"Sensible Shoes and Suitable Husbands: Teaching Austen with Children’s Literature"
[Two Rewriting Assignments]
The Purple Jar Prequel
The choices that Austen heroines make sometimes seem trivial, but they not only shape their personal lives they also profoundly affect their communities. In order to understand the stakes of these decisions, you will create a kind of prequel for an Austen novel of your choice. Pick an Austen heroine from one of the novels we read this semester and imagine her as a child character of Rosamond’s age. Write an abridged version of “The Purple Jar” that focuses on the girl’s decision-making process. What would motivate this particular character and how would she make her decision? Keep the character’s particular personality in mind. For example, how would a young version of Emma (complete with her sense of superiority) choose between shoes and the purple jar? What about Anne, with her “persuadable” nature? What are the positive or negative consequences of these choices?
To help get started, we’ll discuss in class how we might imagine a character like Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice attempting to make one of Rosamond’s choices (of course, he would be unable to make a decision until he learns what Lady Catherine de Bourgh would recommend). How would Mrs. Bennett or Miss Bates make such decisions?
Finally post a paragraph on our course site explaining why you rewrote the story as you did. What are the qualities you’ve indentified in your Austen heroine, and why did you have her choose as you did?
Rosamond Revisited: Partner Storytelling Assignment
We have read excerpts from the Edgeworths’ Practical Education as well as three stories by Maria Edgeworth in which Rosamond chooses among different objects and options. Write your own updated Rosamond story that features the characters of the young girl and her mother but takes place in our own era. Model your story on Edgeworths’ Rosamond tales by describing a choice that involves everyday objects and events from the child’s life. Include dialogue between Rosamond and her mother that shows them negotiating a decision but end your story just before Rosamond makes her choice. This story should be at least 500 words, though feel free to make it longer. Please post a polished version of your story to our course website by the deadline.
For part two, return to our course site over the weekend and read through the stories your classmates have posted. Pick one of the stories that nobody else has responded to yet and continue writing the story where the original author left off. Write the rest of the story, describing the choice Rosamond makes (it can be the “wrong” choice as in “The Purple Jar” or the “right” one, as in “The Hyacinths”). How does she make this choice? What are the consequences of her choice? Remember that since you are writing your own updated version of a didactic story, the reader should have a clear sense of what lesson Rosamond has learned by the story’s end. When you are finished, post your new material as a response to part one of a story on the course site. This second part of the story should also be at least 500 words.
[*The following steps can be included as part of an extended community project]
After each story has a part one and two, I will bring these 2-part stories to class so you can pair up with your co-author and start work on revising your story further. You’ll add some detail, edit, and fix discrepancies in consultation with me. Remember that your story is meant to be a children’s text with a moral point, just like Edgeworth’s stories are. Over the course of this week, you will get together with your partner to create a small children’s book from your story. Remember to make your book visually appealing; it is up to you to decide how to illustrate, bind, and present your book. (I will show you some examples in class). How you want your book to look is up to you; the only requirement is that you prepare it with care and attention.
After your books are assembled, our class will partner with a local teacher to visit a kindergarten classroom. With your partner, you will read your book with a child or two and ask your listeners what choices they would have made if they were the Rosamond character and why. You will gather notes on your young listeners’ responses for an appendix modeled on the collection of children’s observations at the end of Practical Education that we have been reading in class.
As the final step of this project, you’ll share your book with the rest of the class, along with your readers’ feedback collected in the appendix. We will gather the books together into a miniature library gallery, and each pair of partners will explain the choices that went into your updated Rosamond story and what you learned along the way.