When I was but a sprig of an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, I had the incredible good fortune to take a literature course with a professor named Susan Gubar. As one from a small town in northern Indiana, and one who had attended Catholic parochial elementary and high school to boot, I was still somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of IU Bloomington. These were the Vietnam War years, and the campus was bursting at the seams with students, protests, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution. I dyed my long hair black, ceased wearing a bra, wore big wire-rimmed glasses [very John Lennon], donned tie-dyed clothing, and shlepped around the campus in bell-bottom jeans. My Italian father thought I had gone to hell; my mother prayed that I would return to more flattering attire and my natural hair color.
Susan Gubar and her co-author Susan Gilbert had just finished what was to be a landmark book: Madwomen in the Attic. The minute I stepped into Professor Gubar’s classroom, my world tilted. She encouraged us to voice our ideas about the literature – George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette,
Jane Austin’s Emma and Persuasion to name a few. Coming from straight lecture courses on literature where I found myself falling asleep while another professor waxed poetic on Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn for a week, I had little hope of Susan’s course being any different. How wrong I was.
Often as the years pass, the memories of which professor one had for what course dim. Not so my memories Susan Gubar and of intellectual engagement in the three literature courses I took with her. Her insatiable pursuit of the exploration of literature, particularly Victorian literature at that time, made an indelible impression upon me. If ever I were to teach, I told myself, I want to create a dynamic environment that fosters literary discussion. Susan Gubar remains for me, even after my thirty-two years of teaching in higher education, the yardstick against which I measure myself. Prizes and accolades Susan has received in spades. However, I think one of her greatest achievements is inspiring those of us fortunate enough to have studied literature with her.
Now, in Susan Gubar’s Well Blog in The New York Times, she teaches us about coping with cancer, in Susan’s case, ovarian cancer. Through her powerful voice, I find myself inspired all over again.
Ciao for now.