Humiliation for Academics

In his famous (among academics) novel, Changing Places, David Lodge described (many sources say “invented,” but I’ve seen the game played so many times that it’s hard for me to believe that he made it up) a game played by literature professors called “Humiliation.” In it, the players  progressively describe more and more significant works of literature that they claim never to have read. In the novel, an American professor claims never to have read “Hamlet,” winning the game but getting fired afterwards. Historians have their own versions of this game, and I’ve played it many times myself.

Because of the Fanstravaganza I’ve been watching and rewatching the Vicar of Dibley episodes on netflix, and I find myself again and again watching the scene that begins in this clip at 3:43 for Mr. Armitage’s microexpressions and various other things. [Cap of the part of the scene I was talking about is substituted for vid suppressed by BBC rights claim, 7/26/15.]


Dawn French and Richard Armitage in Vicar of Dibley. Source:

I’ll have a lot to say about this once the Fanstravaganza is over, I think, but a comment on one of the earlier Dibley posts underlined the charm in Harry’s exploitation of text from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd as a potential candidate for “most charming moment.” This might qualify as a “humiliation” bid for me. They tried to force us to read Mayor of Casterbridge in school and I read the Cliff’s Notes. Uch. Jude the Obscure, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd were all on those readings lists they gave us in high school about things one should have read before college. (Detour: why do they do that? Now that I teach college I know that we care much less about content and much more about mastery). Anyway, I’ve seen films of Jude and Tess and have never read Far from the Madding Crowd, but I have a copy of it, and last night after watching that scene about twenty times I pulled it off the shelf and put it in my bag.

Read the first twenty pages this morning in a café and I’m in swooning. What amazing language! It would have been wasted on me in school, and maybe, indeed, until after I had read Theodor Fontane, but I am looking forward to a major exploration of the long prose works of Hardy this spring. Sigh …

~ by Servetus on March 18, 2010.

6 Responses to “Humiliation for Academics”

  1. Years ago I got on a Thomas Hardy kick, and the first book I read was Return of the Native. Oh it’s not his best work, but I was astounded at how much I enjoyed the opening which is a description of the heath that goes on for I think about four or five pages before someone comes over a hill in the distance.


  2. He had me at line one: “When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to mere chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.” Wow.


  3. Well, amazingly “Far from the Madding Crowd” is the only Thomas Hardy I HAVE read, but I totally LOVED it! I read it in High School after previously seeing the movie with Alan Bates and Julie Christie. The book actually made me appreciate the movie even more, because I thought the cinematography did a great job of visually portraying Hardy’s beautiful poetic descriptions of the landscape.
    When I first heard Harry quoting from that book, I was so excited I was tingling!!


  4. Oh, I love it too. Even as a kid I could discern the love themes in it although I didn’t know quite what to call them and certainly didn’t know the word personification. LOL!


  5. I confess that we were made (forced) to read Jude the Obscure at school and I was quite put off Hardy. I really should go back and read Hardy now I am an adult 🙂


  6. We were whipped through Mayor of Casterbridge in 8th grade in a sort of passive-aggressive move by some particularly annoyed language arts teachers. (Long story not worth telling here.) It’s funny how/why/whether things stick with us. There are things I read in school that I will carry with me for the rest of my days, and other things that I will hate for the rest of my days because I read them in school.


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