“To the peasants of old times, the world outside their own direct experience was a region of vagueness and mystery.”
-- George Eliot, in Silas Marner
When I read this sentence today, it came to me that my students and I are little different from Eliot’s “peasants of old times”, but at least we’re luckier, because books can bring us out from the little prisons of our “direct experience”. Like many of us, the students and I exist, for the most part, in the undersized universe that we encounter moment by moment – the sights and sounds and words of our rather restricted lives -- but the books we study in English class can help our worlds, at least to some extent, unwrap and widen. Without books, we are fixed firmly in our personal lives, but fortunately, my students and I share the boundless universe of written words. However, that doesn’t mean the sense of vagueness and mystery is absent. The world of literature presents no clearness or straightforwardness for us – just inscrutability of a new and occasionally astonishing kind. A book like A Tale of Two Cities confronts my young readers with mental mountains and mazes, but at least they’re mountains and mazes that can show the students the way out from their limited adolescent lives. Great books bring great worlds into my classroom, a modest space on a quiet Connecticut road where vagueness and mystery sometimes make larger lives for us.
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