An International Student of Literature in England.
“You are now halfway through your degree, and in fact, you are closer to the end now” is what all my lecturers said as an introduction to each module this semester. What a brilliant non-stressful way to start the year!
It is true that I am now halfway through my degree though and I really don’t know where time has gone. It’s probably disappeared in between two books or got lost in the incredibly hard process of essay writing. Time flew during extended dinners and chats with my friends late at night where most of what we said didn’t make any sense and has been recorded in my notebook of “funny quotes”. I’m not particularly sad about the first half having vanished – I’m mostly worried about the second half of my degree! In a year and a half, university will hopefully be behind me. With it, I’ll probably have to leave my house, all the things I got used to and love in Norwich, leave my friends and step into adult life (in other word, the terrifying quest for a decent job and career).
I feel like now is a good time to write a new article, after a week back at UEA. Writing this last sentence really hit me: it feels like I’ve been back for weeks, it feels like last summer was years ago! Something strange happens to time at university and you really have to experience it to understand what I mean.
So this new semester has started and is the opportunity to get a fresh start… Except when you didn’t realise how much reading you’d get and that you’re not on top of your work at all – an unbearable thought to me. I had to buy tons of books and a HUGE anthology: it cost a lot of money. Be prepared for that! On top of that, my very busy January with two trips to London, a long weekend in Southampton and long conversations with my housemates on the landing that I renamed “The Vegetarian Corridor Meeting Cult” mean I have to do a lot more work in a short period of time. But hey, I’m having fun, right? I want to look back to my university years when I’m older and think “I really had so much fun!” with a huge nostalgic smile on my face.
This first week, as all first weeks, my lectures and seminars were introductory and there wasn’t much to prepare in advance. I am very happy with two of my modules so far but really annoyed about the last one… Shakespeare, my arch-nemesis!
I hope that didn’t make you choke on your tea! But here’s the truth: I never really liked theatre, whether in French or English, I think Shakespeare is over-rated and now I hate him. Help! Before you close this offending tab exclaiming “What kind of literature student would say such a thing?!”, let me explain how I even ended up choosing such a module. It is quite simple: in second and third years, you have to meet the “pre-1789” requirements in English Literature. I wasn’t happy about it at all when I found out about it at the end of my first year… You need three pre-1789 modules overall, so that’s two in your second year, one in your final year.
There are several reasons for this hate, the first one being that I have no particular interest in that kind of literature or writing, and the second being the language barrier. Reading modern (as in “contemporary”) literature can be hard enough, especially if, like me, you are a very slow reader. Reading 18th Century Writings was hard enough last semester. Reading Shakespeare is simply torture. It’s not as bad as Chauceer, but still. I tried everything over the past week: reading slowly, audiobooks, watching filmed or theatre adaptations while reading the text… I simply do not get it. I should probably have chosen 17th Century Writings instead. Now I’m stuck with this module and the feeling that I am doomed to fail to module due to my lack of interest in it and issues with understanding. Yes, I am the one who chose to come study in England and knew I might be confronted to these issues but it’s still not fun and it’s frustrating. Especially when you love your other modules so much and are still passionate about literature despite reading so much every day (usually about Freud being the answer to everything ever written or Derrida deconstructing literally everything. If you’re a Literature student you’ll get it).
Being a year and a half in is also the occasion for me to draw some kind of conclusion or review of my university experience so far, so here we go.
Very often, I am absolutely fed up of working and especially of reading. It sounds fun to just sit or lie in bed and read all day long until you actually do it and realise how mentally draining it is, how tired it makes you and how much your back and legs hurt from not moving enough. You have to read novels and text whether you like (or understand) them or not – who cares if you like them? Very often, they’re well-chosen but 18th Century novels like Pamela or Robinson Crusoe, for instance, are not everyone’s cup of tea. Shakespeare isn’t my cup of tea.
BUT! I have this thing where although I hated a book (or a film, or a play, a piece of art etc.), I love hearing about it. I love studying things, knowing how they work, what they try to say or do… So it helps! It reassures me to see the spark between me and literature is still alive!
Despite all this, I adore my degree. Do I regret coming to UEA? Not one second. Would I do it again? Definitely. Did I learn a lot? There isn’t a word that can describe how much I learnt and how enriching it is, both academically and personally. Are the professors good? They’re absolutely stunning, all of them.
However, my other modules seem so much fun and I’m very excited about them even though, again, there is a crazy amount of reading to do! A couple of months ago, I wrote that I didn’t find the second year harder than the first one… Well now I do! It certainly got harder due to the number of books we have to read now, compared to mostly extracts and critical essays before. This semester, I usually have two novels (sometimes three) and a Shakespeare play, with further critical reading if possible. Can any human being do that or is it just me?!
I’m so happy I could get Contemporary Writing! Firstly, I have to admit I was very keen about it because it meant reading shorter novels written in a very accessible English. And also because I believe it is a very useful thing to study: we focus too much on the old stuff and should focus more on emerging writers who write about the time and societies we, as readers, live in. Not enough attention is given to contemporary novels (by that, I mean post-postmodern novels, from the 80s-90s to now – but we’ll only focus on the last ten years) because we don’t have enough hindsight to judge whether or not they are influential. There is also this constant value judgment in literature and among academics (I admit to be guilty of this crime) who assume that new stuff isn’t good or “literary enough”. On the other hand, you can quite easily see the point of studying contemporaneity and the key themes that surround us nowadays, such as ecology, technology, science, the self, etc. I also get the feeling that it’s something a bit “different” to do that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from an English Lit course at university. This is exactly what caught my attention.
Last but not least is European Literature! The reasons for choosing it seem quite obvious to me: I’m French, France is part of Europe, Europe is diverse but it’s also a big entity that promotes certain ideas that I agree with, so I had to do it. As with Contemporary Writing, I thought it would be useful to do since we’ll explore many different (obscure) authors I never heard of (apart from Kafka). The aim of this module is also to raise the question of what is Europe?, and is there such a thing as European writing? Can we draw connections between European writers? That’s a very interesting question that I cannot wait to attempt to answer.
That was the summary of my first week of the second semester of my second year. I hope old Anne-Sophie will read this and laugh at how much I just ranted about Shakespeare. We’ll see, I hope I’ll get some kind of revelation and enjoy his plays more.
While I’m at it, just a quick thing about the development of my blog from now on! This semester, I will try to write a short review of each novel I read to give you a real insight into what we study, how diverse English Literature can be at UEA and also so that you can simply discover new books if you like reading! I meant to do that last semester and even last year regularly but never found the time to do it. I hope I will manage, especially with the easy accessible books we’ll study for Contemporary Writing that sound fantastic.
More exciting news… I will start vlogging very soon! I just need to accept the fact that my housemates will hear me talk on my own in front of a camera and that I’ll have to listen to me speak English with my wonderful accent! 😛 The vlogs will be uploaded on my Youtube channel but also on my blog. There should also be a Facebook page for my blog very soon so that it’s easier for you to follow me.