"Find Our Own Way for Ourselves": Orlando as an Uncommon Reader in the Critical Theory Classroom

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Nick Greene's recurrence in Virginia Woolf's Orlando: A Biography (1928) as "the most influential critic of the Victorian age" (204) underscores the skepticism toward institutionalized literary criticism that Woolf voices in A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938). Indeed, Orlando's summing up of Greene's petty professorial life and his spiteful critical writing would likely predispose any instructor of a critical theory course to readily avoid the text. Nonetheless, during the summer of 2009, I kept returning to the novel as I surveyed the pile of instructor copies of anthologies of literary criticism and theory on my desk, which served as a kind of casting couch for the texts that would make the cut for my syllabus for a graduate class, English 588: Survey of Critical Theory. Although I have taught the undergraduate theory class, English 393: Literary Criticism and Theory, for three years at my institution (a state university of 19,000 students aspiring to be a "metropolitan research university of distinction"), this wa a new class for me, and I began reexamining my pedagogical choices and the role of theory in our curriculum. Fortuitously, the special issue on "Woolf and Pedagogy" of the Virginia Woolf Miscellany arrived as I was pondering this question, and Madelyn Detloff's introduction and Nick Smart's article in that issue, "I, Bernard: Notes from the Feminist Classroom," struck a chord. Literary criticism is after all, as Orlando says of poetry, a "voice answering a voice" (238), and the conversations they opened in that Miscellany prompted my determination to use Woolf's Orlando as a central text in my graduate theory class and to invite Nick and Madelyn to continue their conversations on the role of Woolf's work in shaping our pedagogy in a panel called "'More Forms and Stranger': Woolf, Theory, adn Teaching."1

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