In praise of Lesley Goodman

IMG_0471 In his elegy of William Butler Yeats, W.H. Auden concludes with this couplet offering advice addressed to an unnamed poet: “In the prison of his days/Teach the free man how to praise.” This morning I want to take a brief timeout to praise Lesley Goodman.

Professor Goodman has a Ph.D. in English from Harvard. She is a voracious and learned reader at the beginning of what should be a great career as a college teacher of literature. However, the crisis in higher education is complicating her professional life.

It is my great good fortune that Professor Goodman was the teacher of the course on the Victorian novel that I audited at Macalester College during the spring semester this year (and that she gave me the permission I needed to take the course as an auditor). In the first class we introduced ourselves and said something about our interest in the course. I got a clue that Professor Goodman might be a special teacher when three of the Macalester students said they were taking the course because Professor Goodman had been recommended to them by friends. She had good word of mouth. I found this to be a credit to her and to the Macalester students in the class (and their friends).

Professor Goodman selected the reading for the course: Persuasion, by Jane Austen; Middlemarch, by George Eliot; The Woman In White, by Wilkie Collins; and Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Professor Goodman explained in the first class that she chose the books as illustrative of the plight of women in the Victorian era and then only spoke about that theme as necessary to understand plot points in the novels. As for the inclusion of Austen, she told me later that she adopts “the long nineteenth century” view of the Victorian era, stretching from the end of the French Revolution to the beginning of World War I. Austen in any event provides helpful if not necessary context for Eliot and Hardy.

Professor Goodman’s discussion of the novels demonstrated and required close analysis of the texts. She provided historical context, but her focus on the books was almost entirely literary. She required the students to write papers demonstrating their ability to perform close literary analysis of the text.

I told Professor Goodman that I wanted to take every course that she taught, but this was her last semester at Macalaster. She taught at Macalester for two years as a visiting professor of English. She will be teaching during the 2015-2016 year as a visiting professor at Union College in Schenectady, New York.

On Thursday my wife and I met Professor Goodman for lunch to talk about life and literature prior to her leaving for Schenectady next week (photo above). She also gave us recommendations for further reading that should keep us busy for several years.

Professor Goodman’s departure from Macalester and St. Paul is the occasion for this post. I would like to spread the word. If you know a student at Union College, you might want to get the word of mouth going for her. She is an inspired teacher of literature. I am so grateful that she admitted me to her class to study the novels with her.