When GNPS President Joyce Jed asked members, in the middle of the worst part of the pandemic, whether anyone would like to lead a new interest group on Zoom, Deborah Maltby immediately responded. Her great love, she said, was 19th century British (and American) literature, and she would like to start a 19th century literature discussion group.
Deborah started her career in journalism and public relations. She returned to academia in her 40s to take an M.A. in English and then a Ph.D, and later joined the faculty of the University of Missouri, St Louis where she still teaches part-time.
“I don’t mind not being physically on campus,” she says. “Working keeps me in touch with what’s going on and teaching remotely is something I was doing even before the pandemic,” she explained. “I took a course offered by the university to faculty who wanted to learn online teaching. And now I’m teaching an advanced writing course.”
Deborah’s Good Neighbors group is as fascinated by 19th century literature and the social history of the time as she is.
It’s not hard to see how 19th century writers would appeal to mature students. The subjects they deal with are still current and their works have stood the test of time –only the best survive. Older students are more likely to see life’s experiences in a different way from when they were young. Now stories about love, marriage, family intrigue and clashes between the social classes have a deeper meaning for them and the frustrations and struggles of women in a male dominated society to achieve a measure of self-fulfillment still resonate with women.
“With my Good Neighbors group, I try to think of myself as a facilitator, not a teacher, and to be ready for where the conversation might go. These are really smart people talking about what they’re interested in – what women’s lives were like two hundred years ago, for example. And I like to come up with resources for them to explore.”
As to what drew her to 19th century British literature, she explained that she was interested in the culture of the time, the history, particularly the social history. And now, with the Good Neighbors group, she says, she’s reading some books that she has never read before and rereading others she has read many times but now with new insights.
Some of the novels the group reads are quite long. “I try to be sensitive to what’s doable,“ she says. “People in the Good Neighbors group have demands on their time that limit what they can read in a month. So sometimes we need to divide the book up into sections. For the next two months, for example, we will be reading the Bostonians by Henry James in two sections.“
“Some of my favorite writers from the 19th century include Thomas Hardy and Wilkie Collins,” Deborah says. “I have read most of their works but when I open one of their novels again, and see how they set up the characters and the plot and how they write, I am smitten all over again.”