalion (Shaw's play) isn't a simple retelling of the myth, but it's pretty clear who's who here: Henry Higgins is the sculptor, Eliza Doolittle his creation. Shaw adds a lot more to the mix – stuff about British society, and women – and it's science, not Venus, doing the transforming, but the basics are the same. Just remember: there's a reason it's called Pygmalion and not My Fair Lady. It's about the relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle, but we have to pay attention to the old sculptor as much as we have to watch the beautiful statue coming to life.

Below are some study questions for the play, Pygmalion.  Read through them and be ready to discuss in detail 4 of the questions.

1.    In his preface to the play, Shaw writes that the figure of Henry Higgins is partly based on Alexander Melville Bell, the inventor of Visible Speech. How does Shaw utilize this idea of "Visible Speech"? Is it an adequate concept to use to approach people?

2.    It has been said that Pygmalion is not a play about turning a flower girl into a duchess, but one about turning a woman into a human being. Do you agree?

3.    What is the Pygmalion myth? In what significant ways, and with what effect, has Shaw transformed that myth in his play?

4.    Why does Eliza start speaking in her old manner when she gets emotional? What does this say about her training? Or about Higgins's abilities as a teacher?

5.    Higgins and Pickering tell Mrs. Higgins that Eliza is an incredibly quick learner. They even call her a genius. Who, then, deserves more credit for Eliza's transformation: Eliza herself, because of her potential intelligence, or Higgins, for bringing it out?

6.    Why is Higgins so keen on teaching Eliza? Can we ever really understand his real motives? If so, what are they?

7.    We watch Eliza change in a number of ways throughout Pygmalion: she learns how to speak properly; she begins dressing differently, etc. But does she ever lose her old self, her old identity? Can we really say what her old identity is anyway?

Pygmalion Commentary



This act is carefully constructed to portray a representative slice of society, in which characters from vastly different strata of society who would normally keep apart are brought together by untoward weather. It is no coincidence that this happens at the end of a show at the theater, drawing our attention to the fact that the ensuing plot will be highly theatrical, that its fantastic quality is gleaned from the illusionary magic of theater. While the transformation of Eliza in the play focuses on speech, each one of her subsequent tests is also something highly theatrical, depending on the visual impact she makes, and how she moves. The highly visual, on top of aural (therefore, altogether theatrical), way in which the flower girl is made into a duchess is emphasized right from this opening act. Under these terms, it should help us to think about the comparison of the artificial makeover of Eliza Doolittle that the phonetics scientist can achieve, to the genuine increase in self-esteem that the considerate gentleman can bestow upon her.
The confusion of the thunderstorm foreshadows the social confusion that will ensue when Higgins decides to play god with the raw material that the unschooled flower girl presents to him. In this act, everyone is introduced in very categorized roles. In this scene, Shaw introduces almost all his major characters, but refers to them by role rather than name in his stage directions: Note-Taker, The Flower Girl, The Daughter, The Gentleman, etc. Furthermore, his stage directions describing where characters stand with every line, particularly in relation to other characters, come across as more than fastidious in their detail. All this evokes a society whose members have rigid relations to one another. The odd, seemingly irrelevant episode when The Mother gives the Flower Girl money to find out how she knew her son's name shows the Mother's fear that her son might be associating with the wrong sort. The incident also conflates a real name with a common term that can apply to anyone; Freddy is for a moment both term and character. By the end of the act, The Note-Taker, The Gentleman, and The Flower Girl have become Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza, respectively. This move will continue through the length of the play, where a less visible blooming of real persons out of mere social positions occurs. If Higgins is one kind of Pygmalion who makes a flower girl a duchess, Shaw is a grander, more total Pygmalion who can will transform mere titles into human names.
Remembering that Pygmalion is subtitled "A Romance in Five Acts," this act strikes us as a rather odd, unceremonious way of introducing the heroes of a romance. For starters, the heroine is described as being "not at all a romantic figure." The hero calls the heroine a "squashed cabbage leaf," while she can do no better than "Ah-ah-ah-ow-ow-ow-oo" back at him. The impression she makes on him is abstract (as an interesting phonetic subject) while that which he makes on her is monetary (he throws her some change), so that we get no indication at all that any feelings of affection will eventually develop between these two. Indeed, we must see the play as a deliberate attempt by Shaw to undo the myth of Pygmalion, and, more importantly, the form of the romance itself. Bearing this in mind, it is possible to approach the rest of the play without a preconceived idea of how a romantic play should conclude, and to notice, as Shaw intends, that there are more utilitarian than romantic aspects to the characters' relationships with one another.



