This year got off to a fun start with two weeks of teaching at my kids' high school. Their spring semester begins with a January-term: a two-week session in which students take a three-hour morning class and a three-hour afternoon class each day. My class, "Literature & Larder," offered a chance for students to immerse themselves in the lives, natural surroundings, literary works of, and period tea-times of ten different authors or artists roughly in the Victorian Era.
During our three hours together we spent approximately 35-40 minutes talking about the life history of the day's author and the natural surroundings that impacted them. After that we pulled out our paints to record in our sketchbooks those natural elements talked about. To keep everyone focused on painting, we popped in a movie based on one of the author of the day's works. For instance, the day we studied Queen Victoria we talked about her love of Scotland, looked at some of her own artwork from her travels there, and then watched an episode of the recent "Victoria" series which was set at Blair Castle in Scotland.
The last hour of our class we partake in a period tea-time, complete with real china, real candles, real tea, and real food: all designed around the time period and even foods mentioned by the author in journals or in their literary works. This is also my way of promoting the taking of afternoon tea, showing the current generation how truly cool this can be.
I love the discussions that take place, the discoveries, the connections that students make in their minds as we talk. I want the students to see how the real life events that took place in the life of the author ended up in their books of fiction or artwork.
This year I added Charles Dickens to the author round-up. Oh what fun! I introduced the students to Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding, mince pies, and corny cracker jokes. We discussed what a Victorian Christmas looked like and watched "The Man Who Invented Christmas." Everyday I think "today is my favorite day."
Most of the students who opt to take my class are serious art students who already enjoy spending hours a day drawing or painting. But there are usually a few students who are new to art and it is a challenge for them to pick up a paintbrush and attempt to capture something on paper. I am always especially pleased to see these students take the challenge and surprise us with their hidden abilities.
I love researching historic recipes and trying new things. This year I discovered a chocolate cake from the 19th century -- quite different from the chocolate cake we are used to. It seemed the perfect thing to make for Louisa May Alcott's tea. The taste reminded me of the spiced hot chocolate served at Williamsburg.
Lillias Trotter was also a new addition this year. It was so special to introduce the class to this talented artist, mentored by the famous Victorian art critic, John Ruskin. Lillias decided to move to Algiers to be a missionary rather than become "England's greatest living painter." She took her art with her and used it to bring joy and beauty to thousands as well as to privately celebrate her daily life through her journals. The students truly loved experimenting with gouache and learning about this inspiring woman.
What is not to love about Beatrix Potter! Surely this is the best day? I love passing out the little story books so each student can have one to draw from. I love watching "Miss Potter" with the class. I love introducing students to Beatrix' life! This year we invited 14 teachers to join us for tea and a sketchbook viewing on Beatrix Potter day. The students were so excited to have "their" teacher come and see the beautiful artwork they had been creating.
Then there was L. M. Montgomery and "Anne of Green Gables." Another favorite day, complete with home-made raspberry cordial. Many students have never seen the movie, or read any of the "Anne" books. I particularly enjoyed studying the British literary influences on Montgomery and the fact that she spent her honeymoon traveling in Great Britain to visit the homes of her literary heroes!
Each day we spend time talking about the literary connections each author has. Who were they influenced by? Who did they influence? There is quite a bit of overlap and I wish there was a way to create a huge chart with everyone's information crowded together. For many of these authors I have found quotes telling us directly what their thoughts were about the various literary influences on them. It's so fascinating!
Of course we had to end with a Feast! That's why I save Tolkien for last. And I conned my boys into finding and moving chairs for me so we could all sit around the table. There is so much symbolism in sitting together around a table and it brings me so much joy. Each student had to answer a question such as, "Which author would you like to be?", "Which author had the hardest childhood?", or "Which food did you least like?".
And now the class is over and most of the china is packed away. I thought the cooking and baking were over for awhile too, but then I opened my to-do list for this week and realized my next project involves a lot of cooking and baking. Of course it does! Groceries have been obtained and the baking will commence, maybe tomorrow.
I'm eager to share a few of the books I've read in recent months in preparation for this class. I'll be back shortly to do so!