Monday, 24 January 2011

40 Years On

Yes, I’m still in the land of the living.

And a chance encounter with a photocopy found whilst tidying a folder set me thinking. It is forty years (-ish) since I did my A Level literature course. I sat the exam in the summer of 1972, so I would have been part way into the first year (pauses to take socks off and use toes for counting) – possibly. It was literature, after all, not mathematics.

Anyway, I have decided to revisit my roots. I had been writing long before I took this literature course, and I had read some pretty heavyweight stuff – I was already an avid proponent of the likes of Beckett and Camus as well home-grown writers such as Woolf. I read just as voraciously then as I do now (my father put up a wall of shelving for my books). But this course was my first systematic introduction to reading with a purpose to understanding not just the content of a book, but the ways in which an author achieved the effects they were after.

In other words, this was a step-change for me as a writer. I learned to be critical in a systematic way and I was provided with a set of critical tools by an English teacher who was a scholar and a gentleman. No longer with us, I dedicate this project to the memory of Colin Silk.

And the project?

I’m going to re-read those A Level texts. No big deal, but it will be interesting to see if it re-opens any doors (or maybe just cracks open a few windows). Some of the texts I have revisited constantly in the last forty years. Others I have not read since.

It will also be interesting to see if I can detect any change in my attitude to them. There was only one that left me cold at the time. The rest were inspiring, eye-opening, often difficult, but always rewarding.

The texts are as follows:

Oxford A Level – 1972
English Literature

Paper I
Chaucer – The Franklin’s Tale
Shakespeare – Hamlet
Milton – Paradise Lost – Book II
Charlotte Bronte – Villette

Paper IIE
Shaw – Major Barbara
Yeats – Selected Poems (Macmillan – Poems of W B Yeats)
H G Wells – The New Machiavelli
Joyce – Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Eliot – Selected Poems (Faber)
Auden – Poems (Penguin 'selected by the author' edition)

I have most of these on my shelves, but will need to track down three: the Chaucer (I do have this as rendered in modern English, but I’d like to find the original text we used and brush up on the original), Auden, and Wells.

I am currently working up to the Joyce by reading Dubliners and will report on each of them in the usual place.

In the meantime, I have to get back to Charlie who will be appearing in print in the not too distant future.