Grounding in English literature? Watch

butterfly_girl_5
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Hi- Ive just begun my gap year. I have a place to do french & german 2009

I really want to educate myself about (mainly English) literature- partly because it will help me study and read french & german lit in a more advanced way, but mainly just because I want to

I would just like peoples thoughts on how to approach this- what they recommend I should read as far as whole texts/ parts of texts/ critical works or books about literature are concerned.

I got a book called An Introduction to Criticism and Theory which is really good and really illuminating. I also find the cambridge companions really useful and interesting, and if theres a sig. crit work on a text (eg Bradley on Shakepearean tragedy) then id read/sample that

im thinking Ill start with Miltons Paradise lost, Shakespeare's major works, Dante's Comedia, and some Virgil, Sophocles and read some of the major philosophical works (Nietsche, Socretes, Montaigne, ect)

The works I want to read so far are (in no particular order):

-TS Eliot - the waste land
-Pope- Dunciad & other poems
-Forster- Passage to India
-Sidney- Arcadia
-metaphisical poets
-Eliot- Middlemarch
-Daniel Defoe- Robinson Crusoe (I think this was the first novel?)
-Marlowe Dr. Faustus

obviously this is a lot to get though even in 15months, but the idea is just to read the most significant works and see how I go, hence why I think I should start with the most significant and work down as it were
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Lidka
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To be honest, I think you'd be better off not setting yourself such unrealistic targets, and focusing on your own degree, particularly as the MML course at Cam is so lit. heavy. Sure, read stuff if you really want to, but frankly, setting yourself a target like "Miltons Paradise lost, Shakespeare's major works, Dante's Comedia, and some Virgil, Sophocles and some of the major philosophical works" seems to me a little silly. The fact that you're setting yourself a target and asking other people's advice on what to read suggests that you're not really reading these things for enjoyment, but because you feel you ought to, and that is always a bad way to start reading something. No lit. student would be asked to read such a selection, simply because reading the canon without any aim doesn't do your degree much good: pick a period you like, or think will come in useful later. Or get a faculty reading list and start on that, and see what else was going on in Britain at the same time: that would be a more useful comparison than pursuing some notion of what English literature is.

Sorry if that sounds harsh, but you did ask. :p:
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butterfly_girl_5
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(Original post by Lidka)
To be honest, I think you'd be better off not setting yourself such unrealistic targets, and focusing on your own degree, particularly as the MML course at Cam is so lit. heavy. Sure, read stuff if you really want to, but frankly, setting yourself a target like "Miltons Paradise lost, Shakespeare's major works, Dante's Comedia, and some Virgil, Sophocles and some of the major philosophical works" seems to me a little silly. The fact that you're setting yourself a target and asking other people's advice on what to read suggests that you're not really reading these things for enjoyment, but because you feel you ought to, and that is always a bad way to start reading something. No lit. student would be asked to read such a selection, simply because reading the canon without any aim doesn't do your degree much good: pick a period you like, or think will come in useful later. Or get a faculty reading list and start on that, and see what else was going on in Britain at the same time: that would be a more useful comparison than pursuing some notion of what English literature is.

Sorry if that sounds harsh, but you did ask. :p:
thanks very much- youre not sounding harsh at all - i appreciate youre honesty- and the fact you repplied at all.

Im slightly confused though- youre saying you dont think Im reading for my own enjoyment but then saying- dont do that, its not required and it wont help your degree- you sound a little contradictory. Your absolutely right it isnt necessary and wont directly help with my degree- but in my experience just having a wider knowledge of literature makes a lit course more interesting- I say Milton because we studied 2 books for A-level and I really enjoyed (from a literary point of view) and I plan to listen to Dante and shakespeare on CD at the gym which will be more manageable- the only reason I particularly want to read Dante is that the Romantics- in par. keats and shelley thought he was the greatest poet- which makes me intrigued I really would like to decide for myself

and the convoluted statment about what literature is came from a book I picked up by sartre- I read some of his critical work on Baudelaire which was really interesting- and the introduction for crit theory I have Ive also read a bit of and is really interesting

