Simply put, Dames is an all-around best professor you can have for a lecture course. He is: A) engaging and articulate, B) friendly and open to take questions, C) never runs out of steam (every lecture was astoundingly brilliant), and D) totally fair about grades. 19th Century European Novels has to be one of my favorite courses I've taken at Columbia even though I hated most of the material. Dames' insight into literature is amazing, and he made every book seem fascinating. I'm sure I'm not alone in my assessment when I say Dames is absolutely phenomenal. Just read the other reviews. Or ask around, I'm sure all the English majors will agree, Dames is incredible.
Monica Cohen is a very nice woman. Her lectures often seem like she is reading directly from her notes. Okay, they seem like that most of the time. And the class isn't terribly engaging, but the books (Pere Goriot, Persuasion, Middlemarch, Our Mutual Friend, Eugene Onegin) are fun reading, so if that's what you like the class is still worth it. Also, she asks a lot of questions to which no one or the same few people answer, and when they do, it's nothing insightful. But to her credit, she will correct them if they are totally off.
There's a reason Professor Dames just won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, even while he's only an associate professor: it's because he's amazing. I took this class as a senior, having not been in an English class since high school, and went in fully prepared to have a lot of the material go over my head. But Dames manages to make everything completely accessible to every member of the class. If you read the books (which are really good, and if you're a non-English major like me, a welcome break from what you're usually reading), you'll be awed by his interpretation of the material; and even if you don't, you can get enough out of the lectures to be fully prepared for every paper and final. And, as has been noted before, he has a unique ability to make even the stupidest question or comment from the class sound brilliant. If you have the opportunity to take this class, do it, and don't look back.
The reviewer below (the one that thinks prof. Dames is a God) is pretty much correct- Dames is as close to perfect (as a lecturer) as you're going to get here. You will never want to miss a class- they're too good. That said, the person who wrote the review before me is definitely a GRAD student (and most likely a female one at that) BECAUSE DAMES DOESN'T GRADE THE UNDERGRADS. He grades the grad students, who grade the rest of us. This, as you well know, is worse than awful- my T.A./grad student was one of the most aloof and arrogant people I've encountered here; the time that I was forced to waste by attending the mandatory discussion sections with her would've been better spent either sniffing glue or seeing if one really can get electrocuted by touching the third rail. So, just know that your fate (grade-wise) rests not in the hands of professor Dames but rather in the hands of a miserable, jaded person barely older than yourself. Take the class anyway- he's worth it.
Connor is an okay professor. He knows the material, but is the stereotypical absent-minded, Ivory Tower prof. I.e., don't expect to get papers back for a while, doesn't stick to the grading standards on the syllabus, and he cancelled our classes for about two weeks. Also isn't too big on class participation. Overall, he's a nice guy, just a bit out of it when it comes to the world outside of Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola. (The novels ARE good, but Connor tends to get very repetitive about what he says. Overall, lecture is pretty dull.)
By chance, Cary ended up grading both my papers and was an enormous help. While others in this class walked away irritated with B's for no apparent reason, I spent some time with Cary after he graded my first one and before I submitted the second, and he took considerable time highlighting for me the technique and content that make up an A English paper. For a novice sophomore, that kind of help is crucial. The class was great and the methodology I took away from it even greater.
Not only is Professor Dames one of the most interesting lecturers in the department but he's also proably the easiest grader. The class is facinating, and if you say anything ineteresting at all, your paper is sure to get at least an A-. Take this class!!!
Really a great class and a great professor. His lectures are truly fascinating and his style of lecturing is very clear and lucid. Further, he is a really nice guy who is very approachable during office hours.
Like one reviewer before me wrote, this man cannot receive enough superlatives to describe his insight, discussion, teaching abilitiy, and fantabulousness. I took this class spring 2003. It was a lecture with around 60 students and it was such a blast that the english dept is offering the same exact class with Dames at the reigns this semester (fall 2004) even though it's only supposed to be a fall class. That says something about his teaching. It was the first english class that I took at Columbia. Just for some background I'm a math major who enjoys a good novel. Even though the class was listed as a four-thousand level class, no prereqs are required. ONLY a voracity for reading is needing, and the shite is good stuff anyway. (I took it cuz I saw that Dostoevsky and Dickens were being taught in the same class.) The reading list is awesome. But the most amazing part of the class is how effortlessly he talks about the material. He stands up there at the podium and just chats with you. You don't even have to take notes. The topics that he covers are seemingly random. When we were doing Goethe, he would talk about the landscaping described in _Elective Affinities_, when we did Stendhal he talked about post Napoleon Europe and the psyche of the European people. In Dickens we learned about the commercialized press. In the end what I learned is that Dames tries not to dwell too much on the specifics of the books. He tries to persuade you that writing is and forever will be a photograph of the time and place in which the author lived and should always be approached that way. There aren't any reading quizzes. You'll do the reading because the class is so ef-ing cool. P.S. I asked him to reccomend other professors in the department out of curiousity. (He's focus is on 19th century novels btw.) He reccommended Bruce Robbins and Sarah Cole, both of whom work with modern fiction. But I'm guessing they must be awesometastic as well. He didn't reccomend any professors who work on theatre, Shakespeare, or poetry though which was interesting.
I ran out of time and superlatives filling out a end-of-course evaluation for Professor Dames. There's really no end to the good things I can say about him. His lecturing style is gripping, understated, and simultaneously reverent and irreverent; one gets the sense that he genuinely adores these books enough to make gentle fun of them, as one would a good friend. As for the content of his lecturesÂ—well, at their worst, they're intriguingly insightful and original, and at their best they're nothing short of miraculous. He'll introduce each lecture with a theme or theory, expound on it briefly, and then venture off on any number of topics, leaving you fascinated but wondering how it all fits together. Never fear: towards the end of class, in a few brilliant moves, he'll weave together all his various loose threads and then spend the remaining time (to change the metaphor) riffing like a virtuoso on his new revelations, leaving you elated, enlightened, and slightly breathless. Plus he's welcoming and helpful during office hours, immensely forgiving, humble, and just plain nice. The novels on the syllabus are, for the most part, more than worthwhile. Do watch out for the Flaubert, which is dreadfulÂ—except his lectures on it are marvelous, as usual, and one them effectively and quite entertainingly explained to me WHY I thought it was dreadful, thereby proving to me once and for all that Nicholas Dames is nothing short of priceless. I recommend him wholeheartedly.