my ulterior motive, or why I'm trying to read Middlemarch (again)
I realize "ulterior motive" sounds sinister, but my reason for reading Middlemarch
is not all evil and dark. In fact, it has no bearing on the world whatsoever, just on me. My plan was, if I get through Middlemarch
and can reasonably answer the question "what did I learn from this experience", then I would take advantage of a free evening in my fall schedule, and take a Victorian Lit class. See? Not sinister. Masochistic, perhaps, but that's my own thing.
I say "was" because I've already changed my plan. I'm going to take the class anyway; Middlemarch
is one of the books being taught (the others being Bleak House
, Picture of Dorian Gray
and Tess of D'Urbervilles
, each of which I've read and enjoyed...the latter two being much more enjoyable than the former) so even if I can't deal with it in the next few weeks, I'll have the opportunity once more in a classroom setting. The new carrot is this: if I make it through the class, I'll do an MA in English. Again, no relevance to the rest of the world.
Since I quit grad school (in 1992), I've carried around the guilt of doing so. My father paid a significant amount of money for my undergrad education; he took out no loans, and I went to a private school four years before I should have, so he was really
unprepared. But, he didn't want me to have any loans when I got out, and I didn't. So, obviously I felt like I let them down and wasted their money. Then, there were the profs in my department. I went to a really small school, less than 1000 students. We had about 20 English majors, and very few went on to grad school. In fact, in my graduating class, I think only two of us even applied. So, it was sort of a big deal that any of us went on to another level. I lasted six weeks in grad school, at my #7 choice of school (out of 7). Around midterm time, I realized that studying literature at the graduate level just wasn't for me. This realization happened in the middle of a Victorian seminar in which a discussion had been raging for a good hour or so, regarding the importance of the color of the shirt worn by a particular character in Middlemarch
. I didn't get it then, and I still don't get it. So, I withdrew, and while I can't say I regretted the decision, I've thought about it a lot over the years.
I went off and made my own career, having nothing to do with literature or higher education. A few years ago, I decided to go back to school and do a second BA (in Business Administration with a Management concentration), and I'll be done with that after Spring '05. I did this to bring some "academic" business knowledge into our company, and also to give myself something to do with my free time (and it's also a tax deduction). I also took a linguistics class, and decided that after I finished my management degree, I'd do a linguistics MA with a concentration in computational linguistics (being the geeky programmer that I am). I was all set to do that, and then saw that none of the classes in linguistics were offered at the end of the day/in the evening. That wasn't going to work, so I gave up my plans to be a linguist and figured I'd just do an MBA.
Then the little nagging voice started up again. "Why don't you read a book?" it said. "I'm not a good reader," I replied. "Oh, just get over yourself and try," it said. So I did. I read a few contemporary novels, then one day grabbed my dusty old Collected Works of Oscar Wilde
and flipped through it. I didn't hate it. I thought maybe, just maybe, I'd take a few years to do an MA in English before I went and did an MBA. I looked at the upcoming semester's schedule, and spoke to the grad coordinator about the most important criteria to me: when were the classes held? In the English dept, like the Business dept, all the grad classes are held at the end of the day and evening -- just what I needed. I thought maybe, just maybe, I had a plan.
But still, Middlemarch
loomed. I never could get through it, and I never knew what I was to get out of it. Everyone else seemed to "get" it, but I didn't. A few days later, my friend Mel blogged that she had settled on Middlemarch as her favorite book to teach
. That sealed the deal for me -- I had to at least try again. See, Mel's known me since my undergrad days, knew me through the grad school experience (short though it was), knows me now...and I've known her all that time, as she was off at a seriously good grad school being exceptionally smart. In other words, her opinion matters a lot
. So that's why I started to read Middlemarch
Today, she blogged about what it is that she tries to do
in her classes. I read her list, and realized that I only ever had two professors try to do the same things, and they weren't in my department. It's no wonder I was unprepared and had zero confidence in my abilities, the first go 'round. As an adult, I know I can do better -- and that is the sole reason I'm going to try.