On the value of my University education

As an English and History graduate, I chose my degree because I enjoyed the subject. I wanted the opportunity to explore the past in different mediums, understand the authors who sculpted some of my favourite fictional characters. Similarly, I wanted the opportunity to delve into the minds of people long forgotten, to be able to understand what prompted certain people to make the decisions that they did.

Going to University, was an opportunity to improve my own knowledge, and with it myself. There was no consideration as to what would happen once my three years were up and I was thrown into the real and daunting adult world. For me, I was going for the education, not the status of owning a degree. Yet, is it worth £9,000 a year? Is there a guarantee that owning a degree will stand you in good stead when applying for jobs? Why bother going to University if you only want an education, why not just read books in your spare time?

One very expensive piece of paper!

One very expensive piece of paper!

Is a degree valuable? There seem to be two sides to this debate. On the one hand, you have those who believe you should study a subject you are passionate in, something that you will enjoy because this will motivate you and give you a better chance at achieving those top grades. On the other side you have the pragmatists, who believe that because you are making a substantial financial investment in yourself, you should do so in a degree that will eventually turn a profit, ie. fast-track you into a good job.

Now, this is all dependent on what you want to achieve in your life. For those of you like me, who have absolutely no idea, option one makes far more sense. Narrowing down a degree was difficult enough, let alone picking one with the end goal of a graduate scheme in place. However, for those lucky people who know how they want to spend their lives working, option two is the sensible choice.

You also have secret option number three. For those people who want to secure a brilliant job at the end of their degree they can add a placement year into the mix. Most sectors are highly competitive, and with the number of graduates steadily increasing, it is more difficult to secure a job unless you have relevant experience as well as a degree. In this instance a placement year is a fantastic opportunity to make sure you enjoy what you plan on doing post-graduation, gain relevant experience, and have the opportunity of applying your knowledge in a real-life example. For an extra £9,000 it might be worth considering if you really want to secure a good career.

As a social science advocate, I have spent many holidays discussing with members of my family why I chose to study the past. The all-too-familiar ‘so are you going to work in a library?’ is something I am sure many history students can relate too. As well as providing you with a substantial understanding of the world, a degree in the social sciences leaves individuals well-equipped to deal with everyday situations. Transferrable skills including the ability to research, analyse and contextualise, as well as decode the truth from a pile of waffle are key things that employers look for. A social science degree proves that you are passionate.

What University also trains you to do is to be independent and work towards deadlines, more so than sixth form. Most of us have been spotted in the library burning the midnight oil the night before a deadline, but we get it done. In the real world you don’t have the option for extensions, if you fail to complete a project on time that is not going to reflect well on you. Or the company.

Juggling deadlines, weekly seminar reading, social life (if you are lucky enough to still have one of those a month before finals) and paid/voluntary work is something that cannot be taught. But by going to University, you learn more about yourself through this process, as well as developing new skills that will raise your job application forms above the rest. Being able to explain to a potential employer that you wrote your dissertation whilst organising an end of term ball for your society, as well as still working three shifts a week is something to be incredibly proud about. Yes, you might have single-handedly eaten your entire body weight in biscuits whilst doing it, but you got it done.

“Yes, you might have single-handedly eaten your entire body weight in biscuits whilst doing it, but you got it done.”

Moreover, University is a sheltered, miniature version of adulthood. Life does not hand you tasks one at a time, they always buddy-up and knock on your front door when you already have a million and one other jobs that need sorting. Prioritisation and organisation are skills that you learn indirectly as a result of being at University. A degree is more than just a very expensive piece of fancy paper. Behind it are numerous amounts of hours, sweat and words that each and every one of us have put into our work. It is also a list of skills which can be used to demonstrate to employers why you are the best candidate for the job.

For me, my time at University was an incredible and invaluable experience. I discovered depths to my personality and determination that I didn’t know existed. I learnt that it is possible to exist on four hours sleep a night and chocolate orange digestives for a weekend. I also learnt a hell of a lot about History and English. Knowledge that comes in incredibly useful when playing Articulate with my family over the holiday seasons, and indirectly answers those pesky questions about why my degree was useful.

Is a University education enough? All employers request relevant experience in job applications, and so possibly a degree is not enough. Yet despite this, a degree proves something that experience does not. It shows that you are so passionate about a subject that you were willing to spend thousands of pounds on it. This is why I believe you should choose your subject around your personal interest. If you are investing all of that money into something, you might as well enjoy it.

On an Austen anthology

I recently reread all of Austen’s novels for a special author module I was taking in my final year. i had the privilege to delve into Georgian England, peaceful garden walks and a hell of a lot of contemporary drama. Austen really is one of my all time favourite authors. But what hit me the most was her current audience. On a course of 45 students, there were 2 males. The first time this has ever happened in a long history of the course running.

