My Top Ten Texts From my First Year Studying English Literature

My first year studying English Literature has been challenging, engaging and full of fascinating texts. This article holds my top ten picks for the texts which I enjoyed reading and studying the most. 

  1. Pygmalion- George Bernard Shaw: Many people will be common with the story of ‘My Fair Lady’ based upon the original drama Pygmalion by George Bernard- Shaw. The story of a flower girl named Eliza, learning to speak in ‘proper English’ is engaging for a wide audience, and the simplicity of the story contributes to the fun, flowing tone of the text. However, what made this text from the ‘Introduction to Drama’ module, one of my favourites was the background knowledge we were embedded in to. Learning of the drama’s intertextual links, to texts such as Great Expectations by Dickens, and Shakespeare’s ‘Taming of the Shrew’, added a whole other dimension to an otherwise simply comedic storyline. I also thoroughly enjoyed learning about Bernard- Shaw as an individual. I was surprised to discover that he had strongly rejected the romantic ending, shown in ‘My Fair Lady’, as he believed the writers such as Shakespeare relied too heavily on love resolutions. The plot and the context both contributed to my choice of this drama as one of my favourites. 
  2. Jane Eyre- Charlotte Bronte: As I am sure many people would agree, it is the character of Jane who truly stands out in this novel. The strong willed, independent character with her poignant phrases, such as ‘I am no bird, and no net ensnares me’, invites many to consider this text a worthy one of reading. Jane becomes a character who we sympathise and deeply connect to as we follow her journey from childhood, to being, for many, a feminist icon. This text on the ‘Introduction to the novel’ module truly supported me in deciding what a reader truly looks for in a novel. Bronte seems to provide it all here with an engaging storyline, a personal exploration in to a character, and a setting close enough to reality for us to be able to relate to effectively. 
  3. Wide Sargasso Sea- Jean Rhys: I have already claimed ‘Jane Eyre’ to be in my top ten texts, however the sub text of ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’,on the same module, not only led to my increased fascination in the classic text ‘Jane Eyre’, but the very existence of Wide Sargasso Sea as a pre story is startling and intriguing. Rhys explores the character Bertha, before her existence as a mad woman in the attic.  The text of Jean Rhys shines a light on White Western Feminism, and the way the increased agency of women such as Jane Eyre, came at the expensse of women, such as Bertha, subjected by colonial rule. It is text filled with beautiful descriptions, intense emotion and it’s link to Jane Eyre, makes these two texts a wonderful combination to read. 
  4. Oedipus Rex- Sophocles- Although some may view this as a surprising choice for my top ten, due to the complexity of it’s language; the story of the character of Oedipus has a long lived fascination about it. It is a text exploring free will, and fate, following a man whose actions appear to be driven by a myth. The way in which the audience already know the ending of the tragedy, and the curse which has been placed upon Oedipus creates an interesting dynamic, as we watch Oedipus slowy travelling closer to his inevitable end. The storyline is gripping, emotional and opened up so much debate within my study, that it has become a firm favourite from the ‘Classical and Biblical Backgrounds to English Literature’ module. 
  5. Heart of Darkness- Joseph Conrad: The main reason why I chose this novel to have a place in my top ten, is the setting. The main story line takes place in the heart of Africa. Conrad’s dramatisation of the river, the forest, the contrast between light and darkness, and the overall ominous atmosphere which is created is truly gripping. The setting haunts the characters, and adds a constant tension and suspense to the tone of the novel. The reader is provided with so much description, it would be almost impossible to not feel as if you yourself were experiencing the world which Conrad has sought to present. For those who enjoy texts with vivid imagery, and close attention to detail, this novel would certainly satisfy that criteria. 
  6. Sir Orfeo: Out of all the texts on the ‘Romance and the Literature of Chivalry’ module, this text is undoubtedly my favourite, mostly due to its suprising resolution. Many of the other romances, appear to trivialise human love, or only focus on love between knights and supernatural fairies. However, Sir Orfeo is a text presenting the true and loyal love between the King and his Queen. The King endures hardship in the forest, never giving up hope on finding his wife. The moment where the couple are reunited provides a personal, raw and emotional scene which some may argue is absent from some of the other romances. The love is not trivialised, therefore for any readers fond of a true ‘love story’ this texts provides romance, sacrifice and a beautiful relationship between the two lovers, overcoming supernatural powers to be together. 
  7. The Bible- In the module ‘Classical and Biblical Backgrounds to English Literature’, we were given the opportunity to study the Bible. I was fascinated in the debates over whether we should identify the Bible as a form of literature. The close analysis of books in the Bible, combined with breadth, as we examined the Bible as a whole, was a challenging, but a exciting task, really developing our skills as literature students. 
  8. The Rover- Aphra Behn: What I enjoyed about this text, from the drama module, was it’s carnival setting, inviting upheaval and an ignorance of traditional societal expectations. Behn sets her text within a carnival, leading the female individuals to seize the opportunity of freedom. seeking out lovers, fighting their male chosen destinies and choosing to present themselves in the way they truly want. Among this fun, however is a demonstartion of carefully chosen women ( a prostitute, a destined nun, and a women with an arranged marriage) all fighting for freedom and a life not designed by men. It is a fun, fast paced drama, but one matched with an important message. 
  9. The Importance of Being Earnest- Oscar Wilde: This drama most definitely deserves its place among the comedy genre. The paradoxes, the farcical and slapstick moments, the triviality and the ongoing sarcastic wit which dominates the play, makes this drama a fun and thoroughly enjoyable text to read. There are also film adaptions, which I would recommend to watch, as the visual presentation of Wilde’s play, excels the comedy to an even greater level that can be achieved through the page. 
  10. Dr Faustaus- Christopher Marlowe- Although this text can certainly not be defined as a lightweight topic, the dark nature of a story where a man, trades his soul for the power of a devil, is captivating. This text leaves with you with more questions than you start with. Did the Doctor truly have the chance of repentance? How much free will do we really have? Why would a compassionate, all knowing God allow for Dr Faustus to make this decision? How pre destined are our lives? The questioning and the way this text leads someone to be debating and considering the themes, long after the lecture on it has finished, is the reason why it holds a distinguished place in my top ten texts. 

This year reading English Literature at Durham University has been everything I wanted it to be. The course has opened me up to a range of texts that I didn’t even know existed, but now can not imagine not having the chance to read. As can be seen from the wide ranging topics and genres in my top ten favourite texts, the first year of English Literature at Durham University does not hold any student back, but throws them in to a world of literature dominated by a wide range of writing styles, genres debates, intriguing characters engaging storylines, tragedy, comedy and so much more. 

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