Regarding my lectures on Cranford, I should perhaps state directly my Instructorial sensibility on fiction in general. Very much a matter of aesthetic and temperamental character as opposed to a developed intellectual conviction, I consider didacticism in fiction to be a blight. The more a work of fiction propounds a dogmatic position, the less do I regard it as art.
In fiction, I look to find agonism; I delight in dialectic; I rejoice to experience subtlty, balance, open-endedness; diversity in fiction is a golden attribute. Fiction -- novel and short story -- is an entirely uncongenial mode for phillipic, invective, diatribe and polemic. Any putative fiction by Ayn Rand is utterly unreadable for me: it is an aggregation of words; not art.
Thus, I amiably resist any attempt to reduce works that I consider great fiction into tools for the propagation of an ideology. Thus, when I say that I cannot pin Cranford down to any hard background, I am paying it my highest literary compliment. At the asme time, I recognise that this is merely my own bent, and I enjoy few things better than a vigourous exchange with some fellow scholar who affirms that a work which I find diverse is in fact a work designed to promote this or that dogma.
This sensibility of mine is companion to a broader feeling I have: to wit, that I deplore and am saddened by ideologues in life - academic life especially. When a colleague moves from a friendly explanation and advocacy of a personal system of belief or social ideology -- Marxism, say -- to grim-faced disapproval of and censoriousness toward non-agreement, my heart becomes heavy and, too often, the colleague turns face away from sweet converse.
At Simon Fraser, needless to say, exchanges are nearly always a source of joy and enlightenment. May it ever be so.