I just thought I should explain- thats where this is coming from really- I have 15months to do whatever I like before university and Ive come to really love literature- and my interviewer at cambridge asked what would be 'my desert island books' ie which books I am most interested in- and it made me realise I really havent read a lot at all and If I want to study literature from medieval to present day in a language I cant even speak properly yet it makes sense to already be familiar with my own language.

what you said about finding a period I think is a good idea- we did that with romanticism- but I still felt limited- I thought I should start with the major texts- and only read them and about them if they appeal- I wont trudge through I book I dont like

do you have any texts or periods in mind youd recommend?
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Lidka
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(Original post by butterfly_girl_5)
thanks very much- youre not sounding harsh at all - i appreciate youre honesty- and the fact you repplied at all.

Im slightly confused though- youre saying you dont think Im reading for my own enjoyment but then saying- dont do that, its not required and it wont help your degree- you sound a little contradictory. Your absolutely right it isnt necessary and wont directly help with my degree- but in my experience just having a wider knowledge of literature makes a lit course more interesting- I say Milton because we studied 2 books for A-level and I really enjoyed (from a literary point of view) and I plan to listen to Dante and shakespeare on CD at the gym which will be more manageable- the only reason I particularly want to read Dante is that the Romantics- in par. keats and shelley thought he was the greatest poet- which makes me intrigued I really would like to decide for myself

and the convoluted statment about what literature is came from a book I picked up by sartre- I read some of his critical work on Baudelaire which was really interesting- and the introduction for crit theory I have Ive also read a bit of and is really interesting

I just thought I should explain- thats where this is coming from really- I have 15months to do whatever I like before university and Ive come to really love literature- and my interviewer at cambridge asked what would be 'my desert island books' ie which books I am most interested in- and it made me realise I really havent read a lot at all and If I want to study literature from medieval to present day in a language I cant even speak properly yet it makes sense to already be familiar with my own language.

what you said about finding a period I think is a good idea- we did that with romanticism- but I still felt limited- I thought I should start with the major texts- and only read them and about them if they appeal- I wont trudge through I book I dont like

do you have any texts or periods in mind youd recommend?
Sorry, how was I contradicting myself? I'm not clear on where I did that.

See, I still think you're coming at it from the wrong end if you're asking me what I recommend. :p: You're not taking a course in English lit, and even if you were, nothing is "better" to read: there are texts that are often points of reference, yes, but you can easily find out which ones those are on your own. You've come to love literature - well, that's great, and good on you. But I maintain that the best way to read is just by reading because you happen to like it, and not because you feel there is something that you should or shouldn't cover (for whatever reason) - especially when it isn't even your degree subject. If you like Sartre, then read Sartre, or Dante, or whomever. Also, don't assume that because you want to do well in another area means that you "should" be comfortable in another, more immediately familiar one, too. I mean, you chose MML for a reason, didn't you? :p:

I guess I'm speaking as someone who's gone through their first year at Cambridge and realised that one can never, EVER do enough reading for one's course, and not only that, that reading itself isn't the important part, it's the thinking. At the moment you still - forgive me! - sound a little like the interviewee who is eager to impress, especially considering your earlier thread in the Cambridge forum about preparing for MML. I think it might be wise to bear in mind that 15 months is a pretty short time, especially if you've gap year projects planned. Read what you want, and when you want, but give it time to sink in and don't set concrete goals - particularly any such as 'by this time next year I will have a good grounding of English literature'. :p: I doubt I'll have that by the time I graduate, and it is my degree! :p:
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butterfly_girl_5
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(Original post by Lidka)
Sorry, how was I contradicting myself? I'm not clear on where I did that.

