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Studying English as a reader; a discussion


I quit English Literature. There, I said it. I started studying books, and then I didn't see it through. Something of a blasphemy in this book blogging world, eh? When so many of you are preparing your applications for college or university, hedging bets on Literature spurred on by a love for reading, I can't help but be reminded of the hugely disappointing experience that English Literature was for me.

The thing is, dragging myself through class readings of Friel's Translations, only to be told what second hand opinion was worth more marks than my own, ruined reading for me. When I was told what Captain Wentworth's letter to Anne signified, instead of being asked in order to discuss it, a small part of me wondered whether "literature" had any relation to "reading" at all, and whether the nature of the subject ever really did.

Even further back, during my GCSE years, I remember sitting through videos of Macbeth played out on a council estate. Kenneth Branagh called to arms his band of brothers from the TV screen. Pip was mooning over Estella in black and white. We weren't even reading at all!

As a reader, a book fan, a lover of writing, stories and words in general; a person looking for poetry in prose, for hidden meanings and, well, character... Literature just wasn't cutting it for me.

On the flip side, I took English Language separately to English Literature at A-level (much to amusement of the department staff, I can assure you). My English Language classes were the most eye-opening, interesting and reader friendly lessons I had. We explored the history and origins of language. We mused as to the phrasing choices made by Chaucer, Shakespeare and their contemporaries. We drew our own links between the characteristics of modern day authors and their forebears, and we charted how authors had made an impact on the world, on language itself and on books. We took account of how the publishing world was changing - how it had, in fact,  all ready changed.
Of course, we also learned the rules and regulations of today's language. We learned the "proper" structure, syntax and grammar of the English language, and this, in turn, allowed us to appreciate and understand the intentions when the rules were broken for art. For literature!

My English Literature teacher in college was obsessed with the word "pragmatic". Everything was "pragmatic". Anne was a "pragmatist". Translations was a "pragmatic" depiction of the Irish troubles of the time. And, to be honest, English Literature is exactly that. It's pragmatic. It draws you to accept the most logical, marks-driven conclusion.

In the end, I was bored of repeating the same words I knew the class in the year before me had written on their test sheets. I was lead to believe my failure to accept the "widely accepted interpretation" was causing me to grade low. I quit English Literature after the first year, continued English Language with added fervor, and have never looked back. I learned to love reading again. And when my final grades for that year of English Literature modules were published, my "unaccepted" opinions scored me 100% for Shakespeare and 94% for critical analysis of Translations.

I can only feel that as a reader wanting to study a subject that inspires you, challenges you and considers the way your own mind interacts with words on a page, perhaps English Language is the way to go?

What are your experiences of English courses where you are? I would love to hear whether I am alone in this opinion of Literature. Perhaps it was just where I studied?! Maybe it was me?!