#ThrowbackThursday – Un-Studying Literature

Today’s Throwback Thursday post comes from the 2012 Blogging From A – Z Challenge, an annual blogging challenge that happens in April. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a great way to get out of your blogging comfort zone, and perhaps find some fantastic new bloggers. About now is a great time to think about topics and start to prepare. I don’t take part every year – I haven’t decided about 2017 yet.

About three days into my English Literature A Level, I realised I shouldn’t be on the course, because that was the time I realised literature shouldn’t be studied, it should be enjoyed.

I know… that’s a mind-bending statement, isn’t it? Well, no – not unless you’re an English teacher.

Think about the writers we study:

  • Shakespeare
  • The Brontes
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Charles Dickens
  • Wordsworth

What do all these writers have in common? They were all popular writers. They weren’t writing high literature – that’s the mantel we’ve placed them on. They were writing prose that the common man in the street, at the time they were writing, would find enjoyable. They probably didn’t place too much store on the symbolism and metaphors used. They just wrote, the same way you and I do, telling their story in the most effective way.

What I’d love to say to my English teacher is:

We shouldn’t be doing this. We should be enjoying the books the way they were intended. We should think about the themes, embrace the story, perhaps even consider the moment in history they are portraying. What better way to understand history than through the eyes of people who lived in it – these authors had important things to say about the world they were living in. They don’t deserve to have their prose broken down into blocks of text for 18 year olds to pour over in sticky school halls, extracting every last significance out of every last full stop and semi-colon. Sometimes, Mr English Teacher, Sir, I’m sure they chose to describe the sky as cloudy because it just was, not to foretell something terrible in a hundred pages time!

My English teacher is currently a member of the gym where I work. I could quite easily walk up to him while he’s a captive audience on the rowing machine tomorrow and say all of that to him.

You’ll probably be quite glad to hear I won’t. I’ll leave him to enjoy his workout.

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This is my last post before Christmas, so I’d like to wish you Merry Christmas.

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14 thoughts on “#ThrowbackThursday – Un-Studying Literature”

  1. well said. I would stand near the English teacher and just give him a good hard stare. Maybe he’ll understand.
    Anyway, one hundred years from now what will readers parse from You.I.Us?
    hmmmm. Merry Christmas!!!

  2. I thinks it’s funny that we “interpret” those works so carefully, when all we need to do is understand human nature. Thanks Annalisa, and here’s to a wonderful Christmas and New Year!

  3. There’s a fine Shakespearean actor named Daniel Davis, who also has been in movies (“The Hunt For Red October”) and on TV (“The Nanny”). He once said that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be seen and performed, not to be analyzed and studied. And you know, he’s right, as are you when you talk about literature. I always tell the story of how “The Great Gatsby” was ruined for me when we got into a heated discussion in class about why Jay Gatsby wore a pink suit. Seriously, people end up hating the greatest books in civilization because of the pedantic way they’re approached in school. I’ve read a few books that I (was supposed to) read in high school and college, books that I hated, and ended up loving them since I didn’t have to read them.

    I’d better get off my soapbox before I fall off. Have a wonderful holiday season!

    1. Yes, I was definitely put off Thomas Hardy and the Brontes through studying them at school! I completely agree with the point about Shakespeare – I’ve seen a couple of plays (not as many as I should) and they make so much more sense when an actor has control of the words rather than being read aloud by several uninterested 15 year olds! Merry Christmas 🙂

    1. I like reading letters from authors to their friends – Jane Austen was a prolific writer – because it gives a little more insight into what they were actually trying to achieve with their writing. Just think of the wealth of info students will have in 100 years’ time – being able to see the author actually talking about their work!

  4. Hi Annalisa – I kept this post open to be able to read properly … you are so right … and I guess the same goes for history – which seems to be the flavour on my blog .. and I was useless at English, literature – no idea, and then history – all gobbledegook – but I’m here now and catching up fast … looking forward to the Brontes tonight … cheers Hilary

    1. My dad was the same with Maths – hated it at school, taught himself later when he had the desire to know more. I think the desire to learn doesn’t always strike at the right time (at school!)

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