I graded my stack of papers over the weekend, and little things frustrated me. For example, why do students persist in italicizing essay titles, even though we've talked about the format, and they have the format for these specific essays on the assignment sheet, AND they have another checklist sheet to use before turning in papers? In the moment of coming to that italicized title, it's frustrating and seems like mere carelessness. In my calmer moments, I know it's just something they don't perceive as important, and haven't internalized.
In the moment, I want to just give the essay an F and be done, because it's just frustrating. But, of course, I don't.
But I sometimes wonder how much my reading of an essay is subconsciously (and negatively) affected by things such as italicizing essay titles, adding extra spaces between paragraphs, and other petty missteps.
I can be grading along, and then come across that one stupid italicized title, and I thnk "GAH!" and get distracted by my frustration, and want to stop. I think my over-reaction is one of the things that makes me slower at grading than I could be.
Have I mentioned using the term "novel" when what we've read is non-fiction or a play? That really tends to make me cranky in upper-level courses. But I think it's because my sense of what a novel is (prose fiction of a certain length) is uncertain. Is Beware the Cat a novel? Sidney's Arcadia? Why or why not? I've never quite gotten that far in my understanding of the term.
(Since I'm obsessive, of course, I decided to look at the earliest usages recorded in the OED, because, did I mention, a bit obsessive?
C. 1500, someone describes The Decameron a novel, in the sense that it's a collection of stories.
On the other hand, with the definition:
A long fictional prose narrative, usually filling one or more volumes and typically representing character and action with some degree of realism and complexity; a book containing such a narrative.
novel is first used in 1639.
Here's the problem with that definition, though: a lot of works now commonly called "novels" don't fit in terms of representing with some degree of realism and complexity, do they? There's stuff out there that misses totally on the "realism" front, and other stuff that misses on the "complexity" front.
Beware the Cat isn't particularly realistic, but then, neither is Frankenstein; should we go back and call it a novel, even though the term's an anachronism? (We call some of Shakespeare's plays "romances" though they weren't called that in the period.)
And how embarrassing is it that I had to roll back and find a novel on my bookshelf in order to name one that isn't an early modern text?