Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sometimes students are just so darn adorable!

An actual sentence from a piece of informal student writing:

Textual evidence from the poem indicates there is no heir to Beowulf.
I don't know why, but I find this utterly charming.

For those of you who don't have Beowulf fresh in your minds, the hero, in his dying moments, actually says, outright, that he would give his armor to a son if he had one. It's not exactly a textual puzzle, even in Old English, and certainly not in the translation my students are reading. I think this is coming from my tendency to write "you need textual evidence here" in the margins when students says something interpretative or analytical without evidence. But this is factual -- it just needs line numbers for reference (which he doesn't provide, but oh well). Apparently I've trained them too well already and now they're salivating when a bell rings!


Bardiac said...

At least YOUR student didn't say that Beowulf is a good protestant or something.

I had a student write a paper about how the imagery of Jesus in the *Dream of the Rood* was all shepherding and child-caring.

Dr. Virago said...

Quoi???? Exactly where did your student get shepherds and children in that poem?!

Karl Steel said...

Maybe they were stuffed into Jesus's wounds.

My favorite moment like yours, DV, comes from my stressing that characters in literature aren't real people. They're textual constructs. I don't care whether or not the Wife of Bath "really" loved her husbands (or at least her most recent husband); what I--and my students should--care about is what the text is up to in presenting questions of emotion and authenticity.

One student really took these lessons to heart, because she referred to Hamlet in a paper as a "that" rather than a "who." Why? He's a textual construct, not a person. !!!

Dr. Virago said...

Karl -- That's hilarious! And yeah, getting them to stop talking about characters as if they're real is a constant problem. I love when they say "Hamlet should have..." or "If Beowulf hadn't..." or "Maybe the Wife of Bath was thinking..." As I always tell them: a character can't do anything other than what they've been written to do. That's it. There's nothing outside of the text, kids! It's a testament to the power of narrative, but their job as English majors is not simply to give themselves over to that power, but to figure out the source of it, how it works.

jb said...

These are so entertaining!

My favorite opening line from a student paper was the following:

"Reduced to their simplest terms, women are merely empty vessels, waiting to be filled."

In the (otherwise very sweet) student's defense, he meant this to be read as coming from the main character's point of view. I'm inclined to believe his explanation, because the sheer horror and humiliation on his face when I called him on it (privately) just couldn't be faked.

Dr. Virago said...

JB - Oh, wow. That sentence would have floored me. That's the kind of thing where I write in the margins: I'm pretty sure you didn't mean to say what you just wrote.

This is where we get to show that leaving some time to set the paper aside and come back to it is really, really helpful!

And welcome, btw! I didn't know of your blog until now, but I'm going to add you to my blogroll forthwith!

jb said...

Hey, thanks!