On Studying English Literature… In France

Not only English Literature, but Grammar too. And I can tell you straight off, our lovely language is an absolute bitch to learn from an outsider’s perspective.



Contrary to what my lovely friend Issy has found in Lyon (http://issywritesthings.wordpress.com/), study of English Literature is far less technical here in Paris than back in Britain. Would you find a British first year, never mind second or third, that didn’t know about iambic pentameter and pathetic fallacy? Whilst Issy is very correct in stating that the subjective response is almost entirely drained, you are welcome to offer an interpretation, (but if you offer multiple interpretations during a presentation and tell them to make up their own minds, they will look at you as though you are some kind of devil messiah). These days I do find myself having flashbacks to GCSE English a lot and I don’t think that’s a coincidence:  The constant round of presentations, the parroting of facts learnt in class with no original spin that’s met by no reprimand and the sense that critical theory is some far-off, irrelevant concept and the only theorists you need are your teachers and fellow students (in third year). Admittedly the above flashbacks are mainly my second year class

BUT the reading list is a lot shorter and even with doing second and third year literature modules simultaneously, it is far more manageable than doing the exact same thing in Leicester (which is literally one book a week plus additional critical reading). And the lack of focus on critical theory is actually quite refreshing in its way as it puts the emphasis back on the text and what you thought of it, rather than what Said/Freud/Gilbert and Gubar would have made of it. Whilst the lack of technical vocabulary used IS strange it’s good on the level of having a 20 minute presentation to do and being able to waste time on explaining meter. And even though there is a tendency for people to repeat ideas back a you, that is not to say there is no original thought; you just need to realise that the French still work on a system of rote-learning for the most part, that is, memorisation and repetition. And when you give them nothing to repeat, boy they produce the goods.

Next time… My ongoing grammar nightmare.