I didn’t really think about it initially, I was just glad that I had been offered a place on the module. But as the weeks continued and the discussions began to turn towards Austen’s contemporary and modern audience, adaptations and afterlife of the author I began to realise that there was something quite severely wrong.

In her day, her novels were read by whoever could get their hands on them, largely men. These are not romantic novels, they are social satires. This, it seems our modern world seems to have forgotten. Yes, there are marriages, and romances, but this does not solely classify the novel as romance. Her witticisms are subtle, nuanced and her style varies throughout her anthology.

Her later novel Persuasion is more apparently a social critique of the changes occuring in British society. Anne and Wentworth are the only realistic couple, I feel, in the entirety of her lovers. (It may seem like this is blasphemy, I am still very much in love with Elizabeth and Darcy so don’t fret!!) They meet and are kept apart by family, only to meet again in the future when their situations are different, they are more equal but they have loved each other continuously despite their separation regardless.

I am hoping to conduct a summer experiment on my sister this year who has yet to read any Austen literature. She will start with Persuasion first before moving onto read the rest in chronological order or however she would rather do it. My aim, is to investigate whether she will see Anne and Wentworth as being romantic lovers or practical lovers. I feel that for many people, Persuasion is a novel that many people read last because it was the last to be finished by Austen. They therefore bring their memories of lovers being drawn together despite all the odds to their reading of Persuasion and come off slightly disappointed. We all know from the outset that Anne and Wentworth will marry. It is destined.

But is this because we have Austenian presuppositions? I will hopefully find out this summer!

On Utopia and the loss of our privacy

I really can’t apologise enough on my appalling dedication to my blog recently. The usual justifications of job, exams, essays and just too much core reading has really eaten away at my time and I know they are not acceptable but I am truly sorry. Despite not posting anything I have been making notes on pieces of literature that I have studied that I have found particularly engaging and interesting so hopefully I will have quite a few posts to upload over the next couple of weeks – although, yes, I am sorry, I still have two essays and two presentations looming on the horizon, before March is out I should be liberated from work for a while.

In a Utopian world I would have all the time I could possibly desire to keep my blog updated and interesting, but sadly contemporary England is far from the case. Similarly the England Thomas More lived through with Henry VIII and his multitude of women is far from the Utopian one he has imagined in his pioneering book Utopia. 

What really took me back when I read this novel (if it can be classified as a novel I am not entirely sure; it seems to be a hybrid of the essay format that was popular in Fifteenth Century Europe and extended prose) was how distinctly modern More’s ideas are. Living in a post-Marxist and post-Communist world it is difficult to separate from our current mindset. Plans to educate women as well as men, the introduction of limited work time and leisure time to encourage the creation of moral citizens. The rotation of labour to ensure that nobody is left having to tend the fields their whole life while others sit and glory at their unjustly inherited wealth.

I don’t want this to turn into a discussion on inequality and poverty because although Utopia does raise substantial questions and problems on this topic I feel that it is not that interesting. Moreover it is also a subject that is so current and seems to underpin human nature that dwelling on it is only likely to inspire us to want to change the world, and then upon realising that this is unlikely to happen, to become depressed, demoralised and hate all of humanity.

Social media constitutes our private and public selves

Our private and public selves are constructed by social media

However, I would like to offer a comment on the treatment of gender in this fictional society. More has created a world in which gender is fairly imaginary and only recognised for practicality. For example, men and women are ordered to appear naked to each other before they consent to marriage to ensure that they are both satisfactorily pleased with their partner. Although this seems highly obtrusive to our modern ideas of physical privacy, in contemporary England this would have been practical. I guess it is comparable to the use of social media in our lives today, the role that instagram and tumblr play in keeping the world aware of their everyday activities act in a similar way to the penetrative communal society More has imagined. Not through the mediums that More would have predicted, but modern day society is effectively and rapidly reducing the scope of our inner lives by making it easier for us to display everything about ourselves. What is more, it is making it an inherent and compulsive element of our lives – if we don’t upload the latest photos from last nights dinner then the world will somehow cataclysmically implode from the lack of photos on instagram with the hashtag #food.

More’s penetrative society is entirely public, the separate spheres theory is rendered useless in Utopia because there is no sense of the domestic. Men and women are on display for their entire lives and they have no choice but to conform. The performative nature of our society is removed in More’s which is essentially what makes it equal and deserving of the name Utopian. Benjamin Richardson in 1876 claimed that “Utopia is nothing but another word for time,” perhaps at some point in the development of the world we will reach the stage in the fictional Utopia where everything is public that it no longer ceases to be public and the notion of public itself disappears. With the removal of the public is also the removal of the private, and perhaps this is the path we are already headed down…

On Racing Minds and their ingenuity

“Put an effigy of the Queen in a cup of tea and make him queue for it” was just one of the brilliantly created and deployed lines of the evening, this one referring to what it means to be British.

