Fantomina and Provocation

One of my favorite readings of the term, Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina. We had three presentations, and the essays the students presented did give us a good context for discussion; however, one student used a non-scholarly source, and I’m pretty sure another didn’t actually read Haywood (at least, he didn’t have the copy with him…)! I’m of the opinion, however, that all will out in the exam. At any rate, we had a pretty good discussion about the piece, especially about how it might be relevant to contemporary American culture–students were interested in the double standard that Haywood is both articulating and, it seems, critiquing; the role of clothing as a sign of identity that can be read and deliberately constructed to be read in a certain way; and the ending, whether or not it was a punishment or a reward.

The conversational direction fo the class was interesting, and given that I feel I’m having some difficulties with my 318, I was talking with Peter and Holly about teaching, the other night. We were specifically talking about how to create a provocative context for class discussion, what kinds of questions or invitations work best to elicit what John Richetti fruitfully terms “sociable communication,” and it occurs to me that our experience with Fantomina modeled something significant–the students clearly had an interest in examining its relationship to their experience, and in this case, that strategy of reading made a lot of sense. In the future, I need to give the “how does it relate to our lives” a little more breathing room, and in doing so, work to shape that kind of reading into something that can provide real insight into the text. I forget that students read differently, are interested in different things; how can that interest be harnessed into the service of more synthetic and comprehensive critique, analysis, interpretation?

Other approaches: Are there any circumstances or contexts in your experience where Fantomina’s actions make sense? What was your favorite part? Least favorite? Sharing my own, starting with an interesting fact, and so on. Of course, I often feel as though I do this, and still the discussion lags. Perhaps I need to reconsider the dreaded “relatability” issue. Ugh.

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