lizzie03
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Hi! I'm currently in year 12 (taking maths, chemistry and English Lit.) and am thinking of applying for English at Oxford. If we imagine I've never read a book before in my life, does anyone have any recommendations or must-haves that I should read? Thank you!
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PetitePanda
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This is not Oxford but the reading section has some good advice: https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho....php?t=6053600
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Gwil
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A journey through the ages would be a good idea.

Medieval: Choose a couple out of The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, the Anglo-Saxon poems, Beowulf, the continental Arthurian tradition (Chrétien de Troyes mostly), the Mabinogion, etc (in translation is best at this stage in my experience, except for Chaucer, who can comfortably be read in the original)

Renaissance: Some Renaissance poetry (Spenser, Sidney, Wyatt) and a bunch of Shakespeare plays

17th century: Milton; Metaphysical poetry - Donne, Herbert, Marvel, etc

18th century: the early Romantics - Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake, and Burns

19th century: the second generation of Romantics (Shelley, Keats, Byron), Jane Austen, the Brontes, Eliot, Dickens, Hardy, Henry James, the Victorian poets (Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily Dickinson, etc)

20th century: a Modernist novel or two - Virginia Woolf is a good start - and anything else that takes your fancy

These are just personal recommendations; there are so many other authors and works that could be explored as well or instead in each period. It's also worth exploring classical literature, as it's influence on the development of English literature is stupendous.

The main thing would be to have an overview of the trajectory of English literature, and then start reading in real depth in the periods / authors that really fascinate you.
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annacooper_
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i would say don't feel you have to be an expert on every single period of english lit - it's good to have a solid overview, but the tutors will like it if you have depth knowledge about certain areas you're really passionate about/interested in. I know a girl who applied for lit + lang at oxford and got an offer - from what i've heard poetry is a biggg focus in interviews. good luck and sorry i can't be more help! (german applicant haha)
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rwhitaker1
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I'm currently an Oxford English offer holder. If I'm completely honest, I haven't read much of what's previously been mentioned in this thread. In my personal statement, I talked a lot about Émile Zola (19th century French author) and my favourite books from him. I also mentioned two novels which are considered to be modern classics, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', and a modern poem. That's it. I don't believe I even mentioned anything written before the mid-1800s.

When I got to interview, they gave us a piece of paper and asked us to write down the texts we were studying at school and any other texts we'd read that we'd be happy to talk about in the interview. (I don't know if every college does this; this was at Magdalen.) In the personal statement interview, we talked exclusively about TPoDG and two of the texts I was studying at school. I really enjoyed this discussion, although I was a bit sad not to talk about the other works I had mentioned in my PS.

There were applicants I met who could talk about pretty much any period of literature, but who came across as though they were shallowly reciting learned ideas. What Oxford is looking for is passion. You can struggle through texts which are wholly uninteresting to you just because they're labelled must-haves, proudly name-drop them in your PS, and then end up having to talk about them at length in your interview with little motivation or real excitement. Or, you can seek out works which excite you, mention those works in your PS, and have an engaging and entertaining conversation about them at interview. Nobody is going to adore every single text which is considered a classic, and you'll probably end up reading a fair few books which aren't really your thing at university. For now, I would suggest looking into works which are considered to be part of the literary canon and finding ones which really interest you, reading them, and then considering why those specific works appealed to you. Once you've identified the kind of styles/genres/eras/authors that you're most interested in, then you can consider those as your specific areas of interest and read similar works to build up your knowledge of these areas.

Good luck with your studies and your application! If you have any questions about the application process and/or interviews, feel free to ask me, as I've been through it all at this point
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by rwhitaker1)
I'm currently an Oxford English offer holder. If I'm completely honest, I haven't read much of what's previously been mentioned in this thread. In my personal statement, I talked a lot about Émile Zola (19th century French author) and my favourite books from him. I also mentioned two novels which are considered to be modern classics, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', and a modern poem. That's it. I don't believe I even mentioned anything written before the mid-1800s.