See, I still think you're coming at it from the wrong end if you're asking me what I recommend. :p: You're not taking a course in English lit, and even if you were, nothing is "better" to read: there are texts that are often points of reference, yes, but you can easily find out which ones those are on your own. You've come to love literature - well, that's great, and good on you. But I maintain that the best way to read is just by reading because you happen to like it, and not because you feel there is something that you should or shouldn't cover (for whatever reason) - especially when it isn't even your degree subject. If you like Sartre, then read Sartre, or Dante, or whomever. Also, don't assume that because you want to do well in another area means that you "should" be comfortable in another, more immediately familiar one, too. I mean, you chose MML for a reason, didn't you? :p:

I guess I'm speaking as someone who's gone through their first year at Cambridge and realised that one can never, EVER do enough reading for one's course, and not only that, that reading itself isn't the important part, it's the thinking. At the moment you still - forgive me! - sound a little like the interviewee who is eager to impress, especially considering your earlier thread in the Cambridge forum about preparing for MML. I think it might be wise to bear in mind that 15 months is a pretty short time, especially if you've gap year projects planned. Read what you want, and when you want, but give it time to sink in and don't set concrete goals - particularly any such as 'by this time next year I will have a good grounding of English literature'. :p: I doubt I'll have that by the time I graduate, and it is my degree! :p:
I think your absolutely right
I dont quite see it yet- but I will probably
other people ive spoken to have insisted, like you, that i have it wrong

well I dont know if this question is just as bad- tell me if so but..
After reading some of Miltons Paradise Lost and Hamlet, and studying the Romantics I felt they transformed my understanding of literature and they are all very significant texts/movement. As you are doing english at cambridge- are there any other books that professors/books talk about being very significant in english literature- like when I read a chapter on critical theory It chose Dante, Austens Pride and Prejudice, the waste land, Miltons paradise lost, Tristam Shandy (if thats spelt right)- all books which seemed to come up a lot and ive read described as singificant works

are there any works that either in form/treatment/subject/genre are worth reading because theyd give me a significant new 'angle'? - on literature that youre familiar with (obviously only if I start it and like it)
eg- epic form, Revenge Tragedy, the fall,
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when-words-are-not-enough
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I would say explore a literature from a variety of different periods.

Ian McEwan is a very modern writer but his novels are very talked about from what I've heard from English academics.

You could pursue histories, horrors, parodies - anything. Find something you love and explore it; think about it deeply and formulate your own opinions.

I know many people, who, very smugly, say that they've read highbrow works of literature. If you questioned them on a theme or the writer's use of symbolism, however, they'd soon retreat to a defensive comment. I'd concur with what Lidka said - it really is the thinking that counts more so than the reading itself.

Try and read a bit of everything and get to know what you like
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phillypk1
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can't go wrong with a bit of shakespeare or dickens lol.
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butterfly_girl_5
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(Original post by when-words-are-not-enough)
I would say explore a literature from a variety of different periods.

Ian McEwan is a very modern writer but his novels are very talked about from what I've heard from English academics.

You could pursue histories, horrors, parodies - anything. Find something you love and explore it; think about it deeply and formulate your own opinions.

I know many people, who, very smugly, say that they've read highbrow works of literature. If you questioned them on a theme or the writer's use of symbolism, however, they'd soon retreat to a defensive comment. I'd concur with what Lidka said - it really is the thinking that counts more so than the reading itself.

Try and read a bit of everything and get to know what you like
yes- this is sort of what i thought
obviously some genres/periods would be too demanding until i have already read a lot of mroe accessible literature
when i studied english i noticed how the majority of the literature I read seemed to have its roots in shakespeare and milton, and all seemed to lead back to dante, virgil, and homer
so i was wondering, do people thing it would be a good idea to read some of those, and become familiar with the ideas?
Ive already studied shakespeare and read the iliad, and id like to read som virgil and dante,
do people have suggestions of interesting things to read about these writers?
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