My view on English Literature!

Inspired by Blake, I’ve decided I should probably write a little more in depth about the course I am studying in Portsmouth: English Literature.

What do you actually do?

Now, to start with the basics, this isn’t just a degree in books! There’s a lot more to it than just reading books and writing “I think this means this because…” in my essays. In order to analyse a large variety of texts (and yes, a lot of these are novels) I have to read loads of secondary criticism in order to form my own criticism of a text, drawing inspiration of those who have come before me.

How much work do you have to do?

On a weekly basis, for example, I have to read a novel, a play or a selection of poems and, on top of this, I am expected to read numerous journal articles or extracts from books that provide a critical take on the text I have read. In terms of workload, this amount of reading can get difficult, but as I am normally only at university for 8 hours a week (and sometimes less!) I have some spare time to catch up on the work.

How is your degree assessed?

I generally have two pieces of coursework per unit or one piece of coursework and an exam and they are always lengthy essays. In second year I’ve made the jump from 1,500-2,000 words to 2,500 but it’s all good practice for my dissertation next year! I know that in September, however, they are changing the way the degrees are assessed so I’m not sure how you’ll be assessed in 2012/13. Regardless, if you’re an English student you’ll have to do a lot of essays and a lot of exams!

What units have you studied/can you study?

Year 1:
Unit-wise, in my first year I took the following:
Semester 1:
1. Authorship (Different types of authors, the importance of the author, the death of the author, whether context is important when analysing a text etc.)
2. Study Skills (Learning how to write essays and analyse texts which was, honestly, pretty dull but ultimately very useful)
3. Key Concepts (My favourite unit! Mainly post-colonialism – there were some great books on the unit too)
4. Language Awareness (I’d only recommend this if you’re interested in doing a TEFL qualification, otherwise I’d stay away from it – unless you’re doing English Literature and Language of course)

Semester 2:
1. Narrative Forms (The clue is in the name of the unit I guess. There were some pretty cool texts on this unit too)
2.  Shakespeare and Post-Renaissance Drama (There was only 2 Shakespeare plays on this unit and it was at 9am on a Friday, but it was pretty good)
3. Rereading Literary History (Yeah, I found this unit really hard, but it might have been to do with the fact I probably didn’t do as much work towards it as I should have, a lesson I’ve definitely learned from now!)
4. Textual and Critical Skills (A follow on from study skills but with poetry instead)

Year 2:
This year I’ve had a lot more freedom in my choices and I’ve been able to study:
THE GOTHIC (quite dark but really interesting);
NATIONAL IDENTITIES and ENGLISHNESS (my favourite of the lot – really made me see Britain in a different light);
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: FROM DEFOE TO AUSTEN (which I found extremely boring, through no fault of my lecturer who is in fact really good at his job and made it far more interesting than it could’ve been) and
WRITING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY (good luck with Middlemarch!)

I’m currently finishing off:
PUBLICS AND PRIVATES: LITERARY SEXUALITIES 1700-1830 (not for the faint-hearted – it’s pretty dirty)
REWRITING LITERARY HISTORY (looking at the way in which authors rewrite classic canonical texts – the best unit I’ve done so far – I really enjoy it)
REPRESENTATION AND IDENTITY (again, quite a lot of these unit explanations are pretty much given within the name, but this is another great unit).

There were other options available this year too so you’re never short of choice.

Now unfortunately, due to a change in the way the university’s semesters/terms/assessments/etc. are working, some of these units won’t be available for undergraduates starting in 2012 (or those moving into their second year in September). I’ve had a look at the new unit lists though and the units available are, in general, quite similar to the units available at the moment so I’m sure you wouldn’t be disappointed.

What are the lecturers like?

As I’m sure everyone else does, I do have lecturers/seminar tutors that I prefer but everyone who teaches the course knows what they’re doing and it’s just about making sure there is a mutual respect between student/lecturer. You won’t get treated like a kid but you will be expected to put the effort in.


As with all courses, you’ll be expected to work really hard but in the end it’s worth it. I’ve discovered books I’d never have thought to read, from hundreds of years ago to just a year or so ago. Whatever course you pick just make sure it’s one you really enjoy.

I’m not sure if this was very helpful but you have any more questions about my course, please feel free to write a comment below!


One thought on “My view on English Literature!

  1. Blake says:

    Nice one Kathryn! I thought it would be good to tell readers what my course was really like, and I’m pleased to see that you’ve continued the theme – it’s good to hear about what units you’ve been studying! I totally agree – I think you’ve just got to go with your gut instinct and take whatever course/units looks the most interesting (for whatever reason!) Having a degree will always be an advantage, and if you’ve got to study for 3 years (or more), it might as well be something that’ll keep your attention!

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