Home > Random Musings, Writing Advice > Why I Hate Dickens

Why I Hate Dickens

I had this professor, once. Isn’t that how all strange tales start? No? Well, damn it. Mine starts there. I suppose we’ll just have to accept that.

This professor was an older gentleman, who always wore a tweed jacket. There were patches at the elbows. If he had a different sort of a person, he would’ve been a dead ringer for Giles from Buffy.

He had some very odd habits. Public humiliation, unfortunately, was one of them. He did not like ideas or original thoughts – even if they were backed up by the text. If you did anything but read his mind, he would look at you as if you’d just shat on the floor. Then he’d eviscerate you. He’d tell you that you were completely wrong in a tone that implied he’d never met a dumber person, ever.

He also did two things that became the focus of my attention: he called everyone “my friend” while putting them horribly on the spot (mostly looking for you to agree with him) – and he did not say “okay.” No, he said, “ooohkeeey.” He also nearly made me loathe Oscar Wilde, but Wilde will forever be awesome (An Ideal Husband is still one of my favorite plays).

But the worst thing? The culmination of all things horrific?

Charles Dickens.

I’d only read Great Expectations, and that was in high school. I enjoyed that book, unlike anything I’ve ever read of Faulkner’s (the sound and the fury nearly made me turn fetal in a corner).

But back to Dickens, specifically Hard Times. That novel nearly broke my soul. I can’t recall any of the plot or the names of the characters. I think I might’ve blocked it out due to trauma. Anyway, it was what we HAD to write our final paper on. A straight up analysis, nothing unique or original allowed. We couldn’t even compare it to any other work.

Normally, I was the Geek Girl who kind of got a rush out of looking at something from a new angle. From writing papers. But that instance? I could feel my soul bleeding into my spleen with each word. It took me forever to write it, but I produced a good quality paper, meeting every requirement.

I handed it in. I got it back (weeks late), and I nearly burst into tears. I earned a C. I’d never gotten a C on an English paper before. I was dumbfounded. I stayed after class to ask questions. I don’t even remember what he said. I do remember that it didn’t make any sense. He just went through the paper and read me back the notes he’d scrawled in the margins.

This wasn’t the worst this guy had to offer, though. Aside from making me hate Dickens (to this day, I can’t read anything he’s written without being apoplectic and twitchy), he was not a good teacher. He just wasn’t.

He once called a student dumb in front of the entire class. Literally used the word dumb.

There were also a few other incidents, but I think you get the point. There’s absolutely no excuse for that. Ever. If my opinion of him was low to begin with, it plummeted drastically with that.

What I never really understood was why. Why did this man become a teacher? He didn’t want his students to learn. He wanted to talk at them, not with them. It doesn’t matter if, perhaps, at the start of his career he had good intentions. Follow that road, which runs parallel to the one with the adverbs, and you’ll find yourself in a rather warm place full of brimstone.

When you start to lose your passion for what you do, it’s time to quit. If you stop caring about the faces you’re seeing, and the people you’re helping, it’s time to cut your losses. The same goes for any other profession, really: when you’re no longer invested, you cannot do your job properly or well.

I realize I’m oversimplifying things. It’s not often easy to quit your job and run off to France or Italy. But I’ve always agreed with what Ted Hughes wrote to his son:

“The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

 Live boldly. Love. Put your heart into things. Invest who you are you in what you do. In that, you can never really fail.

 And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a scene to slaughter. Coming, darlings… *wink*

  1. April 9, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I am currently reading Hard Times in class, and I hate that professor too. He seems to be going through the same issues that your professor had, because he just seems to be there to make himself feel superior to his students. There are certainly many professors out there who are horrible, and who probably don’t want to be there so they take it out on their students.
    But, really. Don’t take it out on Charles Dickens. Hard Times is one of his least known works, so it obviously isn’t that popular, I like it (but I tend to like more things than I dislike), but don’t blacklist him because of his class, you’re just letting the mean professors in the world win.
    Good post–as you see I really sympathize with this!

  2. April 9, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    I remember reading Hard Times. It was hard (rim shot!), but as a teen, I adored the gloominess of it.

    But seriously, I see your point. I think professors struggle greatly with not wanting to give up power, but that to have a good classroom, one must not believe they have the key to all knowledge.

    Also shame on him for giving you a C! tsk tsk

  3. April 9, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    I was such a geek, I read Dickens for fun. My own professors were fairly reasonable, but my son currently has a Calculus professor who delights in telling his students how stupid they are at least once every class period. Good thing Sonny Boy is a tough nut and revels in the A he’s getting in the class.

    My theory is that there are two kinds of people who go into teaching. There are the people who want to open their students’ minds to the world. Then there are the people who want to pass their own views of the world onto students.

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