Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Norton Anthology is dead, long live the Norton Anthology

So, it appears that yet another edition of the Norton Anthology of English Literature is on its way. I'm not too sure how I feel about that. Didn't the last one come out only about five years ago? I remember being taken by surprise when I started my first full-time job and realized the one I used in grad school had been replaced.

No more A Room of One's Own, at least not in its entirety. Hello Mrs. Dalloway, instead. No more bringing the Joan Baez CD to class so we can all listen to Mary Hamilton; no more comparing the lists of women writers included in three different editions of the Norton. I'm sure we'll find some other stuff to talk about with Mrs. Dalloway -- who is, for a moment, very nearly a stranger. I don't even remember whether I liked her or not when I was twenty. I suppose I will find out whether I like her now.

No more "Song: Men of England," another piece with a nice musical tie-in.

No more pairing Brian Friel's Translations with Eavan Boland's That the Science of Cartography is Limited. Both gone from the new edition, I shall miss them both. I remember the first time I taught them together, in a classroom with a neglected set of school maps from the mid-twentieth-century shoved in one of the corners. I remember pulling them out of the corner, on an impulse, flipping from map to map, English and French Colonies, Westward Expansion, and Civil War. Asking students what they noticed about the stories the maps told, and the stories they didn't tell. I will miss the end of Translations, with Hugh reading from the Aeneid as the lights go out: as powerful an argument for why stories matter as any I know.

My current Brit Lit II class seems to be left cold by most of these texts, by the way. (They were even left cold when I tried to repeat the map trick; maybe it has to be an ad hoc thing.) Maybe that's just as well; I would have liked my last time teaching them to be filled with fireworks and spark, but this way, I may regret the loss less.