I began my blog with a post entitled “Being Evaluated.” That post was about having my scholarship evaluated by experts in my field and having my teaching evaluated by my students. In this post, I’d like to update my thoughts about these forms of evaluation.

Today, I read my teaching evaluations for the year. In 2006 I taught 5 classes: Lesbian & Gay Lit, a grad course on late eighteenth-century Brit Lit, Literary Theory, Critical Approaches to Drama, and Women & Literature. At the end of the year, we select the evaluations from 4 classes to submit to the “Budget and Rating Committee” as part of our annual evaluation.

For the first time in my teaching career, I didn’t have anyone in any of my classes who just hated me and everything else about the class s/he took with me. Usually, there’s somebody who is taking a course under duress and decides to take out his or her frustration by giving me low scores. This is especially the case in the L&G Lit course — for some reason I still don’t understand, I usually have someone in that class who complains about the course content — it’s too gay! But not this time. One or two people thought the class might emphasize sex a little too much. A few of the lesbians want more women-centered texts (which is a totally legitmate complaint, I think). And one or two people want less reading, but I don’t feel like I’ve taught a good course if someone doesn’t complain about too much reading and/or writing. The theory students seemed especially appreciative that we studied theory by applying it to short stories by E. M. Forster. My Women & Lit students had useful suggestions for improving the commonplace book assignment. And my grad students seem to have learned a lot about the late eighteenth century, which I’m especially delighted to read since it was the best grad class I’ve taught so far in my career (and the third of the “long eighteenth century” that I know the least about).

So, I’m very pleased that my students seem to have thought my classes were good learning experiences for them.

I’ve also had the “pleasure” of receiving a second review of my book, Performing Libertinism. This review appeared in the latest issue of Notes and Queries, which means that a lot more people (or perhaps a lot of different people) will potentially see it than the first review in SEL. Like the first review, this one is mixed: the reviewer didn’t like the overall structural elements of the book but did like the individual readings. I think that’s a fair summary.

PJ thinks it’s more negative than positive; I think it’s fair enough, though I wonder if the reviewer read the introductory chapter closely enough. For example, one of his criticisms is that I argue that we shouldn’t see Restoration libertines as only misogynist, aristocratic predators; he implies that this argument is itself misogynist. But as I maintain in the intro chapter, everyone in the Restoration is misogynist by today’s standards. My point is that we should also see how these libertines resisted patriarchal oppression, a resistance that, yes, was mostly for their own benefit but that also had long lasting, unforeseen consequences for men and women, consequences that were ultimately “liberating,” at least as far as that word can ever be applied to anything.

I guess my problem with this (and probably any review) is that there really isn’t room for the reviewer to engage with my ideas. I know people will disagree with my some or even all of my argument, but I wish there was a way in which reviews initiated a conversation among scholars rather than simply saying X is wrong or ridiculous or whatever.

I knew in writing my book that it challenged the existing consensus about the libertines in Charles II’s court (the consensus being that they’re misogynistic predators exploiting women and lower class men for their own misguided and selfishly indulgent hedonistic pleasures). I maintain that the libertines were politically engaged rather than disengaged. I am reading the documents from this period from a consciously queer perspective — I obviously read accounts of sodomy, for example, differently than heterosexual scholars might read them. I also knew that there are one or two glaring faults in my book. If I had been able to spend another year or two on it, it would have been a much “better” book. These and other issues are bound to lead to mixed reviews.

I hope my next book is “better” (whatever that means), though I also don’t want to minimize the good things that both reviewers have said so far: my reading of the plays are good, readable, and nuanced. Plus, I really like my book; I’m proud of it. It may not be as good as some of the other books published in 2005, but it’s definitely better than some too. And no one has a better cover!