When I got to interview, they gave us a piece of paper and asked us to write down the texts we were studying at school and any other texts we'd read that we'd be happy to talk about in the interview. (I don't know if every college does this; this was at Magdalen.) In the personal statement interview, we talked exclusively about TPoDG and two of the texts I was studying at school. I really enjoyed this discussion, although I was a bit sad not to talk about the other works I had mentioned in my PS.

There were applicants I met who could talk about pretty much any period of literature, but who came across as though they were shallowly reciting learned ideas. What Oxford is looking for is passion. You can struggle through texts which are wholly uninteresting to you just because they're labelled must-haves, proudly name-drop them in your PS, and then end up having to talk about them at length in your interview with little motivation or real excitement. Or, you can seek out works which excite you, mention those works in your PS, and have an engaging and entertaining conversation about them at interview. Nobody is going to adore every single text which is considered a classic, and you'll probably end up reading a fair few books which aren't really your thing at university. For now, I would suggest looking into works which are considered to be part of the literary canon and finding ones which really interest you, reading them, and then considering why those specific works appealed to you. Once you've identified the kind of styles/genres/eras/authors that you're most interested in, then you can consider those as your specific areas of interest and read similar works to build up your knowledge of these areas.

Good luck with your studies and your application! If you have any questions about the application process and/or interviews, feel free to ask me, as I've been through it all at this point
At last, someone else who loves Zola!! My fave is "la Bete Humaine" (sorry I can't do accents) or the beast inside. What's yours?

I went to an Oxford languages taster day and listened to the students. Many of them had read a Zola. He seems to be the trendy go to novelist and he is well worth a read.
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by lizzie03)
Hi! I'm currently in year 12 (taking maths, chemistry and English Lit.) and am thinking of applying for English at Oxford. If we imagine I've never read a book before in my life, does anyone have any recommendations or must-haves that I should read? Thank you!
It's well worth getting to grips with some poetry and poetry appreciation. I say this because my son (German) was given two poems to analyse at interview (one in German, one in English). This format is short and easy to appreciate as a whole, so ideal for interview.

As for a reading list, maybe try some of these?

https://www.fortismere.haringey.sch....21614A4CE8.pdf
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Gwil
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Just to add, I completely reiterate rwhitaker1's point that there are no "must-haves". (Except perhaps Shakespeare, as apparently some colleges will ask every candidate at least one question about him at interview, but you normally satisfy this requirement at school - I had only read one or two plays and that was enough.) It's a good idea to read as widely as possible, as since no author writes in a vacuum, this will allow you to put everything you read into context and prepare you best for responding to texts from a variety of periods and styles in the ELAT and in the unseen components of the interviews (all three of my interviews were based around an unseen poem). But the most important thing is to always let your curiosity and excitement guide you.

The personal statement is where you tell the tutors about what you love and what makes you hungry to study English, so there's no requirement to prove that you have read certain texts in it. When applying I was told a few times that you had to talk about a range of genres and periods in it, but I ditched this advice and stuck to my very favourite texts and themes, and I'm very glad I did.

Good luck!
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by Gwil)
Just to add, I completely reiterate at rwhitaker1's point that there are no "must-haves". (Except perhaps Shakespeare, as apparently some colleges will ask every candidate at least one question about him at interview, but you normally satisfy this requirement at school - I had only read one or two plays and that was enough.) It's a good idea to read as widely as possible, as since no author writes in a vacuum, this will allow you to put everything you read into context and prepare you best for responding to texts from a variety of periods and styles in the ELAT and in the unseen components of the interviews (all three of my interviews were based around an unseen poem). But the most important thing is to always let your curiosity and excitement guide you.

The personal statement is where you tell the tutors about what you love and what makes you hungry to study English, so there's no requirement to prove that you have read certain texts in it. When applying I was told a few times that you had to talk about a range of genres and periods in it, but I ditched this advice and stuck to my very favourite texts and themes, and I'm very glad I did.

Good luck!
Sensible advice here, Gwil! Keenness is key and appreciation of what you are reading.

