We all know that Woolf’s works are notably challenging to read and teach because of her unconventional themes and plots, innovative structures, non-traditional narrative forms, historical and literary allusions, and avant-garde techniques.
As a community college teacher of literature, one technique I have found to combat the challenges of teaching Woolf is to review, at the start of each semester, some of the pedagogical guides that help teachers of Woolf bring our students closer to the author, such as Approaches to Teaching Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (2009, edited by Eileen Barrett and Ruth O. Saxton).
But at the start of this fall semester I found myself in a new position in my department and my new office brought new duties, new expectations and new stresses. In my past visions, sitting in my office on my first day as a full-time instructor would feel warm, shiny and successful. I would be hopeful. I would be energetic. I would bring Woolf into every class.
Instead, on the first day of school I sat in the academic room of my own and stared at the photo of Woolf that I taped to my wall and then at the calendar filled with meetings, conferences and due dates. I didn’t feel shiny and hopeful; I felt overwhelmed and exhausted. I didn’t need a new teaching technique this semester. I needed a new inspirational technique.
I chose to not review pedagogical guides on Woolf. Instead, I turned to my past students’ responses to “Kew Gardens”. My students’ positive reactions to Woolf reminded me of why we work so hard to bring her words to readers, to challenge our students with unconventional literature and to stimulate students’ imaginations; of why we sometimes dedicate a whole class to discussing beauty; of why we go home felling like failures when some don’t seem to “get it.”
Reading the reactions my community college students in Las Vegas had upon their first encounter with Woolf revived my passion for teaching this challenging author:
I think Woolf is a beautiful writer. Her work is filled with passion, love, beauty and the depth seems to draw in hungry intelligent minds. I appreciate any writer who challenges her readers to think outside of the mundane society around them and see the beauty in their surroundings. -Erica
Virginia Woolf’s writing is so unconventional and brave. It is admirable that she had the courage to break out of formal conventions. All the while, she managed to capture the assortment of everyday interactions in one short story. -Ian
I quite like Kew Gardens! The unconventional plot and intimate look into each character’s conversations not only makes for an interesting read, but made me ponder as to what one might hear if they were to listen in on any one of my personal conversations at any given time. Additionally, while reading Kew Garden’s I couldn’t help but imagine that the brief glimpses of narration must be something like what God hears as he checks in on our lives. –Sara
Where does your passion for Woolf come from?