Even though Higgins is immediately obvious as the Pygmalion figure in this play, what this act reveals is that there is no way his phonetic magic could do a complete job of changing Eliza on its own. What we see here is that Mrs. Pearce and Colonel Pickering are also informal Pygmalions, and with much less braggadocio (the alliteration of Pygmalion, Pearce, and Pickering would support this notion). Only with Mrs. Pearce working on the girl's appearance and manners, and with Pickering working, albeit unknowingly, on her self-respect and dignity, will Eliza Doolittle become a whole duchess package, rather than just a rough-mannered common flower girl who can parrot the speech of a duchess. We learn in this scene, quite significantly, that while Higgins may be a brilliant phonetician, Mrs. Pearce finds fault with his constant swearing, forgetful manners, quarrelsome nature, and other unpleasant habits. His own hold on polite respectability is tenuous at best, and it is only his reputation, and his fundamental lack of malice that keeps him from being disliked by others. If Higgins cannot be a Pygmalion on his own, and is such an untidy, mannerless Pygmalion at that, then the obvious question posed to us is if Pygmalion, the transformer of others, can himself be transformed. Implicit in this question is another: whether it could be imperviousness to change, rather than superior knowledge, which differentiates Pygmalion from Galatea.
This act shows Higgins as an incorrigible scientist. He is not only "violently interested in everything that can be studied as a scientific subject," but interested in them only as subjects of scientific study. For that reason, when "quite a common girl" is said to at his door, Higgins thinks it is a lucky happenstance that will allow him to show Pickering the way he works. When he sees it is Eliza, he chases her away, for, having learned all he can about the Lisson Grove accent, he cannot see how she can be of any more use to him. Later, his mind seizes upon her as being "no use to anybody but me." And when Alfred Doolittle is announced, Higgins is not worried about the trouble, but looks forward instead to listening to this new accent. He displays such a dogged determination and exaggerated focus on his work that it is hard to tell if Shaw wants to make fun of this character or put it on a pedestal. In either case, there is no denying that Higgins makes an absolutely inept romantic hero. For him, if women do not inform his science in any way, "they might as well be blocks of wood." Eliza's criticism comes well-deserved--"Oh, you've no feeling heart in you: you don't care for nothing but yourself." Even Mrs. Pearce chides him for treating people like objects--"Well, the matter is, sir, that you can't take a girl up like that as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach."
Alfred Doolittle is one of those delightful, quintessential characters that populate all of Shaw's plays. He makes the most iconoclastic, scandalous statements, but all with such wit and humor that we cannot help but find his ideas attractive. In this act, Doolittle performs the extra role of inspiring Higgins break off in the middle of their conversation to analyze Doolittle's language and comment that "this chap has a certain natural gift of rhetoric." This unnatural break to the flow of talk forces us to pay a similar attention to all the rhetoric of the play.

Friday, March 31, 2017

British Literature Class Notes -- Week 10 (March 30)


We had a good class discussion this week.  Every week, the ability to analyze the literature (prose and poetry) and the comfort level in the class increases, resulting in great insights and discussions.

This week students read poetry from the Romantic period, and in class we focused on four poems:  "The Chimney-Sweeper" from Songs of Innocence and "The Chimney-Sweeper" from Songs of Experience (both by William Blake); "She Walks in Beauty" (Lord Byron); and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (John Keats). 

I love talking about the Keats poem because it has some good visual images but it also challenges the readers to contemplate
art within art
real time vs. slow'frozen time
the consequences of an action the never stops or never happens
What is art?  the urn, the poem, or our imagination?

Next week, we will be discussing Victorian poetry.  As with last week, studnets should read all of the poems but concentrate on the following ones:  
The Lady of Shalott (Tennyson)
My Last Duchess (Browning)
God's Grandeur (Hopkins)

Links this Week
Class Notes

Have a great week!
Mrs. Prichard