Penn State University
I taught The History of Constantius and Pulchera to twenty-four students in an upper-level undergraduate course on the American Novel to 1900 this spring. The class is one I teach frequently, and I vacillate between approaches: should a student taking such a class expect it to cover the canonical heavyweights presumed by the topic (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Scarlet Letter, Last of the Mohicans); or wish to be introduced to novels they might otherwise never have heard of (The Quaker City, The Morgesons, Clotel); or discover lesser-studied works by familiar writers (Pierre, The Heroic Slave, A Modern Instance)? When I talk with students about their own preferences, they too respond variously, some glad for the chance to discuss Moby-Dick in a classroom setting, others eager to learn about books that they might never otherwise encounter. I am realizing that what works best for my own pedagogical practice, if I can presume to have one, is to put a new-to-me text in direct conversation with a reliable classroom staple, and it was on these terms that I approached The History of Constantius and Pulchera.