I'm still thinking about the novel for the end of the Masterpieces class, and I think it's not going to be Pamela. I love that's it's an epistolary novel, because I love epistolary novels. I just do. They're great. I love the sense that the thing I'm reading is an artifact of correspondence (or a journal, I love those, too). It's just so witty and creative.
But, Pamela. I don't mean to offend, but Pamela and Jane Eyre I detest for the fantasy they promulgate that a good woman can reform an a-hole. It's a popular fantasy, I know. It's all over modern "romances" (since they aren't medieval, they get quotation marks): bad boy reformed by good woman who is in turn introduced to the pleasures of rough sex.
The thing is, it's a horrid fantasy. It's vile.
I don't have a lot of relationship rules, but here's one: if someone is a jerk, don't have sex or be in a relationship with them. If they treat you or other people badly, they're a jerk so avoid them.
You're not going to suddenly make them into a kind and caring person by having sex with them. You're not going to suddenly make them not abusive by taking care of them and being obedient to them.
Now, maybe this makes me seem like a pessimist about people. Yes, it's true. I think that by the time someone's an adult, their basic character is in place, and while they can change if they really want to, most of us don't really want to change our basic character, so we don't.
And I don't want to teach a book that's focus is that fantasy. Yes, of course you can teach against the fantasy. You can discuss the fantasy. I just don't want to spend my energy that way.
I know that's sort of weird, because it's not like I teach "The Franklin's Tale" without discussing the trade in women at the base of that tale and critiquing it. It's not like I teach "The Wife of Bath's Tale" without discussing the rape and the elision of female voices. Heck, it's not like I teach Chaucer without asking students to think hard about how many of his tales center on rape and how that might inspire us to read his biographical information pretty darned carefully and think about how complex rape is in his world.
So, I'm thinking Robinson Crusoe it is. Yes, I'm happy to take on asking students to think critically about colonialism and such. That's a fantasy I have the energy to get students to think hard about.
Yet, I do feel a little like a whuss here, because I think the fantasy at the base of Pamela and Jane Eyre is a dangerous one, and certainly something our students should be pushed to think very critically about.