The offending paragraph:
I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth. hazlitt
It is unlikely that I will ever be asked to teach a literature course at a major, or even minor, university. First because none of my degrees – ancients as they are, are in literature – second, because the only course I would remotely want to teach has the provisional title – Really Long Books. Here is the list:
Parade’s End: Ford Maddox Ford
The Dance to the Music of Time:Anthony Powell
The Balkan and Levant Trilogies: Olivia Manning
Sword of Honor: Evelyn Waugh
The Raj Quartet: Paul Scott
The Alexandria Quartet: Laurence Durrell
A Suitable Boy: Vikram Seth
The alternative title would be “End of Empire”. Only one girl on the list I’m afraid. One and a half gay men (Paul Scott would be the half (though the case can be made for Waugh to a minimal, Etonian, degree).)
Unfashionably enough the point of the course would be social history through the novelists’ eye. Or, put more precisely, an examination of what happened to the two men of the British Officer class with whom Parade’s End opens. What happened to them, to the class they represented, to the ethos they embodied, are, to my mind, the pressing questions of the 20th and, I suspect, the 21st century.
This is not, I am afraid, how English literature is taught these days. No theory, very little engagement with the text – only the last book of Parade’s End is in any sense “modern”. (Durrell is modern but he is not limp enough to be taught that way.) In fact, my poor students would be encouraged to read history along with the novels. Because I would be teaching books I know, love, think I understand and think are illuminating. So there is not the slightest chance such a course would be taught.
Gilmour’s great sin, leaving aside the absence of a few required tokens, is that he seems to like reading. Which means he likes reading some books rather than other books and that, in turn, means he will offer a course which reflects what he likes, indeed loves, reading. And he is honest enough to admit he does not want to teach books he does not love.
Given that this is an optional, 3rd year, course there is no particular reason why Gilmour should teach any particular book. One of his predecessors at Victoria College managed to run quite a little course using nothing more than the Bible, Paradise Lost and Blake.
David Gilmour has sinned by telling the truth about himself, his preferences and his teaching capacities. I am sure the bien pensant of the UofT – and there are none so bien in all the Canadas – are assembling the academic firing squad on the quad lest this sort of impiety gets out of control.