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.

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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.

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50 Shades of Shakespeare

I’m considering doing an ongoing series on Shakespeare and the attitude we have towards his work and I wonder, out of curiosity, how many of you actually find Shakespeare sexy? Not the man himself, obviously(that would be a bit on the necrophile side) but the words he wrote. For some, he is literary viagra, others – the ultimate turn-off. Where do you stand on this? Please vote and feel free to leave a comment if none of these stances accurately reflect your feelings.

Books I Will Never Review

Okay, I admit – I’ve completely stolen the idea for this list from Doug Walker a.k.a. the Nostalgia Critic, (check him out by the way, he’s fabulous http://www.thatguywiththeglasses.com) when he posted a video of films/shows he would never review and why. Unlike the marvellous Mr Walker, I’m not sure I can come up with his usual eleven off the top of my head without doing some series expansion, so we’ll just have to see how many I can think of as we go…

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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(The awesome picture is from the great Re-covered Books section from http://www.thefoxisblack.com, it’s the first Jane Eyre cover I’ve really liked).

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”

I really love Jane Eyre, I truly do. In fact,  far too much to look at it with anything approaching impartiality. Unfortunately, this book is so part and parcel of my development as a person – particularly as a decision-making moral agent of my own destiny. It came at precisely the right time in my life to slap me into awareness and it was the first adult novel which really spoke to me as a person. This is my comfort-read, and as far as I’m concerned it is beyond reproach; thus, I will never review it. Maybe I’ll review some of the televison/film adaptations – but I just can’t look at Jane Eyre that way.

2. Any of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

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(Yes, dear American friends it is The Philosopher’s Stone, not The Sorcerer’s Stone).

“Nitwit, oddment, blubber tweak!”

Similar reasons to Jane Eyre, really – they mean far too much for me. If Jane Eyre was the first adult novel which I could relate to, then the Harry Potter books were the first books full stop. Aside from opening up the wonder of the wizarding world to me, it also started me on the path which I’m on. Without Harry Potter, I don’t know if I would have read so widely – been so prepared to give pretty much anything a chance, I wouldn’t have decided that English was for me (speaking as someone in the middle of an English and French degree, that means a lot) and that stories are amongst the best things which you can create, (as an aspirant writer/director, that means a helluva lot more). Without Harry Potter, I’m not sure if morally and politically I’d be the person I am today. Not only is J.K. Rowling my childhood, she is an integral part of my past, present and future too, hopefully. I can’t put a value on the books which gave me all that, could you?

3. Any (sort of) of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

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This isn’t so much a nostalgia thing, as down to the fact that the books are so inter-linked I’d probably have to review all seven in one post. Which would be very time-consuming and frankly a bit boring. (Did I mention that I’m a student? I have a lot of stuff to do!) I might write a general post on all of them, with some background and notes on cultural impact etc – or a review on The Horse and His Boy, the least-connected to the main story and incidentally, my favourite – but I won’t be embarking on an epic task anytime soon.

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

4. The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein

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This absolutely nothing to do with nostalgia. I really, really, really don’t like these books. I read the first one and God it was boring! Tolkein did not know when to stop with the description! “And then Bilbo was brought this, from this place, made from this, made by this species, who ate this for breakfast…” Gah! I won’t review these because then that would mean that I would have to read them!

“One ring to rule them all…”

5. Pamela by Samuel Richardson

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This is partially to do with the fact that it really does depend upon which edition you read which version of the story you get; sure the basic plot-line is the same, but the nuances aren’t. For instance in earlier editions, Mr B’s sexual harassment was far more overt than the ones which Richardson later revised. There are so many editions overseen by Richardson, his daughter, some Victorians and modern editions which cherry-pick from the first two that it would be a nightmare just deciding which one was the “true” Pamela that is really representative of what it was meant to be.

“Be sure don’t let people’s telling you, you are pretty, puff you up; for you did not make yourself, and so can have no praise due to you for it. It is virtue and goodness only, that make the true beauty.”

Oh and the content and tone get plain silly and exasperating after about the mid-point in the story, which means there would get to a point in any review I do on the subject in which the whole thing would degenerate into meaningless jabbering and harrumphing.

So these are the books which I will never review. Nothing reviewing, don’t ask – I’m not doing! (Have a nice day now all y’all).