Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Read at Oxford

I’ve been scanning my notes from the last few years and presented with the big compost heap – the muddle – that makes one’s reading life. There have been times over the past three years when I’ve wondered (and other people have asked me) why I returned to university; As a literature student, surely it would have been prudent to have just saved my money and read everything on my own. This course of all courses is one which might suit the nominal autodidact. This may well be so, but there is no way I can imagine having the time (not leisure; not really) to read so much – or having the expertise to guide my reading – in three years without the structure of the course. (This is without the added benefits of tutorials, relentless essay-writing, the large libraries, societies, lectures, and other resources.)

Nevertheless, for those who are interested in what might read during three years at Oxford, I’ve compiled a list, which is equally a personal aide-mémoire, in all its raggedyness. I am essentially a list-making animal.

Victorian (1837-1900):

Robert Browning
Henry James, What Maisie Knew, Turn of the Screw
Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wreck of the Deutschland, selected poems
Tennyson, In Memoriam, selected poems
Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd, Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude the Obscure, Tess of the D’ubervilles
Dickens, Bleak House, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, Hard Times
Charlotte Bronte, Villette, Jane Eyre
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
George Eliot, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, The Lifted Veil, Adam Bede
Wilde, Plays, and the fairy tales
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, the Moonstone
Mrs Henry Wood, East Lynne (half)
ME Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret
Trollope, The Way We Live Now
Gissing, New Grub Street
Gaskell, North and South, Cranford

Modern (1900 +):

Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent, Heart of Darkness
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, The Waves, Jacob’s Room, Orlando, Woolf’s Diary, essays
DH Lawrence, The Rainbow, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love
Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners, (bits of Ulysses)
Mary Butts’ Armed with Madness (v. good)
Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage v. 1
Some Yeats
Some Eliot
Auden Selected Poems
Beckett Waiting for Godot, Krapp’s Last Tape, that novel, Endgame
Harold Pinter

Middle English (1150-1509):

Malory’s Morte Darthur (Books I, IV, VIII)
Thomas Hoccleve
Pearl, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Erkenwald, Patience, Cleanness
Sir Orfeo, Sir Launfal
Croxton Play of the Sacrament
Mactatio Abel, Noe
York Crucifixion
Second Shepherd’s Play
Chaucer – Canterbury Tales, Troilus and Criseyde, Parliament of Fowls, Book of the Duchess, House of Fame
Assembly of Ladies
Pistil of Swete Susan
Boke of Cupide, God of Love
Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich (selections)
Mandeville’s Travel (selections)

The Renaissance (1509-1639):

Thomas Kyd - Spanish Tragedy
Christopher Marlowe, Edward II, Dr Faustus, Tamberlaine Part I and II, Massacre at Paris, The Jew of Malta
Ben Jonson, Epicoene, Bartholemew Fair, Volpone, The Alchemist, bits of poems, bits of Timber, or Discoveries (his commonplace book)
George Herbert, Poems
John Donne, Poems, selected sermons
Anatomy of Melancholy, selections
Thomas Browne, Urne Buriall, Religio Medici
Bacon, selected essays
Bits of Hakluyt’s Voyages & Discoveries
Bits of Ralegh’s Voyage to Guinea
John Skelton, Bowge of Court, Magnificence
Thomas Wyatt
Sidney, Astrophil and Stella
Spenser, Amoretti

(I wish I’d had time for was Ralegh’s Ocean to Cinthea)


Milton – Paradise Lost, selected poems
Marvell (ed. Nigel Smith)
Defoe, Moll Flanders, Robinson Crusoe, half of the Plague Year
Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, Battle of the Books, stray poems
Pope Windsor Forest, Rape of the Lock, The Dunciad, stray poems
Pepys journal (first volume)
Aphra Behn, 8 love letters to a nobleman, Oronooko, The Rover (part I), ‘The Disappointment’
Earl of Rochester, various poems
Lucretius, De rerum Natura (bits)
Lucan, Civil War (bits)
Bits of Hobbes’ Leviathan


