Dilettante or Renaissance Woman?

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe’s UVenus post on “What Defines a Dilettante?” has brought me back to a subject that I am still struggling with.

Pardoe’s definition of a dilettante:

That disorder defines dilettantism: activity, even excellence at an activity, for its own sake. Look at me! I’m fantastic! I can juggle, play the bassoon, recite the Aeneid in the Latin, prove Fermat’s last theorem, and dance the tarantella.

Pardoe’s preferred response:

When the dilettante discerns the connective tissue among the activities and identifies the driving force that motivates them all, s/he ceases to carry the label and graduates to the mature status of “Renaissance” wo/man. Leonardo DaVinci could demonstrate why and how his science improved his art as well as the reverse. Thus, he remains the icon of the Renaissance man not the early modern dilettante.

When I interviewed three and a half years ago at the SLAC in Old City, I was asked how my varied interests tied together. I don’t think I gave a very good answer. Eventually one of my friends, Dr. Deb Williams, talked to me about my “scholarship of pedagogy.” (Thanks for the rhetorical analysis of my work.) That helped me present as a Renaissance woman and not as a dilettante.


The fact of the matter is that I have a lot of varied interests.

Most of them do fall under scholarship of pedagogy and when I rearranged my CV I posted my presentations under that heading for the most part. The other headings were rhetoric, literature, speculative fiction, and poetry.

My interests are reading, writing, and teaching. I am a reading and writing teacher. I teach reading and writing. Those are my foci. Those are my interests. It’s not too hard to bring all my presentations and most of my publications into that simple organization pattern.

When you look at the various topics subsumed under those broad categories, I do appear to be a bit of a dilettante.

sexual assault/rape
fairy tales
gender issues
website evaluation
Gulliver’s Travels

Benjamin Franklin
Civil War holidays

All of them, except Civil War holidays, are part of the reading-writing teacher. Civil War holidays was because I wanted to write a publication, there was a call for papers, and I answered it, but too late to get the reading-writing parts of the book. However, I had a lot of fun doing the research for the chapter, dealing with primary sources, and coming up with something that hasn’t been covered ever before (or at least not as far as I could find). So, even though the topic is far afield from my English-centric background, the reason for the publication is still reading-writing teacher. (I was a history and English major as an undergrad and still read in history for fun, so it wasn’t a totally new field for me. It is just far afield from English studies.)

I guess that means I am a Renaissance Woman after all.

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