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Thinking about yesterday’s bombings in London, I remember going to teach my first-year seminar, Jane Austen & Film, the day after 911.

The day after 9-11

Wednesday morning, the day after the tragedy, I was teaching Northanger Abbey on a small New England College campus. Many students and faculty here have friends and family in NYC and DC. Some like myself had been incredibly lucky (my daughter in NYC was fine); others like the freshman student whose sister-in-law perished in one of the airline crashes had not been lucky.

As an assignment two days before, I had given my students the journal question: What incident in Vol. 2 of NA do you consider the most “horrible”? Needless to say, we talked about both the “horrors” of NA and of the world we now inhabited. My students felt that like Catherine Morland they, too, had lost their innocence. We particularly looked at Henry’s speech to Catherine after she suspects his father, the General–and he asks her: “Does our education prepare us for such atrocities?” Later, he urges Catherine to “Remember the country and the age in which we live.”

On a beautiful September morning in Vermont, as we struggled to reconcile the words on the page with the atrocities of our own times, I reminded my students that Jane Austen, herself, wrote in a time of war and revolution, and yet she demonstrated that the functions of the human heart and how to know the truth (what other writers might consider small things) were even more precious in perilous times.

2 Responses to “Teaching and responding to the world we live in”

  1. Hi Mary Ellen!

    Now that things have finally quieted down, truly, not only post semester but post digital story workshop, I’m reading everyone’s blogs, and really enjoying it. I told you how much I like your title…something concrete…and the “slices” undercuts the “cake”…I like that (I know it’s a quote). Usually when you start talking about Jane Austen I feel like the little sister who has great fondness for the late family elders but who can’t remember them clearly any more….it’s been so long since I read Austen. But my mother just gave me The Jane Austen Book Club, which I just started to read, and it was fun to turn to the back, first, and read the synopses, just to get myself remembering the stories and characters as separate entities…otherwise they blur into a great mass for me…all except for Emma, I think, though Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. I probably ought to be writing here about teaching after 911, since that’s the main topic of your post and I remember that, too, and your writing reminds me. But I got excited by your reference to Austen, since I’m excited to read this new book, and thought what fun it must be to remember all her books so clearly, as you do. Do share more with us about her…in another post? How does she inform your life? (just a small question!)

    Catharine

  2. Mary Ellen says:

    Thanks for your comment, Catharine. To avoid spam, I have the comments set for approval, so you couldn’t see your comment until I approved it tonight.

    I’m glad you are getting back to Austen. As to how she informs my life. . . Sometimes I think I’d love to write one of those “Everything I know in life I learned from” books about Austen. Seriously, for me, Kipling sums it up best in his short story, “The Janites:”

    . . . there’s no one to touch Jane when you’re in a tight place.

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