It is my current hope to go to graduate school for English literature next year: a certain school in a certain place, both a goal and an insurmountable challenge. Having been out of college for a year already, and having graduated as a music major, I am rusty.
Trying to compensate, I googled “books every english major has read” but have had a difficult time finding a list that suggests what every (generalized) English major should have read by the time of (undergraduate) graduation. As a person who attended a high school whose meager syllabus prescribed the study of one novel, one play and four poems a year, and who could only scrape enough college literature credits for a minor, I feel woefully behind. Most American kids got a head start in AP English (seriously – who are those freaks who read Ulysses in high school?). American high schools may have their weaknesses, but a strong and ambitious push to read literature consistently is not one of them.
There are gaps, and I fear that when it comes to the important authors I have read, I’ve read the wrong works. I’ve read Jane Austen, some Bronte, one George Eliot, Homer and Virgil (translations), one Dickens, one Dostoyevsky, one Tolstoy. I haven’t read Madam Bovary yet, or Heart of Darkness or Brave New World or Animal Farm. I’ve read Joyce but no Beckett, and Willa Cather but no Twain. King Lear and Othello and Hamlet, but not Macbeth or Richard III or Henry V.
The lists are being drawn and I’m planning a time table that will stretch through to this January. No more leisurely reading - it’s time to homeschool myself. I’ve decided to call this plan “The School of Hard Knocks”. When I told Kristin, she looked at me flatly and shook her head. “Christy, that’s not what the school of hard knocks is.” Regardless – let it stand.
I'm pretty sure this plan may fail, like my plan to read all the Booker winners last year, and my plan to learn French in the car, or my plan to knit an afghan two years ago, or become a violinist. Oh well. No harm in trying with the foreknowledge that one might fail. At the very least, I will have read some of the Great Books. That's not so bad.
This is what I have so far:
Divine Comedy - Dante
Canterbury Tales - Chaucer
Paradise Lost - Milton
Faerie Queen - Spenser
Gawain & the Green Knight
Mill on the Floss - Eliot
Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
Swann’s Way - Proust
Madame Bovary - Flaubert
Heart of Darkness - Conrad
Brave New World - Huxley
Great Expectations - Dickens
Animal Farm - Orwell
(Tom Jones? Tristram Shandy? Clarissa? Evelina?)
Waiting for Godot - Beckett
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Albee
Rosenkrantz and Guilderstern are Dead – Stoppard
Utopia – More
The Prince – Machiavelli
Leviathan - Hobbes