It is a truth universally acknowledged, that every English student enrolled in a good literature course must at some time or another read Pride and Prejudice.
However little known the feelings of such a student may be upon her first entering the course, this truth is so well fixed in the mind of the English professor that Pride and Prejudice is considered to be the single most important novel of the first semester.
“My dear students,” said the professor one day, “have you heard that the Pride and Prejudice unit is to begin at last?”
The students replied that they had not. Judging by the students’ faces, some of them harbored no desire to correct their ignorance, but the professor, momentarily consumed by the gravitas of the Austen legacy, continued forth.
“But it will,” returned he; “for first semester has just begun.”
The students (wisely) made no answer. Sensing the beginning of a long-winded lecture, Andrea, who was fortunate enough to secure a seat at the back of the lecture hall, pulled out her iPhone and began to check Facebook. Some students twittered, while still others Tweeted.
“Do not you students want to hear the news?” cried the professor impatiently. Though he had long since happily received tenure, the professor refused to allow his students to complete his course without acquiring some enduring appreciation for Jane Austen.
“You want to tell us, and we have no objection to hearing it.” This was said by Kelsea, who sat at the front of every classroom and made no secret of her desire to win every professor’s affection.
The professor started; this was invitation enough.
“Why, my students”—he had never ventured to call them anything but “students,” a designation which every pupil under his instruction accepted rather passively—“you must know, the dean says that we are to be visited by a young man possessing large fortune, large estate, and more than 2,500 Facebook friends; that he came down on Monday in his Ferrari to see the campus, and was so taken with our English curriculum that he agreed with the dean immediately; that he is to accept a temporary teaching position here before Christmas, and some of his TAs are to be on the campus by the end of next week.”
“What is his name?” inquired Rosaline, whose plain name reflected the usual sense and sensibility required of parents in naming their firstborn.
“Is he dating someone or is he single?” The professor looked around, momentarily bewildered, before ascertaining that the inquiry was posed by Andrea, who had just learned about a hot new freshman on campus via Facebook and was discussing that particular freshman’s relationship status with her friend. After reassuring himself and his students of the solemnity of the occasion, he proceeded onward.
“A learned man of large social standing; one or two thousand new Twitter followers a year.” He reiterated enthusiastically. “What a fine thing for our students!”
“How so? How can it affect us?”
“My dear students,” replied the professor, “how can you be so dull! You must know that I am thinking of his teaching one of my classes!” For years now, the administration had denied the professor’s bid to teach part time, which was a continual point of contention between the two parties.
“You are as learned as any other faculty member,” remarked Luke, glancing up from the chemistry problem set he was currently toiling over. A true English major, Luke had little difficulty deconstructing the works of Hemingway and considerably more difficulty constructing a balanced redox reaction.
“My student, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of students, but I do not pretend to be any thing extraordinary now. When a professor has taught over ten years, he ought to give over thinking of his own competence.”
“In such cases, a professor has not often much competence to think of.” This well-timed compliment from Kelsea was graciously received by the professor with a faux modesty befitting his station and tenure.
“Ah! you do not know what I suffer,” the professor said lightly, but in such a way as to decisively end the conversation, for two hours were nearly gone, and he was eager to abandon the current line of discussion in favor of introducing the new unit.
The professor was so odd a mixture of dry lectures, hard grading, and strict curves, that the combined experience of three and twenty students had been insufficient to make them understand his character. Their aims were contradictory to say the least. The business of the students’ lives was to secure an adequate grade in the course; his was to undermine them at every opportunity.
And thus, in this manner, he assigned the first reading assignment of Pride and Prejudice.