An English degree impacts the whole life of a person who has it, but ultimately the effects extend also to their family and close friends. Early symptoms may include shiny fingers and paper cuts from thumbing through literary works, a glazed expression brought on by the ramblings of an 18th century novelist and occasionally a reliance on caffeine and chocolate brownies. But there is guidance and support out there for everyone, whether you are still studying, or whether you have already passed your BA.
Studying an English degree means that you will have to learn to cope with the prejudice and presumptions of others. Just because you’re a Literature student does not mean that you’ve always dreamt of being a Teacher, and certainly not necessarily of English. No, the nature of your degree doesn’t gift you with some super-human spelling ability, nor does it mean you have to enjoy reading the works of W.H. Auden or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and indeed a female Literature student is not necessarily a feminist.Once at graduate level simple tasks such as going to the theatre or watching television become infinitely more complicated. An English graduate may find themselves surrounded by appearance versus reality conflicts in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the apparent blending of gender roles in a re-watching of Titanic, or readings of homoerotic desire in Shaun of the Dead.
I am one of these graduates.
Just last week I journeyed to London for a night at the theatre, which resulted in my poor husband having to spend the rest of the week being bombarded with different readings of Willy Russell’s award-winning musical Blood Brothers: The role of absent family members. Innocence versus experience. Class and gender conflicts. Incest. And don’t even get me started on the role of the Narrator… My husband, on the other hand, enjoyed the music and the story.
After graduating it took me two years to build up to reading a serious novel. After twenty-four months of reading the testosterone-charged fantasies of Wilbur Smith, I thought my brain may have re-wired itself to enable me to simply enjoy a book again. Sadly this is not true.
Every student has debt these days, but the weight English students carry is unlike any other… A Law student may sweat over parliamentary transcripts, but it’s unlikely that these dusty pieces of specialist waffle would feature in an evening’s recreation.
So if you know someone who has studied an English degree I implore you to be kind to them. Understand what they have endured, and what they will forever go through in the name of their education.