Today, we enjoy an overload of entertainment choices: podcasts, games, films of the 3D, animated and CGI-heavy varieties; streaming services, on-demand services and ordinary broadcast television. We can go to plays or visit the circus, attend concerts and festivals...

With all of that entertainment, who needs books, low-tech things that they are?

Indeed, pick up any literary work and, for all of the stuffy language and archaic phrases, you won't read about a single smartphone ring or anything near what we would call a modern-day conundrum. Or would we?

Consider The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Could there be a more perfect detailing of human nature's duality? And what about Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, a tortured tale of love tainted by cruelty and emotional abuse? Themes such as these are as relevant today as they were when those works were first written.

As though to testify to that fact, consider classic works' eternal film remakes and iterations - Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet alone is thought to be one of the most oft-produced plays of all times. A Wikipedia page lists fully 167 different films or stage plays and countless references in music, from Blue Oyster Cult to Taylor Swift.

There is even a Japanese manga titled Boarding School Juliet. The story revolves around... well, you probably already know.

All told, for old, musty stories written a century or more ago, English literature still commands a lot of attention. Why read it if it's constantly being made into film, though?

That's what your Superprof helps you understand.

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It's Not All Analysis and Annotation

For those of us who read for pleasure, every book is an escape from the mundane and (nearly) every tale, a treasure. Nothing quite compares to the feeling of falling into a good story.

It's a bit like what Jake Sully must have felt in the film Avatar, a story as much about a man escaping wheelchair confinement to experience physical freedom as it is a cautionary tale of environmental destruction. Watching Sully clumsily manoeuvre himself into his pod and awaken whole is very much like finding oneself in the thrall of a good story.

Who can forget Sully's expression when he discovered he could walk again?
Literary texts create the same magic as Sully felt when he discovered he was again able to walk. Image by Sabine GENET from Pixabay

Did you catch what just happened?

In two sentences, we deconstructed a two-and-a-half-hour film, hit upon two of its major themes, drew contrasts between major elements and included a nice simile to help you relate to the points we made. None of that has to do with enjoying the Avatar story.

Reading literary texts follows the same formula. The stories themselves are enough to grab you but, as you read, you find yourself invested. Suddenly, you start imagining what you would do if you were in that character's situation or how your life would be if only it were like this tale's protagonist's. You might think about what that story means to you or how it impacts and teaches you.

Believe it or not, if you think like that when you treat yourself to a good story, you are conducting analysis. As you add your commentary, you may consider it annotated... all with no formal process involved.

As an introduction to English literature, that's not too bad, is it?

A Way to an Expanded Vocabulary

Texting, FaceTiming, social media, in general: experts agree that instant communication is changing the English language, and not for the better.

Of course, it's much easier and faster to type TTYL or IDK on the fly but, the more we get used to these abbreviated expressions, the more we're losing our ability to use language correctly. Even worse: studies show that we're losing words over time and, worst of all, kids are learning fewer new words than ever!

Texting and chatting doesn't help our brains grow
Research shows that our modern way of writing isn't doing our brains any good. Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

Our ability to think, reason, analyse and rationalise are all indicators of our brains' ability to process and use information. This cognitive ability, as it is called, depends on the collection, appraisal, storage and usage of information. If we don't give our brain the activity it needs, it will not serve us as well as it could or should.

If all of that is true, how much vocabulary do you think you'll pick up when you revise for your English Literature exam?

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A Reflection of the Human Experience

Black Lives Matter. #MeToo. Sarah Everard - all of these names and others represent a period of profound social reflection and the potential for bettering humankind. As tragic and frightening as they are, we are privileged to be a part of them, however small our part is. Are they unique to us, though?

Unfortunately not. English literature bears testament to the human condition a century ago, when unjust treatment and wanton murder were also facts of life, especially for the very populations they affect today. Perhaps more so than today, even.

Besides the fact that there are lessons to be learned from literary works, students considering which school or university subjects to select may reflect on the unease of our times and find comfort in period literature.

Just the titles offered in English Literature study modules resonate still today! For instance, if you wanted to find hope amidst pandemic-driven poverty, try reading Great Expectations and, if you feel rudderless in these strangest of times, think about how Lord of the Flies demonstrates humans' need for social anchors and rules.

Or, how about Jane Eyre - a literary coming-of-age tour de force, complete with social criticism?

Your turn to chime in: what are some of your favourite works that reflect the human condition?

A Way to Foster Diplomacy

If you have a substantial vocabulary and know how to use it, you are well on your way to becoming an effective communicator. Now, factor in your capacity for analysis and laying out logical arguments and, at the very least, you could be the star of your school or university debate team.

And with such an entry on your CV after you complete undergraduate studies, might you apply for an internship in Parliament? Even if you don't aspire to politics as a career, think about how such an internship would turbocharge your career!

Such work could entail anything from staffing embassies around the world to employment with a multinational company. Who knew that poetry and advanced communication skills fostered by literary writing could open such doors?

In the course of your English Literature module study, as you read and research these texts, don't be surprised to find your mindset shifting to become more tolerant, understanding and open.  Also, your visual-thinking skills will sharpen as you read them.

Those works, written more than a century ago relied on painting pictures with words - it's not like those audiences could wait for the film release to hit the theatres, after all. As you immerse yourself in such creative writing, you will find that those skills will transfer to you, almost through osmosis.

Constructing visual, logical arguments is part and parcel of debating, diplomacy and - believe it or not, constructing essays on English literature.

UCAS has a fairly narrow list of required reading, you should go beyond it
As the school year draws to a close, you may find you choose reading optional literary texts, beyond those titles needed to pass your assessment and satisfy UCAS requirements. Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A Boon For Critical Thinking Skills

Earlier, we mentioned that our modern styles of communication are harming our brains' ability to function optimally. This trend is mirrored in the professional world's plea for students to develop their critical thinking skills while still in school, before they hit the jobs market.

What is critical thinking, anyway?

Far from social media shaming - although that is one type of critical thinking, this thought process takes on a completely different meaning when applied to academics. Such critical thinking involves:

  • taking in information
  • processing it through various intelligences - emotional, intellectual, logical and linguistic, among others
  • developing reasoned arguments to support your points/contentions
  • finding evidence to support those points
  • applying your ideas and conclusions to the greater narrative subject

How do English literary works help you build those skills?

As you read those texts, you are taking in a lot of information: how life was in the period they were written, the social context of the times and the characters' conundrums. As you recognise intellectual aspects - economic reality, social classes and historical elements, you will also feel these, to some degree, on a personal level.

For instance, you might resent the lack of a strong female protagonists in English literature or feel particular resonance with a certain character - maybe Frankenstein's Monster, for being so misunderstood. How will you persuade others, through your writing, that that monster was, in fact, a victim?

That prospect will send you scouring through the text to find ways that the Monster was victimised... and then, you have to fit all of your arguments into the story. Does Ms Shelley give direct accounting of it or is the evidence more subtle?

One-dimensional thinking doesn't work in the 'real' world any more than it does in literary contexts so these texts work hard to weave elements of a tale for you to pick apart. Guess what? That's what the real world is like, too!

Understanding that shows how desperate the need is for critical thinkers, especially in these times when we so urgently need creative solutions for our most pressing social and environmental problems. Who knew you could train yourself to meet the moment by reading poetry and treasured English literature?

Now, pick up on these tips to analyse English literature...

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Sophia

A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.