When my son was reading literature (German) I advised him to put the book down after each session and think about what he had just read. The characterisation, style, how the author built suspense etc. I called it "Oxford thoughts". The interview is just a conversation about your "Oxford thoughts" on the passage you are asked to analyse and the books you have read. No point in reading lots and lots of books if you never pause to appreciate them, or understand them. Yes, read as widely as you can, but be aware of what you are reading.

I really think quality is even better than quantity. Good, deep and analytical thought about each and every book you read is what will make you stand out.
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lizzie03
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Thank you so much everyone! This is really useful
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rwhitaker1
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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
At last, someone else who loves Zola!! My fave is "la Bete Humaine" (sorry I can't do accents) or the beast inside. What's yours?

I went to an Oxford languages taster day and listened to the students. Many of them had read a Zola. He seems to be the trendy go to novelist and he is well worth a read.
Oh, what a wonderful coincidence! I adore 'La Bete Humaine' and couldn't put it down when reading it. It's a very close second to 'Therese Raquin' for me, as they're both brilliant, but Therese holds a special place in my heart.

That's interesting that he's a popular choice. Perhaps he's the right mix of being just popular enough that you can be fairly certain that his books will be well written but without being so obviously mainstream that you could say his name to anybody and they'd know of him (like Shakespeare or Austen).

OP, if you're looking to read some works that come from outside of the English-speaking realm, you can tell where my vote would be! English at Oxford is no longer wholly focused on British literature, so don't be afraid to read texts in translation if they catch your interest. I reckon tutors would probably be pleased to see that you're open to trying different things.
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by rwhitaker1)
Oh, what a wonderful coincidence! I adore 'La Bete Humaine' and couldn't put it down when reading it. It's a very close second to 'Therese Raquin' for me, as they're both brilliant, but Therese holds a special place in my heart.

That's interesting that he's a popular choice. Perhaps he's the right mix of being just popular enough that you can be fairly certain that his books will be well written but without being so obviously mainstream that you could say his name to anybody and they'd know of him (like Shakespeare or Austen).

OP, if you're looking to read some works that come from outside of the English-speaking realm, you can tell where my vote would be! English at Oxford is no longer wholly focused on British literature, so don't be afraid to read texts in translation if they catch your interest. I reckon tutors would probably be pleased to see that you're open to trying different things.
I think it may be because Zola novels are seen as left wing, and achingly trendy....

I love the Rougon-Macquart series, and have read all 20 repeatedly. However I studied la Bete Humaine for A level, so it has a special place in my heart.

Zola loved the railways, which were quite new in his day. There was actually a railway line running near the bottom of his garden, so when he was hosting a dinner party and a train was about to go past, he would get his friends to rush out and have a look....

The suspense in this novel is amazing, as Jacques is dying to murder a woman (sorry for the pun), but is just trying to pluck up the courage to "have a go". He has some near misses, which certainly made my heart beat faster. Then he falls in love with Severine, and believes he is finally cured...

It never fails to amaze me just how many murderers there are in this book, not only Jacques. It's like a soap opera, where you cannot believe there are so many murders in one street! I can recall I was 17, and sitting in a train when I read the train crash bit. I was actually frightened. Zola never writes a book without speaking to experts and doing his research.

But if you want to read it, I won't go into too many spoilers. Another great one is Germinal (Stalin's favourite book). But everyone reads that, so a dip into La Bete Humaine is just something a little different.
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Confusedboutlife
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(Original post by lizzie03)
Hi! I'm currently in year 12 (taking maths, chemistry and English Lit.) and am thinking of applying for English at Oxford. If we imagine I've never read a book before in my life, does anyone have any recommendations or must-haves that I should read? Thank you!
I'd recommend picking texts you like, but limiting yourself on your PS to max 10 or else it can be too much to remember for interview. There are no must-haves, but choosing say 3 topics and knowing them well is a good strategy, I'd say. Informing yourself of helpful historical context (for older literature this often involves religious ideas) can also be interesting.
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Oxford Mum
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It is better to mention 2 or 3 books, but in greater depth, on your ps.
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Gwil
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I would say that in your PS you need to strike a balance between including enough texts/authors to accurately show the scope of your interests, and not spreading yourself too thinly, in order to make sure that you are able to talk about the texts you are most passionate about and know best at interview. I personally included 7 texts/authors and also referenced some other related genres/movements/motifs. I initially had quite a few more titles in there but cut them out somewhere in the process. The best approach is to brainstorm every single text you have read that intrigues and fascinates you, and then refine it down to the balance that works best for you.
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rwhitaker1
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(Original post by Oxford Mum)
I think it may be because Zola novels are seen as left wing, and achingly trendy....

