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  • Jennifer Novotney

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?


The Complaint

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.

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