Personal Statement:Medieval and Modern Languages 1

I am applying for the MSt in Medieval and Modern Languages (Comparative Literature) programme at the University of Oxford for three reasons: the special subjects in French and Russian; unrivalled facilities, particularly the Sackler and Taylor Institution libraries; and the opportunity to intellectually and socially further myself at one of the best universities in the world.

The Comparative Literature programme represents a natural step forward from my undergraduate degree in English both academically and intellectually. I aspire to be a university lecturer and the MSt, while a necessary step on the path towards doctorate work, satisfies my current and future research interest, which I have begun to develop inside my degree on my extended essay and outside through creative writing, as a standalone qualification. Summarily, the two special subjects that I would look to take on the programme, though I would love to take more, are 'Reality, Representation and Reflexivity in Nineteenth-century Prose Writing' (French) and 'The Rise of the Russian Novel' (Russian), which is indirectly related to my extended essay on Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground (1864).

My extended essay investigates the construction of the underground man's identity in relation to a number of literary devices in the novella - notes, prostitute, underground and wet-snow. Presently, I am tracing the “underground consciousness” through Dostoevsky's earlier works, and a number of other writer's works before 1864 too, including Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev, whilst also considering continental influences as well, though they are too long to list here; Dostoevsky's short story Mr Prokharchin (1846), Vladimir Odoevsky's short story The Living Corpse (1844) and Alexander Pushkin's short story The Undertaker (1831) are partially important in this sense, albeit generally overlooked. Consequently, because of my research on Dostoevsky and a general interest in Russian writers, I am particularly well-read in the non-fiction works of Mikhail Bakhtin and Tzvetan Todorov, and the contemporary literature essay submitted with this application develops their theories of the carnivalesque and fantastic into a comparative essay about Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) and Colm Tóibín's The Master (2004), proposing particular paradoxical strategies used by both writers in order to deal with a delimiting real. Admittedly, the only writer I am unfamiliar with on the Russian module is Ivan Goncharov.

The reason for selecting the French module is entirely different from that of the Russian, where instead of a tangible continuation of undergraduate extended essay there is a complete break away; the module offers the opportunity to engage with a number of writers that I am unfamiliar with, which excites me, and a number who I am desperate to engage with in an academic context (Guy de Maupassant and Émile Zola), and a number of “contexts” I wish to pursue such as the literary genres (short story) and the “school” of Naturalism. Other interests outside the module related to French literature include my continued preoccupation with the semantic potential of erotica as a genre, erotic motifs in literature and the literary representation of polymorphous perverse (in a general non-normative sense) behaviours in erotica, particularly in the short stories of Anaïs Nin.

As aforementioned, I developed my interest in comparative literature using creative writing, and there are three examples I wish to give. I also recently submitted short stories for the Suzanne Furstner Foundation (TEFL scholarship) and the High Sheriff's Cheshire Prize for Literature competitions, using the knowledge I gained from my second year Romanticism and Writing Contexts 2: Philosophy, Society & Culture units with the extra reading I had done on Giovanni Boccaccio, Giacomo Casanova, Franz Kafka and Virgil. The latter was also particularly inspired by Maupassant's short story Clair De Lune (1884), and dealt explicitly with gender theory; a reversal of Eve's fall using sexual motifs. More appropriately, perhaps, the colonial travel writings of Ryszard Kapuściński and Mary Kingsley in Africa, and Joseph Conrad's short story An Outpost of Progress (1896) heavily influenced my entry ('A long walk to the internet') for this years Guardian International Development Journalism competition. I wrote about the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs's ADEN project, which aimed to increase internet access in eleven sub-Saharan countries. I was long-listed for the award and published on the Guardian's website.

As aforementioned I aspire to be a university lecturer, and have attempted to further this aspiration alongside my undergraduate degree as best as I could. For example, I worked part-time for Aimhigher as a student mentor in my second year, using my subject knowledge in English to prepare GCSE students for their English language and literature exams. This involved researching fiction and non-fiction texts on the curriculum, creating revision material for students of different abilities, which was then checked by a senior lecturer in my department, and attempting to instil appropriate exam technique.

I believe this experience developed my communication and team-work skills as I worked alongside other mentors on the scheme, and coordinated with staff in the school. I often had to deal with large groups of students on my own too, which was difficult in terms of involving everyone in the session, especially when students did not know one another. But the way I learnt to prepare for sessions and explain ideas was the most valuable experience gained, pedagogically. Consequently, because of my aptitude, enthusiasm and reliability I was invited to participate in Aimhigher's new associates scheme, which launched in November. I will be working part-time at Macclesfield sixth form college from the New Year onwards, and I have also been invited to participate in one of the college's new staff training schemes too.

I have also been accepted onto the Liverpool Student Associates Scheme for secondary English. Manchester Metropolitan University does not offer English placements so I contacted other regional providers and was given a placement less than a day after an interview, which not only proves my suitability for a career in education but also my dedication too. I would actively look to build upon this experience while studying at Oxford, and the faculty's graduate teacher training and certification programme interests me considerably.

Universities Applied to:

  • University of Oxford (MSt in Medieval and Modern Languages) – Rejection


General Comments:

A rejection was not surprising given that the prerequisite for the programme was an undergraduate degree in a modern language. However, after speaking with the graduate administrator, who told me that others had applied in the past without modern language skills, I decided to apply.

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