Thursday, 15 April 2021

Dissertation Tips (English Literature Degree)

Writing a dissertation in the middle of a pandemic is no mean feat. If you're in third year and in the midst of your project, or in second year and wondering how you can get a head start, I've written some things down that I've found useful in my own experience.

Start Early & Organise Your Secondary Reading 

Starting some secondary reading as early as possible will help you in the long run: it will help you to shape your argument as well as ensuring you don't have too much to do in the later stages of your project. I've found creating a really simple table with these headings to organise my secondary reading has helped me massively: source title, quote, pages, publishing and page range, and additional info. It makes everything organised, simple and clear. It also allows you to easily keep track of how much reading you've done, allowing you to decide when you've done enough. 

You Can't Read Everything 

If you're passionate about your topic, it can be tempting to want to read everything ever written about your author, but it's impossible. Planning your thesis statement for your dissertation overall, and even each of your chapters, and bearing these in mind as you read around your topic can be useful. When you get to the stage of writing up your dissertation, you need to scale down your research so you're only researching things that are really relevant to your topic. 

Extra Notes Documents for your Chapters 

Especially in the editing stages, having a spare document for each of your chapters for you to copy and paste any sections you delete means you don't lose anything. If you decide you want to add a section back into your chapter, you have a document with extra snippets to hand. 

Pagemark Everything 

There has been so many times where I've went to go back to a page in a text, thinking I will remember where a specific line or passage is. To make your life easier, have pagemarkers or post-it's to hand as you're reading. That way, you won't miss anything you might want to go back to, making your life easier in the long run. 

Look for Societies or Festivals on Twitter 

Following any societies linked to your author on Twitter can be hugely beneficial, as often they retweet useful articles for your wider reading, and you can find other students and academics who are writing on your author/s. Sometimes there also festival events that are put on that are linked to your author, and due to the pandemic, a lot of them are now conducted through Zoom, which means you can attend events you might not have originally had access to. 


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Book Review: The Testaments

The Testaments is told in the perspectives of Aunt Lydia and Offred’s biological children, Agnes and Nicole, charting their interactions with their respective ‘families’ and their roles within the world of Gilead. Soon enough, the characters interact through the seamless chapter plotting, as the inner-workings of Gilead are revealed. It’s hard to not give things away, but the plotline will certainly have you on your feet.

Atwood, obviously, skilfully crafts language that is also addictive; regardless of the novel being 300 plus pages, it is still a relatively quick read, as every chapter leaves you wanting more. Aunt Lydia’s perspective was my particular favourite; Atwood’s subtle word choices allow the reader to delve deeper into how the Aunt’s interact with each other.

I know there has been some divided opinion and controversy surrounding The Testaments, so I expected not to enjoy it as much as I did. I tried to read it two times in the past year and failed to get past the first 100 pages, though, so I would recommend you make sure you have the time to give it your full attention. I really enjoyed reading it this summer with no pressing reading to do. The ending, which has a similar format to the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale, tied the novel together perfectly, as well as tying the duology together nicely, too. Overall, the novel didn’t disappoint at all: regardless of what controversy surrounds it, I certainly would put it to the top of your reading pile.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Top 5 Books to Read for Prospective English Lit Students

If you’re hoping to start an English Literature degree in September and your reading lists haven’t been released yet, below are some fresh texts that you might not have discovered yet, that will stand you in good stead for degree level study. 

Beckett’s Endgame is completely different to any play I have ever read before. It is perfect to bridge the gap between A-levels and degree level; the ambiguous dialogue forces you to really widen out your interpretations and consequently develop your own unique take on the play. 

Oswald’s Memorial is a different reading experience depending on whether you have read or have knowledge of the Iliador not. However, I still think it is a nice introduction if you are just starting to venture into Greek Mythology. It details how the soldiers in the Iliad lost their lives in battle, with some really poignant and memorable descriptions. 

The Metamorphoses is one of Kafka’s top short stories; it would definitely be the one I would start with if I was new to Kafka. The male protagonist wakes up as a beetle, so consequently the reader sees how his family react with his new form. The short story, along with Kafka’s other works, is unique, engrossing and has a well-formed ending.

Dubliners is a collection of short stories, some longer than others, centring on the idea of Dublin being in a state of paralysis and how the people of the city interact with each other. Even just picking up one of these short stories gives you a glimpse of how Joyce captures 20th century Dublin so well.  

Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Stories, like Dubliners, has short stories of varying lengths, focussing particularly on how women and families navigate their lives in a World War One setting. All of the short stories are vivid, engaging and crisp, so you can’t go wrong with them.  

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

How to Prep for University Seminars (English Literature Student)

Preparing for lectures and seminars, especially when you’re in first year, can be tricky. As a third year student I have a simple method that works for me and hopefully will for you too.

Read the Set Text 

This sounds like an obvious step, but it’s surprising how many English Literature students don’t read the books they are set every week. Starting your reading before term starts and ensuring that you’re at least two weeks ahead sets you up nicely. Sometimes things pop up in life, (we’re all human), that means you might struggle to finish reading a book in a week. If that does happen, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can as well as reading a detailed summary and looking up quotes for any chapters or acts you haven’t had a chance to read yet. I would also strive to finish that text soon after a seminar so when you have to choose texts to write about for an assignment, you’re giving yourself the best selection possible.

Make Notes 

As I’m reading a set text, I’ll make a note of interesting quotes and their page numbers, along with my thoughts on them. Therefore, if you want to use them in your seminar discussions, you’ve got the notes easy to hand. I type up my quotes on my iPad, so if they’re discussed in the seminar I can quickly extend my notes on them. Doing some prepping before your seminar can result in some ground work to prepare you for essays and to get you thinking. Some weeks these notes might be more detailed than others, but any extra work you do will benefit you hugely. I also do exactly the same with themes; I try and group my quotes into themes and do some research before my seminar on any less obvious themes I might have missed whilst reading the text. 

Read Around the Set Text 

Reading around the text, especially when you’re in second and third year is so important. It is really beneficial to do this as you start to form your own opinions on a text by agreeing or disagreeing with a literary critic. This means you have more to contribute to your seminar discussions as you’ve extended your knowledge and built on the groundwork you’ve already started by making basic notes on the text.
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