“Dickens, Hardy, and the Victorian Age Was a Trip—And More” by Jim Eckert and Jeff Groves

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After 22 years, 12 courses, and 11 study tours to England (the 11th of 12 study tours was a COVID victim), Dickens, Hardy, and the Victorian Age has shuffled off its mortal coil. Team-taught by the authors of this posting, Jim Eckert (physics) and Jeff Groves (HSA), this long-running literature course carried 233 students to London and Dorset, along with 37 “others”—family members, faculty, staff, alums, trustees and friends of the College. The course’s demise is explained by Jeff’s looming retirement.

We, Jim and Jeff, first made a literary connection a few decades back. Jim admired Charles Dickens and regularly re-read his novels, and we collaborated on a directed study with Jenny Majersik (nee Juhl) ’92 in spring 1992. That collaboration, along with our love of travel, led us to almost a decade of brainstorming about how we could use a literature course to give HMC students a brief but intense study abroad experience. We finally managed to make something of our imaginings in 2000–2001 when we offered the first “DH” course.

Over time, the course remained more or less the same structurally, but with lots of tinkering around the edges. Students studied six suitcase-sized novels during the fall semester, with healthy doses of Dickens’s journalism and Thomas Hardy’s poetry thrown in, and then they read two more novels in advance of the January study tour. (Given that the study tour always took place in January, perhaps our most important educational achievements were teaching students the difference between water-resistant and water-proof outerwear and the distinction between waterproof trousers and waterproof pants.)

The course was a year-round endeavor. When we were not running the course, we were planning for its next incarnation. Despite all our planning, however, we had numerous unplanned adventures along the way. To name just a few, we dealt with wind-whipped, horizontal rain; our coach being run off the road, demolishing a stone bridge in the process; a blizzard; a chicken pox outbreak along with various other illnesses; delayed flights; and the manager of a pub where we had scheduled a group lunch “taking a runner” with the weekend receipts so that the pub was closed when we arrived with a coachful of hungry students. Through it all, the students and the other tour members simply rolled with the punches and seemed to enjoy whatever we threw at them. We made friends of the local tour guides, the hoteliers, the innkeeper and the folks running the various sites we returned to tour after tour.

Student course evaluations and alumni comments have suggested that Dickens, Hardy, and the Victorian Age was a memorable and fun educational experience for the Mudders who took the course. It was definitely memorable and fun for its two instructors—we experienced great joy over many years by introducing students to a topographical form of literary criticism, one that allowed our students to challenge their imaginations by visiting sites associated with Dickens, Hardy and their works. Teaching “DH” was one of the key pleasures of our careers, and it’s with real appreciation that we say to the latest group of students, thanks for helping us to go out on a high note!