Racing Minds was a show split into two, the first act was titled ‘And now for something completely improvised’ building off of the incredibly influential Monty Python group. Here the group create a play as the hour goes on based around the key themes that were picked by the audience on the night. No two shows are ever the same.

Daniel Roberts dressed as a Butler proceeded to ask the audience for a name, place and title for today’s play – after being singled out I managed to come up with the top of the Eiffel Tower as the setting ; pleased, the Butler rewarded me with a worthers.

Watch this space.

Watch this space.

The quartet then began the show: each of them trying to out-wit the other, whilst ensuring that there was a rough continuum and enough scope to continue through to the end, but jam-packed with laughs both on set and from the audience.  The play progressed with many ingenious one-liners, stitch ups and altogether exceptional acting. “He was a murderous Rector. The Die-rector.”

After a brief interval, the quartet appeared refreshed, accompanied by two guest actors from the Maydays, Rebecca and Heather. The seven, including the very talented pianist who never missed a queue, performed a more casual set of improvisation; firstly based around the word ‘armadillo’ and then secondly ’bespoke’.

Racing Minds are brimming with talent ensuring each show is a guaranteed success and thrilling to watch. I cannot recommend them enough, they were truly one of the most exciting, enthusiastic group of actors to watch live – you really could see their brains ticking over how they would get out of difficult situations. Truly spectacular.

All I can say is that I am sure we have not heard the last of these guys.


On sensibility in The Man of Feeling

I read Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling a few weeks ago now and I really have been unable to stop thinking about it, moreover I am struggling to work out why that is the case. There were differences in the form with it being a manuscript and with their being large sections of the text missing; being written in the 18th Century there were large differences in the language. But I have read similar books before and this one really stood out.

The novel has a slightly confusing synopsis, so I apologise if I get confused here. The manuscript is found in a cottage that used to belong to Harley, The Man of Feeling, and has been used as gun wadding, hence why there are large sections of the text missing and it seems completely fragmented the entire way through. It is then compiled by an unnamed character and published. The text itself has been narrated by a third person, someone who seemed to have appreciated Harley and his moral perspective on life and documented it. The chapters are individually episodes in Harley’s life as he travels from Scotland to London in search of a better financial situation, but ultimately returns home bankrupt.

Sir Brooke Boothby, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby

Sir Brooke Boothby, painted by Joseph Wright of Derby

What I really liked was the way that the text commented on sensibility, which was an important cultural attribute on the 1700’s. To be considered a man of sensibility or feeling was to possess refined emotions and intellect in order to use them. Crying in public was not seen as feminine or embarrassing like it is today, but a cultural aspiration of many men. Harley the protagonist cries at many moments throughout the novel as he witnesses injustices. Interestingly the Victorians, who had the binary opposite attribute of the stiff upper-lip considered this to be a comedy, and an index of tears was compiled at the back of the book for people to reference.

This was what has really troubled me when deciding what to write about this book. I am undecided whether this is idea of sensibility is good or bad, and whether it is applicable to our 21st society. I cannot imagine a man in the City of London walking past a homeless man and offering to hear his life story. Yes, granted Mackenie’s novel is a satirical critique of sensibility but it remains entirely ambiguous throughout. Yet I don’t think it would be a bad thing if people showed more emotion.

In a world that is becoming increasingly isolationist and lonely I think that perhaps what it really needs most is a reintroduction of sentimentality on a small scale.

On Strictly week one

I apologise that this is being published a bit late, but because I am without a television I am unable to watch Strictly live on Saturday and so I had to wait until the show appeared on BBC iPlayer. But, as promised, here is my account of the first week.

I have to say that I quite like the set up for this season. Having half the contestants perform on Friday evening and then the rest the night after, trying to squeeze them all into one show would be a disaster darling in mine and Craig’s opinion. Firstly there would be less time for the BBC to pad out with the introductory clips and not mention the amount of time that is needed or Brucie to make his jokes – believe me, some of them are pretty long-winded. Bruce mentioning twerking was something I had never expected in a million years and felt very uncomfortable and uncanny opposed to the laughter it was aiming at. Does Bruce even know what twerking is? Or he is simply just reading what they have written on his cue cards.

Is there anything the BBC won't let him do?

Is there anything the BBC won’t let him do?

