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Why English is not a soft subject

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It’s time to close the books on the idea that English Literature is a soft subject.  Comments such as these about my degree really get my back up. My housemates will vouch for the number of hours I spend reading books, attempting to read critical articles and writing essays. The library has become my second home while for others it is only a rumour, left undiscovered until final year.

I do not intend to criticise other subjects in defence of my own but I do wish to dispel any belief that studying English Literature is not worthwhile. We may have fewer contact hours (and constantly be reminded of that fact) but that leaves a considerable number of hours in which we must engage in self-motivated study and research. We grapple with texts, analyse their meaning and attempt to decide their significance. We consider new approaches, demystify critical responses and invent our own ideas which we must then translate to eloquent prose.

I say none of this as a complaint: this is how I choose to study and more importantly, how I love to work. Friends frequently remind me of the fact that studying English leads to nothing; how unfortunate I am to be qualified in nothing in particular after graduating. However, my response is always that I have never seen university as a fast track to a career. I wanted to go to university because I love my subject and I hadn’t learnt anywhere near enough. I wanted to explore more, understand more and enjoy learning. That’s what university should be about.

I may not finish university with a tangible career within reach but I will have widened my horizons considerably. If anything, university has taught me that the skills I desperately want to improve – writing, thinking critically, responding to the world – are never grasped entirely. Only through continued practice can I develop these areas.  For anyone to believe that they can finish university as a wholesome, complete package is ludicrous, and what’s more, it’s not desirable.

 I love studying English precisely because it offers no conclusions. It is these questions which propel us forward. Literature explores humanity’s response to the world through the outlook of different theories and perceptions. Thomas Huxley once said that ‘science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing’. Both disciplines show us humanity (if from different angles) and for this reason, the study of either subject should be considered equally as valuable.

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