A Teaching Life
By William H. Pritchard
(Graywolf Press, Hardcover, 9781555972349, 216pp.)
Publication Date: September 1, 1995
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"Could one, after all this purposeful work, have become an anachronism? A dinosaur? Replaceable?"
--from English Papers
Well-known critic William H. Pritchard reviews his life as a passionate student and teacher of English in the classrooms of New England's Amherst College. Pritchard takes us from the era of the all-male college, where "conduct befitting a gentleman" was the only rule, through the political and social turmoil of the late 1960s, when the teaching of T.S. Eliot had to compete with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Ironically, as Pritchard finds his own voice as a critic and teacher, he finds also that his literary and pedagogical aims seem increasingly marginal. The book's later chapters recount the fragmentation and diversification of both the student body and an English department.
This lucid account offers a much needed personal chronicle of the issues involved in the contemporary debate surrounding the teaching of English literature. Pritchard not only observes, but dramatizes the teaching situation, and from both sides of the desk. With a candid mix of apology and nostalgia, Pritchard describes and evaluates changing circumstances in both the professor and the profession.
William H. Pritchard is the Henry Clay Folger Professor of English at Amherst College. He is the author of two important biographies, Frost: A Literary Life Reconsidered and Randall Jarrell: A Literary Life. He reviews regularly for the New York Times Book Review, and his literary criticism is published in the New Republic, Hudson Review, American Scholar, and the Boston Sunday Globe. His most recent book, Playing It by Ear: Literary Essays and Reviews, has been well received.