“I’m not so crazy about Wordsworth.”
In chapter two of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace we the see the first encounters of what will prove to be a very problematic relationship between David and his student. In fact, I might be too euphemistic. I want to draw attention to something I suspect might be more obscure, but also might be more radically damning: Lurie's love-affair with Wordsworth.
It's not Wordsworth as such, though the reference to The Prelude is a focus point for David Lurie. Rather, I'm surprised that I had never noticed how Coetzee's protagonist demonstrates his blatant sexism on even the literary level. I suppose I was always focused on other aspects of the novel, but I only this time realized just how dismissive the character is of humanist ideals that he claims to applaud when they are at work outside the patriarchal norm, including tendencies which we might reliably trace a genealogy back through the very romanticism of which Wordsworth is an emblem.
After learning that his student has not found the author of The Prelude interesting, and confessing his love for the work (admittedly, a poet I find pleasure in reading), David Lurie asks:
‘And passions? Do you have any literary passions?’
She frowns at the strange word. ‘We did Adrienne Rich and Toni Morrison in my second year. And Alice Walker. I got pretty involved. But I wouldn’t call it a passion exactly.’
So: not a creature of passion. In the most roundabout of ways, is she warning him off?”
~ J M Coetzee. “Disgrace.”
Is the protagonist here indicating he feels Alice Walker is not a writer of vigor? That Toni Morrison knows nothing of ardor? Is he daring to say that Adrienne Rich is a poet that does not write of passion? Such an assessment of these writers is, in my humble opinion, ludicrous. I do think it reflects Coetzee's opinion in the least, but that rather he is providing yet another example of Lurie's rampant sexism.
I have read this novel many, many times. Yet, I had either not noticed this or had simply let it slip from my attention. One of the many reasons I love teaching, is because I get the opportunity to revisit books and read with fresh eyes. Like having a discussion with an old friend, there's always more to learn.