English Lit November 2015

Hello people-who-are-considering-studying-English-Literature-at-York!  It may seem far off now but before you know it A-levels will have been and gone, and you’ll suddenly have to start working out how many pairs of socks one requires to survive at university (14 works for me).  That’s why you need to begin mulling over exactly which university you shall grace with your presence, and that’s why as a second year student I am writing a blog to help nudge you in the direction of York.


Now I could bamboozle you with statistics about how great the course is and how well it does in league tables, but I’m not convinced that would be useful.  What I can say with complete confidence is that York’s English department is committed to helping you gain skills and knowledge, as well as making sure you have a good time while you do so.  This week for example my Late Medieval Literature seminar class split into two groups of five to study the ‘York Mystery Plays’, a collection of short religious plays that were performed around York once a year back in the 1400s.  Each group was tasked with performing one of the plays, and my group’s modern English rendering of ‘Joseph’s Trouble About Mary’ (where he moans about her being pregnant with someone else’s child) proved a lot of fun.

The modules at York are both fascinating and varied; in first year I started with Medieval to Modern, which went from Arthurian romance to Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Virginia Woolf and Translations, where we looked at (mostly) classical texts alongside modern reimaginings of them. We also had lectures running all year on the “Key Concepts” of literary theory, which helped provide a broad introduction the history of literary scholarship. York is one of the leading research universities for English, and so lecturers tend to be leaders in their field. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), York has its fair share of eccentric professors, just as one would hope from an English department.  I shall name no names here (half the fun is working out who the idiosyncratic ones are) but I have had lectures involving fiddling (playing the fiddle that is), a Marxist critique of the London Olympics opening ceremony, and extended performances of Dante’s Divine Comedy in the original Italian.  This means that rather than being a chore, lectures become an integral part of your week, and not something that you will want to skip.

One of the most satisfying things about the course is the interconnectedness of the topics – the texts you study in the first term introduce you to lots of different authors and topics which can be followed up in modules you take later in the degree. As someone who hadn’t read the complete works of Dickens or the Brontës before uni, this breadth helped to ensure I had a good grasp of a range of literature before choosing my modules for second year and beyond.  What I would suggest is reading as much from the reading list as possible over the summer, because with two books or plays a week you’ll be hard pushed to keep up if you want to actually leave your room at any point.

And you’ll want to leave your room, because the societies and clubs on offer at York are amazing.  I am involved with Comedy Society, Drama Society and University Radio York (URY) because as a pretentious English student I crave attention and love, but I have also dabbled in tennis, student TV, Literature Society (LitSoc) and many more.  Whatever you want to do, chances are there will be a group of people already doing it.  This year there is even a Taylor Swift Appreciation Society, and although the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, I hear it has been immensely popular.  First year is a fantastic time to get involved with as much as you possibly can simply because you’re on campus so are at most 15 minutes away from anything.

Improvised comedy (here I am playing a corpse)
Improvised comedy (here I am playing a corpse)

Hopefully that’s given you a brief introduction to studying English at York, but if you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, and I will try and get back to you, either straight away or in my next blog post.

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Lewis is a 2nd year English Literature student, who uses the rare moments between books to gallivant around on stage performing improvised comedy. He spends far too much time trying to keep up with the news, but still manages to be a full-time guardian of two cacti.

5 thoughts on “English Lit November 2015”

  1. Hello Lewis, thank you for the lovely blog post! Lit at York seems very friendly and exciting. As a thespian enthusiast from over the sea (several seas), may I ask how diverse are the opportunities for Asian students in Drama Society? Are we mostly backstage personnel, or is there not much of a barrier to being active onstage?

    1. Hi Piper, glad to hear from a fellow thesp! From what I’ve seen, Dramasoc productions very rarely have particular appearances in mind when they are casting, and certainly some of the most active onstage members of the society come from very varied backgrounds. The first play I was in had a role was gender-swapped for me, and the production team were perfectly happy to adapt the script accordingly. This would rarely even be necessary for race or nationality, so I imagine that most directors have no hesitation in casting based on dramatic merit. Hope that helps!

  2. Thank you Lewis for this great blog, so thrilled that York is now my first choice (party thanks to your fantastic writing). Please keep writing because I love hearing all about York.

    Also, do you happen to know when we will be sent the reading list?

    With best wishes,


    1. Ah thank you Evie, I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blogs! I’m writing another one over the next few days, so that should be out soon. As for the reading lists, they will be released once the UCAS deadline passes in May, so you should be hearing about that fairly soon. I definitely recommend making a start on the books over the summer, but it’s also worth reading some stuff for pleasure as you won’t have much time for it once university begins!

      1. Hi Lewis, great blog post! As a potential English Lit student of York Uni starting this autumn (if I get in, York being my firm choice), does the department expect everyone to have read every single word of every single text before arriving at the university? I ask this not because I am lazy but because (although I am an avid and enthusiastic reader) the number and size of some of the texts on the autumn term’s reading list are very daunting! I don’t know if I’ll be able to have read them all by the time I attend my first lecture/seminar on them. I would really appreciate some insight from a current student! Cheers,

        P.S. Do the teachers / professors / lecturers ease students into the texts and university-style learning at the beginning? I’m afraid of being dropped into the deep end and struggling to step up from A Level English Lit!

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