Why Study English?

So, I’m dr. Catherine Brown and I’m head of the English faculty and senior lecturer of English at New College of the Humanities. The skills that you develop, that you have to develop, in order to be a good analysts of literature are skills to do with your relationship to language and understanding how language is being used. Which not only I think increases your pleasure at beautiful and complex uses of language wherever you find them for the rest of your life, but also make you more street wise. They make you cannier, they make you see lazy or manipulative or mendacious uses of language wherever you might come across them, whether they are in newspapers articles or political speeches or something that somebody is saying directly to you. And that I think makes you a more alert, less naive citizen.

There are a lots of ways of doing English and there are a lots of ways of writing about one given text and one of the great things about the tutorial method is that it does allow students to discover what type or types of critic they have innate intellectual bent towards, whether it’s towards the historicise or towards the more philosophical side, we often get some indication what kind of a literature critic a student might develop into from the contextual subject that they’ve chosen. So if they have fund that they were writing a lot of historicises essays and would just like to try themselves out with psychoanalytical criticism just give that a go and see what kind of psychoanalytical essay they could produce and that is entirely risk free and we very much encourage them to explore different sides of their intellectual disposition. Our three visiting professors of English at this College who are: Howard Jacobson, who is an award winning book, a prize winning novelist, he comes and speak to our students about how he became a creative writer, how is it possible to make a living as a novelist and his perspective on literature, he is a very distinctive literature critic in his own right.

Then we have Sir Trevor Nunn, who is one of Britain’s most prominent theatre directors, who’s been working as a theatre director for decades, he comes and does for example verse speaking workshops with our students. And then finally professor Christopher Ricks, he is one of the world’s most prominent literature critics, certainly in the English language and he’s got a range of areas that he covers, but essentially he can speak to us and does lecture on all periods of English literature and he to, he gives his email address to our students, they can debate literature with him, whilst he is back in Boston and he also, twice a year, takes our students out for a meal after one of his lectures and that’s a great way of bringing everyone in the college to do with English together. Well I think they are equipped with a load of tools for the greater enjoyment of life and of the greater understanding of life and of what it is to be alive for start and that is actually the most important thing, but beyond that they have a very well respected degree, because English is intellectually well respected.

It requires intellectual flexibility, it requires articulacy and as I say this sensitivity to language and to the ways it can be used the way in which rhetoric works and so on. The great Cambridge critic F. R. Leaves had this wonderful idea of English as the central subject, because it is about everything. It is about all life and he said that people having studied this as their undergraduate subject can then go out into the world and become carrot farmers, or Prime Ministers, or whatever it might be, but the way in which they do those jobs is forever benefited by their original undergraduate study of English literature and I agree with that view..

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