I love the Rougon-Macquart series, and have read all 20 repeatedly. However I studied la Bete Humaine for A level, so it has a special place in my heart.

Zola loved the railways, which were quite new in his day. There was actually a railway line running near the bottom of his garden, so when he was hosting a dinner party and a train was about to go past, he would get his friends to rush out and have a look....

The suspense in this novel is amazing, as Jacques is dying to murder a woman (sorry for the pun), but is just trying to pluck up the courage to "have a go". He has some near misses, which certainly made my heart beat faster. Then he falls in love with Severine, and believes he is finally cured...

It never fails to amaze me just how many murderers there are in this book, not only Jacques. It's like a soap opera, where you cannot believe there are so many murders in one street! I can recall I was 17, and sitting in a train when I read the train crash bit. I was actually frightened. Zola never writes a book without speaking to experts and doing his research.

But if you want to read it, I won't go into too many spoilers. Another great one is Germinal (Stalin's favourite book). But everyone reads that, so a dip into La Bete Humaine is just something a little different.
I only discovered Zola a year ago, so I haven't yet read through the whole Rougon-Macquart cycle, and I'm embarrassed to say that I've done it out of order, starting with Nana (which is the one I've heard people say should be kept in a specific place near the end of the reading order). One day I will hopefully have completed the whole thing!

I would give anything to have been able study LBH at A Level. It's such a compelling and rich novel, and I do dearly love its murderous cast. I think Zola is a genius for being able to make me still love Jacques after everything, and even feel sympathy for him...

Germinal is the one he's famously known for, so if you're looking for a taster, OP, you could give it a try, but I agree with Oxford Mum that it's also the obvious choice, and it's also definitely not my favourite out of his works.
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rwhitaker1
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(Original post by Gwil)
I would say that in your PS you need to strike a balance between including enough texts/authors to accurately show the scope of your interests, and not spreading yourself too thinly, in order to make sure that you are able to talk about the texts you are most passionate about and know best at interview. I personally included 7 texts/authors and also referenced some other related genres/movements/motifs. I initially had quite a few more titles in there but cut them out somewhere in the process. The best approach is to brainstorm every single text you have read that intrigues and fascinates you, and then refine it down to the balance that works best for you.
Yes, I agree. When I was at interview, I would sometimes ask people which texts they'd written about in their personal statement as a conversation starter, and people rarely gave me more than 5 or 6 titles in response. If you start just blankly listing everything you've read in the past 3 years that's considered a classic, I think the tutors will see right through you and consider it name-dropping of texts you know they'll like rather than texts YOU love and want to talk about. In my PS, I would mention a text and then explain what I particularly found interesting about it, whether that be its genre, subject topic or use of language, and then move on to another.
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by rwhitaker1)
Yes, I agree. When I was at interview, I would sometimes ask people which texts they'd written about in their personal statement as a conversation starter, and people rarely gave me more than 5 or 6 titles in response. If you start just blankly listing everything you've read in the past 3 years that's considered a classic, I think the tutors will see right through you and consider it name-dropping of texts you know they'll like rather than texts YOU love and want to talk about. In my PS, I would mention a text and then explain what I particularly found interesting about it, whether that be its genre, subject topic or use of language, and then moved on to another.
Yes, they don't just want to read a list of all too familiar books. Lists should be avoided on all personal statements.
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