Teaching the Female Narrative
Updated: Nov 22, 2021
By Jennifer Novotney
The beginning of Frankenstein is like wading through thick
muddy waters, students waist high in language
the Romantic values of nature and the individual
the storms, emotion, and metonymy of it all.
I play them an audio book, the cool sounds of the words
dancing on the tongue of the reader. I am mesmerized
even having studied the novel year after year.
But these seniors, already dreaming of the freedom
next year brings on a college campus far away from home,
rest their heads on their hands, eyes closing slowly
as if napping on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
I remind them that Mary Shelley was just about
their age when she came up with the idea
one boring year without a summer, on Byron’s bet.
Their seventeen-year-old eyes stare back into mine.
Yeah, but people lived a shorter amount of time back then,
one boy reminds me, so that makes sense.
We talk about how Shelley had five pregnancies
several miscarriages and family tragedies that could have possibly
influenced her thoughts on life and death
but they are more interested in Byron
the bad boy of the Romantic Poets, they called him.
So we deviate, deep dive, divide the class period
into what titillates and excites, rather than the planned
course material that will no doubt lead them to Kerouac
Ginsberg, maybe even Bukowski, and the female perspective
the Bronte Sisters, Jackson, and Sexton.
To ask questions like
why did Woolf walk into the waves?
How many ways to die did Parker list?
and Plath said what about her daddy?
By Jennifer Novotney
I am standing in the hallway during passing period
the three minutes between first class and second
when a boy from my last class of the day
comes wandering up to me, head down
eyes meeting mine briefly before quickly
looking away, I imagine, in shame.
He asks me why he missed points on the last assignment
telling me I didn’t look it over well enough, that I must
have made a mistake, meekly wanting a one hundred
him shifting back and forth on his unsteady feet
one shoelace untied, threatening to trip him
wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
He hikes his backpack just a little bit higher
the movement exposing the bruising
peeking out of the short sleeve of his shirt
purple black circles resembling fingertips
lengthening up the side of his arm
disappearing in the shadows of the deep red cloth.
I tell him I will look it over again and why doesn’t he
come see me after school to talk it over.
A smile breaks briefly along the cold shore of his face
when he thanks me, lingering a bit too long in the empty hallway
after the warning bell has rung, while all the other students
wait anxiously for class to start, a quiet hush, listening.
Jennifer Novotney’s work appears in Buddhist Poetry Review, The Beatnik Cowboy, and The Vignette Review where she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She won the 2014 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for her debut novel, Winter in the Soul. She has been teaching English at MMI Preparatory School for the past eight years in Northeastern Pennsylvania and is the current English Department Chair and faculty advisor for their award-winning literary magazine, Angst. She can be found on Twitter @jlnovotney.