I'm back to loving my life in Indiana with a grateful heart. Here is one of the reasons why.
Last fall the DePauw film series screened the 1994 film version of Little Women with Winona Ryder as Jo, which I was unable to attend as I was off campus in Boulder that semester. But last week I attended the talk by YA author Michaela MacColl about her fictional depiction of young Louisa May Alcott, The Revelation of Louisa May (hosted by the Putnam County Public Library, to get the larger community involved in all our Alcott enthusiasm). Next week I'm looking forward to a lecture by historian Robert A. Gross on Alcott's life and work situated within the history of her hometown, Concord, Massachusetts.
As I savored the campus's Little Women festival featuring the opera of Little Women, film of Little Women, recent historical fiction making use of Little Women, and scholarly lecture on Little Women, I asked myself, "Hmm. What is missing here?" Yes: reading the actual book of Little Women! So I organized a reading group sponsored by the Prindle Institute for Ethics. The reading groups meet in the evening by the beautiful fireplace in the Prindle's Great Hall; the Prindle purchases the books for all the participants as well as wine and an array of lovely snacks.
Our group, composed of faculty from Philosophy, French, History, English, and Classics, as well as staff from admissions, the university science library, and other campus units, met for the first time last week to discuss the first half of the text. Some had never read Little Women; others hadn't read it since childhood; some were reading it yet again as a beloved oft-visited friend. I did force everybody to postpone the topic we wanted to talk about most: should Jo have married Laurie?! That will be the centerpiece of next week's meeting on the final half of the book.
I chose for us the Norton Critical Edition of the text, so our third meeting will focus on selected scholarly and critical essays included there. Our final meeting with involve a Skype visit with one of the Norton Critical Edition's editors, the brilliant and generous Anne Phillips of Kansas State University. In between the second and third meetings, we'll have time to go together to see the campus production of the opera.
But here's the best part. Two of the students in my seven-person Honor Scholar course on "The Ethics of Story" are School of Music voice students, and both have roles in the opera: one as Laurie, one as Mr. March. This week the composer himself is here on campus doing intensive coaching of the students in their roles. "Laurie" invited me to come sit on his coaching session. He sang the role so beautifully and became Laurie so completely before my eyes that I was sure Mark Adamo would find no suggestions at all for improvement, but of course Mr. Adamo had suggestions on every syllable. It was fascinating to see such attention to the details of each breath, phrasing, and gesture.
Now "Laurie" and his real-life girlfriend who is playing Jo (!!!) are going to join us at the third meeting of the Little Women reading group to talk about their interpretative choices as they developed their roles.
This feels to me like everything a liberal arts education should be and offers to me every pleasure a professor at a liberal arts college could possibly dream of experiencing.