This semester has been interesting for me because I’ve been teaching two drama courses in honor of the “Dramester,” or “Semester of Drama” at Widener. One is ENGL 176: Introduction to Shakespeare, which has been wonderful, and the other is a special topics course, ENGL 388, on Romantic-period drama, which has not been wonderful exactly but illuminating. The latter course involves work that we need to do in our discipline–that is, to re-examine long-standing conventions and beliefs and to study non-canonical writers and works. The Romantic-period drama course takes a look at a genre that many people might suppose did not even exist during the period; and while we have been studying work by a couple of the great Romantics–Coleridge and Shelley–we have been reading those writers’ plays along with less-familiar playwrights such as Hannah Cowley, Joanna Baillie, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. (Sheridan is canonical in terms of eighteenth-century comedy.) These plays are interesting but they’re not exactly setting the class on fire–and that includes me.

So, as I consider my course on the British Novel for the fall, I have decided to focus on absolutely the top tier of novelists–a “super canon,” if you will. In this class, we are going to read and study five novels that are indisputable masterpieces. These selections may seem predictable, but I suspect that many of our students haven’t read them or haven’t read them as adults. Even if they have done so, they are novels that reward re-reading.

  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
  • Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
  • Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

I have ordered the Norton Critical Editions for each of these novels.