My ‘Odd Man’ Weekend…

Image of Victorian supper

Time to study Victorians…

After some seriously cold and snowy weather, we have just had two or three rather warm days and steady rain. Jelly Bean and I were going to play outside all weekend in between study sessions. She is not feeling well and most of the snow is gone leaving some good, thick mud. Staying inside, cuddled on the sofa seems like the better plan.  It was Super Bowl and Ground Hog Day weekend here in America, which means spring must be around the corner, if we can just be patient for it to arrive.  It is also my ‘Odd Man’ weekend and time to dedicate study resources to Victorian Literature, the course that was carried along in the wake of my focus last week while preparing three other units for exams.

Preparing for four units can be tricky. I selected these particular units because they overlap a bit. That sounded like a good thing then, and I hope it turns out to be in the end. One of the difficult things about preparing these four courses is cross-referencing my notes and materials that apply to multiple units. For me, assuming I will remember is not an option.  I want to be sure the material is easily available when researching or revising for each course without copying it two or three times.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

The material is sometimes complex and it always relates to different courses in different ways. My solution is my ‘Master Binder’ where I make notes under a heading for each course. My notes include how particular secondary reading can apply to that course, bibliography, and exactly where my complete notes are located for ready reference.  That was an important organization issue to resolve because, for example, about half of my material in ‘Victorians’ can be used in ‘The Novel’, and all of the material I am studying in ‘The Novel’ can be applicable in my other three courses. After working on this cross-referencing system, the next step for my ‘Odd Man’ weekend was a good review of the period then a close look at specific texts.

Image of Queen Victoria

Putting it all in historical context – Queen Victoria

For me, a good general review of the period is very useful. It helps me keep dates and significant events in mind, and allows me to place my primary texts in the context of the literary and historical period. Many reminders about those points works best for me, and the interdisciplinary nature of English Studies is very appealing.  A little history lesson to refresh my thinking is always welcome, especially when researching such a complex, dynamic, and rapidly changing period.  My trusty Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel and Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry are very good for this kind of review.

To review using these secondary texts I first read the introduction provided by the general editor. It usually gives a good overview of the period and the genre, and a summary about the essays that follow. By using the introduction, I can decide which essays merit more, or less, reading time based on my research needs and at the same time complete a good review of genre and literary period. Then I almost always skim each of the essays and make brief notes. After skimming all of the essays I can settle in to read high priority ones in detail. But before concentrating on my priority articles, I use the index to do some additional research on the texts and authors I want to prepare for exams. My ‘index method’ keeps note taking brief, and is quick and efficient. It gives me a good review of particular authors and texts in context with other writers and literature, and situates texts and issues in some critical arguments. Perfect. Now I am ready to tackle the primary and secondary texts, and prepare to write some essays. Not bad for one weekend’s work!

Caowrites is studying the BA English by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes. She lives in Pittsburgh in the United States.

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