Friday, January 23, 2009

THE GRAND TOUR IN LITERATURE


Back in the late 80’s, I returned to college for a spell and was fortunate enough to land in honors classes at ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana, one of which particularly absorbed me, a course in American Literature taught by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson. Mary Ann not only re-awakened my interest in American Literature, she encouraged me many times when I went to her with complaints about my feelings of inadequacy as an older student. I remember that she made “The Scarlet Letter” come alive in a way that no teacher had ever been able to do, and, shortly after, when the movie by that name appeared, I knew every detail of the characters and plot as the film unfolded. She later became a close friend, and three years ago, after I had become an archdeacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Louisiana, when I had to deliver the homily for an incoming class of deacons, I turned to her for a reading and critique of the sermon. Again, she gave me wonderful support for the work, and I was inspired to deliver a homily she deemed “excellent.”

Mary Ann is a small, dark-haired woman of Italian descent who has published several critical works, one of which concerns a major 20th century American, Pulitzer Prize winning-writer, Jean Stafford, and she’s presently writing about the Louisiana literature of Grace King, New Orleans writer of the late 19th and early 20th century. Mary Ann is one of the best advocates for the advancement of women I know, personally, and has fostered Women’s Studies at ULL for many years. She has received the award for being a distinguished professor at ULL, and is an endowed Professor in the Humanities. Her credentials stretch further than this brief acknowledgement, but it’s perhaps expansive enough to call her the quintessential professor of the Humanities. A lunch session with her always inspires me to write and study. She’s an ardent proponent of T. H.White’s comment in The Once and Future King: “…the best thing for being sad is to learn something…”

Shortly after the New Year, Mary Ann invited me and former ULL professor, Vickie Sullivan, to lunch at a Thai cafĂ© in Lafayette and dessert afterwards at her home on Duncan Drive. She showed us a flier that she had prepared for a Study Abroad Program during the Summer of 2009 in Florence, Italy. The studies are English courses 206, American Literature II cross listed with English 435, American Realism and billed as “The Grand Tour in 19th century American Literature.” She advertises the courses as an exploration of four 19th century American writers – three male and one female – who were seduced by Italy. The writers include Nathaniel Hawthorne (why am I not surprised?), Mark Twain, Henry James, and Edith Wharton. Students will visit the gardens and villas of these writers while participating in their studies.

In English 380/Honors 385, Mary Ann has set up a course entitled “Desiring Italy: Women Writers and the Italian Experience,” an exploration of la dolce vita from a woman’s perspective. “Come with us to see how women writers in Italy write about food, about fashion, about landscape, about men,” she writes. … “What is it about this old world setting that inspires women writers and often changes their lives?” she asks. “From antipasto to dolce, we will savor the tastes, sounds, and sights of Italy through the lens of women writers…”

What a wow summer this should be! Students don’t need to be ULL students, but they do need to register as ULL students the summer they take the courses, May 27-July 8, 2009. Cost of $6600 will include round-trip airfare to Italy, transfers to and from the airport, housing for six weeks in furnished apartments with kitchens in the city center of Florence, summer school tuition; field trips to Pisa, Lucca, Siena, San Gimignano, and a four-day trip to Rome with admission to museums, palaces, and churches. However, students will be responsible for their own meals during the program. Students can earn up to nine hours of college credit. For more information, contact: Dr. Mary Ann Wilson at pasta@louisiana.edu. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with an outstanding guide and teacher!! P.S. She knows how to speak Italian.
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