I’ve been teaching fiction at Lifelong Learning for eight years. Since 2014, my course has focused on some of the great novelists of the 19th century: Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë. We approached these artists by exploring their novels (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights) and by viewing film versions of these works. We learned about their lives, considered their times and savored these classic stories. I have enjoyed the bright and engaged people who come to my classes eager to talk about Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Rochester, Cathy and Heathcliff. Coming soon in the spring semester are Bathsheba and Gabriel, Tess and Angel.
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) is the “star” of this year’s class. He was a major Victorian writer who wrote fourteen novels, including masterpieces such as Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which we’ll be reading and viewing. He abandoned novel writing after the scandalized furor that erupted in response to Jude the Obscure (1895). Hardy then returned to poetry, his first love, and is considered one of the great poets of the 20th century.
Hardy’s legacy includes his unforgettable characters, many of them women, and his deep sense of place in the landscape he calls Wessex — the West Country of England. He is equally renowned for his insight into the often-tragic consequences of rampant social change, rural poverty, male domination, sexual hypocrisy and the loss of religious faith. He speaks to our time, too.
For me, encountering Thomas Hardy in this course is a bit like running into a guy I dated nearly 40 years ago. I finished my doctoral dissertation on Hardy’s novels and poetry in 1980, but we drifted apart. I rarely taught him in my own academic career. Will I still find him attractive? Do his ideas and his manners hold up? Whatever made me choose him in the first place? Perhaps I’ll come up with some answers as the course unfolds.
Nell Waldman, Ph.D., has a Ph.D. in English literature from Queen’s University (Kingston, ON). She was an English professor in Toronto for 26 years, specializing in literature and composition. Her doctoral dissertation is on Thomas Hardy’s prose and poetry. Professor Waldman has taught several well-received courses on Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and short fiction at Lifelong Learning. Professor Waldman will teach a six-week course, “Thomas Hardy: On the Page and at the Movies,” beginning Tuesday, March 15 at 10 a.m.