I know, I should probably be trying to enjoy the holidays and not thinking about work, but I am thinking about teaching this novel for the first time to my Grade 12 class next academic year. For those of you that have taught it, how did it go? What advice can you give me? Is it not a bit "heavy"? What worked and what didn't work? Any advice gratefully appreciated.
To turn the question around a little, if I were to be studying The Return of the Native, I would want to have all the delicious irony traced and elaborated upon prior to my own analyses--and if I were in Grade 12, hypothetically speaking, I might be very weak on identifying irony and keeping its import in the narrative sorted in my mind.
I have never taught it, because for some reason I can't stand Thomas Hardy. Yet like all period literature, I would focus on providing background. Students might also be put off by Hardy's style. Starting with a poem can help them build some appreciation first.
It has been four years since I taught Return of the Native, but when I did teach it, my students were juniors in AP English Language. I focused on Hardy's style and worldview. What I found was that once my students got into the plot, they reluctantly liked it. They viewed it as a soap opera and became attached to the characters.
That being said, some of my students chose to read Tess for their independent novels, and all of them liked Tess much better than Native. Even though Tess, to me, is an even heavier read than Native, my students had much more sympathy for the title character than they did for Eustacia, Clym, or Wildeve.
My reason for cutting Native for the past several years is that we changed to a 4x4 block schedule, and I cannot justify spending the amount of time that I would need to on Native, especially when I have found briefer effective works that my students enjoy more than they do Native.
I do toy with the idea each year of bringing the novel back into my curriculum because I did enjoy teaching it. The AP Eng. Lit teacher who has all seniors offers Mayor of Casterbridge in her lit. circles, and the students seem to appreciate and relate to it; so if you really want to teach Hardy, that's one to consider.