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.


liz fenwick said...

Good luck. I don't think I'd have the patience required any more for some of them. Even then I hated Milton :-)


Ash said...

Hope it is a rewarding experience for you, re-visiting these texts and the other associations that will undoubtedly spring up. I usually find that it is the unexpected cracks and openings that are the most insightful. I do not do much of the 'heavy' reading as I think of it, I always thought myself not 'clever' enough to tackle them!! But I begin to realise I am me,the way I think and process things is who I am and I should not try to be other than that. I am not so good at prying out the sub text, the hidden meanings the allagorical nature of these things - I usually have to be shown before I twig to it, but hey that is the way of it. I have re-visited certain texts since my life altered so drastically in this last 18 months and I do find they seem different somehow or at least I am able to gain more insight because of the experiences I have met of late. I bought a copy of Yeats a few years ago but struggled with it, maybe I could open those pages again too... we'll see. I read J.O'Donohue many times in the past but its only with my deeper understanding and 'feeling' of emotions now that his words now seem more alive and have such great depth of meaning for me - here's hoping you find many chinks of light.

Graeme K Talboys said...

The only ones I'm 'worried' about are the Wells (which I recall was a struggle at the time) and the Auden (with whom I found no connection). I suspect the Wells won't be too bad as I have enjoyed his other work. Auden will be interesting.