Half of Don Quixote
Samuel Richardson, Half of Clarissa, Pamela
Henry Fielding, Shamela, Joseph Andrewes, Tom Jones
Sterne, Tristram Shandy, journal to Eliza, Travels through France and Italy
Fanny Burney, Evelina
Austen, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Persuasion, Emma, half of Mansfield Park, some letters
Wordsworth, The Prelude, Tintern Abbey and other poems
Dorothy Wordsworth, bits of the Grasmere Diary
Coleridge, Frost at Midnight, Kubla Kahn, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, notebooks, Shakespeare criticism and lectures, bits of Biographia Literaria
Byron, First IV cantos of Don Juan, Childe Harold
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Johnson, various essays from the Rambler and the Idler, introduction to his dictionary (and his programme for it)
Boswell, half of his London Journal, beginning of Life of Johnson (and bits and pieces throughout)
Smatterings of Hume and Smith
Bits of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France
Some Blake
Paulin’s book on Hazlitt
Richard Holmes, Age of Wonder, and Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer
Adam Sisman’s The Friendship (half) on Wordsworth & Coleridge


All Shakespeare except Thomas More, Double Falsehood, Edward III
Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem
Half of Peter Hall’s Diary
Emily Dickinson, Poems, Letters
Poe, selected
Thoreau, from his Diary
Emerson, essays, notebooks
Hawthorne, House of the Seven Gables, bits of his American Notebooks
Henry James, half of The Golden Bowl
Gordon’s book on Dickinson
Susan Howe’s book on Dickinson
Sewell’s Dickinson biography
Lucy Brock Broido, The Master letters
Robert Lowell, Poems, Letters, Prose
Elizabeth Bishop, Poems, Letters, Prose
Rilke’s Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge
Randall Jarrell Complete Poems, Letters, some criticism, Pictures from an Institution
Some Marianne Moore, some Wallace Stevens
Tiny bits of Baudrillard, Foucault, Derrida, Freud, Fish, Barthes
Achebe, Things Fall Apart
B S Johnson, Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry
Grant Allan, The Woman Who Did

With Embarrassing Omissions:

Spenser’s Faerie Queene
The rest of Clarissa

For mental whetting:

Geoffrey Hill, poems and criticism

Saturday, June 15, 2013


It is the last day of 8th week of Trinity Term. All the finalists are finished wearing sub fusc, trading carnations, reading weak-eyed in the afternoons and through the night, frantically flipping through their notes. They no longer have to be herded into the tent outside the exam schools where the shell-shocked students bleat in panic. There’re no more sober hours under the large round face of the clock in the North Schools, and all the dour faces of the ruffed portraits. The irregularities – a blood-curdling scream, the to-ing and fro-ing of a room of people continually going to the bathroom, the intrusion of rock music from the street – are all behind us and part of the pomp and circumstance of the whole event. Everyone has processed out the back door with their red carnations into the cobbled street behind the exam schools where friends wait with flowers, champagne, confetti, silly string, balloons, hats, flour, milk, water guns and in our unfortunate case, an uncooked trout, which left a sticky trail down my sleeve. Now only the occasional dream comes back, tossing up the crumbs of the hours of study, the detritus of books piled on the floor and untidy notes. G dreams of being licked by a gigantic giraffe; I dream of sitting to write a paper (The History of British Thought) I’ve never studied.

The books go back to the library. The notes wait in piles in my room, in limbo. We meet our tutors one last time for dinner with great affection. Suddenly all the stories and anecdotes come out: of their secret lives, of their youths, or the currents of familiarity or power (mostly) hidden from students. For a time, there is a lowering of the barriers, and some mutual jovial irreverence.

I’ve been going over my journals for the last three years and thankful for the details that have been lodged and pegged down. Some record of the reading done, some thoughts of the material. Much doubt, much admiration, much censure. Early uncritical Anglophilia tempers into something less ecstatic, more familiar. Three months left, a summer in Oxford, and then another (smaller) migration.