Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
I felt the need to write a post about what I call “my literature story” recently to remind myself, and perhaps my readers, of why I am here right now, and what brought me to UEA, and remember what I loved so much about literature. And also, if you’re not really sure about what you want to study at university, this will hopefully give you some ideas.
So here’s the story! I wasn’t brought up in a very literary context. I remember back in primary school, there were two book series I enjoyed, and I’d borrow some comic books from school and from the public library (Max & Lily and Tom-Tom & Nana – the nostalgia!).
After that, I only remember the few books we were forced to read in secondary school. I hated them and became what I now hate: one of these kids who thinks that reading is stupid and for nerds. On top of that, my spelling was pretty bad.
Around the age of 14, I had some kind of epiphany at school when we studied our first “grown up” book, Un Secret by Philippe Grimbert (they made a great film too). The book, based on the author’s life, is about what happened to his Jewish parents during WW2, family secrets and trauma. I was stunned by these emotions I’d never felt but that the book made me feel, by the tears that fell down just because of words on a page. I couldn’t put it down. THIS is what made me fall in love with books.
The following year, I started Sixth Form (lycée). While I had more and more trouble in sciences and especially maths (my father and even the teacher would always help me with homework), I loved reading more every day. French classes finally focused exclusively on literature, instead of grammar and boring stuff I never understood. I really enjoyed reading, my spelling and grammar improved SO MUCH (yes – at the age of 14/15 I was still bad at spelling), and I discovered the power of literature. I’ll never forget the French teacher I had, how much fun I had in class, studying Madame Bovary by Flaubert, Pauline by Dumas (A-MA-ZING), how I spent the Christmas break reading half of L’Assommoir by Zola (one day I’ll read the second half)…
It is probably around that time that I read The Catcher in the Rye in French for the first time. Once again, I was “on my butt”, as we say in French (completely amazed). Since I wanted to get even better in English, I started borrowing books from English friends. I started by reading children’s books (Roald Dhal), and then stuff like Stephen King, Brave New World, The Catcher in the Rye (again)… Books became my new passion.
By the end of that year, it was clear that I was made to study literature and languages. In France, you need to choose what you want to specialise in during the last two years of school so I took the “Literature option” (which meant I mostly studied literature, languages, history, art and philosophy and could finally stop sciences in the final year). Thanks to it, I gained a huge knowledge of French literature and poetry and liked school more!
When the final year arrived, it was time for me to decide what to do after my Baccalauréat. I considered doing a Film and Audio-visual school, photography school, but eventually settled on English Literature and Civilisation at university since I’d loved studying The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing in English class and had become (almost) bilingual.
I studied this subject for two years in Nice and became bilingual. We only studied extracts but they covered a very wide range of English and American authors. Since I had a lot of free time, I read tons and tons of novels independently. When I decided to go to England, it seemed obvious to continue studying English Literature. I “wasted” two years in France (I got a diploma though — a DEUG) to then start again from year 1 at UEA, I wouldn’t have been able to go without the time spent and the knowledge gained at Nice university.
I don’t need to say how many books I’ve read as part of my English Literature course at UEA – you can already find all this on my blog. Despite the crazy amount of work and my numerous complaints about it, I’m still amazed by what literature does. Perhaps I don’t enjoy literature as much as I’d like to anymore (because I don’t always have time to focus properly on the novels and associate reading to stress) but whenever I read sometimes that gives me shivers, I remember why I’m doing all this and I remember what brought me here.