As to the contestants and their first dances there was the expected usual array of magnificent and mediocrity. From Abbey and Aljaz being awarded 4 eights in their first dance at the top of the leader board, and unsurprisingly Tony and Aliona and Dave and Karen in joint last place with a total of 16 points – have the top score. Now the main problem I have with the show (don’t misunderstand me, I love it right down to my very pointed toes) but there seems to be no continuous scoring scheme that is used by all the judges throughout the entire course of the show. Yes Abbey danced an amazing Waltz but there is no possible way that she can only progress by a mere 2 points from each judge between now and Christmas. Moreover some of the judges seemed overly harsh with some of the contestants; Vanessa and James’ Cha-Cha was not the best dance in the world, but it perhaps should have been awarded more than 19 points considering there were many faults in Deborah’s dance. The judges need to make it clear to both the public and themselves how the scoring system works. Do they score fairly throughout the whole show, awarding rarely higher than a 5 in the first few weeks and really make those 8’s and 9’s count. Or are they going to continue to throw them out willy nilly.

It also seems completely unfair that they have celebrities on the show that do have a background in dance. Yes it is not fair to discriminate, but in this instance Natalie Gumede trained to be a professional dancer until she became injured. Yes it was made public on the show but that still goes a long way to justify why she was given 31 points in her first dance – it was a bloody brilliant one at that. Similarly I also find it hard to make a decision when the celebrity is a performer. Fiona Fullerton was an actress and was able to disguise her nerves and cover up her mistakes like a professional, her dance quality was not much better than Vanessa Feltz – but her acting gave her the grace that she needed to make it into the middle of the table. I do think that this might be the year that Anton will make it into November and won’t be voted off in the first few weeks because his partner is disliked and unable to put one foot in front of the other on live television. Perhaps all his years of struggling in silence will have paid off; he won’t be lifting the glitter ball this year, but he will have a better chance than any of the previous shows.

Are you watching Bruno? Silly question...

Are you watching Bruno? Silly question…

Of course, an episode of Strictly would not be complete without the necessary sexual innuendo, flirting, tanned chests on show, sparkles and a few testosterone egos bumping into one another. The comment of the weekend for me was Bruno as he spoke to Ben Cohen, the Rugby player, offering his services if Kristina is not able to keep up and make use of all of Ben. Yes a little cringe worthy, in fact very cringe worthy and awkward to watch, but that comes with Bruno. All of the judges have their quirks and gimmicks.

Next week also looks like it will be a promising episode. The ballroom dancers will be swapping to latin and vice versa, then we will really know who is the cream of the crop.

On Alison Bechdel’s search for her mother

After reading her first graphic tragicomic for my exam last term Fun Home I quickly made the decision that her second graphic novel would be making its appearance onto my shelf very soon. I made a good choice.

Although not as comical as her first novel, this is equally as gripping and interesting. It follows Alison’s life as she tries to explain and understand the relationship that she has with her mother. Are you my mother? is a memoir that reveals how her relationship with her mother influenced the person she is, her interests in literature, in writing and also her sexuality. It follows her journey through therapy as she investigates and tries to get to the cause of her anxiety, whilst being followed by her mother’s career. Classified as a memoir I would say that it doesn’t really seem to fit. Yes it accounts Alison and her mother’s history non-chronologically, but it also is a metabook. It narrates its own creation. The plot follows the progress and also regress of Bechdel’s struggle to complete her second novel; especially after receiving such success from the one based on her father, Fun Home.

What I particularly liked about this book was that there did not seem to be a coherent narrative. We jumped around from past to present, from mother to Alison, good times to bad: and it worked really well. It was compatible with the storyline. The search to discover who we are and why we are the way we are is a long process, it would not occur in a coherent and linear way. Progress is a not a continuous process, it speeds up, slows, plateau’s, picks up and then storms ahead; and not necessarily in that order. What I am trying to say is that within the novel there are multiple story lines interwoven and developing at different rates; with the relationship between mother and daughter at the heart of it.

Honest descriptions.

Honest descriptions.

The relationship between mother and daughter is the most interesting, complicated and inspiring of all relationships for many reasons. The daughter is interested in the mother as she is the first female that she comes into contact with, they have a bond that cannot be replicated. The mother grows and protects the daughter who will potentially do the same to her daughter. The mother has a duty to protect her daughter until she is independent. What makes this novel particularly heart-felt is that the relationship Alison had with her mother is not the usual sunshine and rainbows that you expect. Alison explores the reasons why she has always been independent, not been close to her mother and ultimately whether that influenced her sexuality. Similar to what made her first full length novel so successful is the way Bechdel takes the normal and regular and manages to make it slightly uncanny, familiar and yet simultaneously new and odd.

Bechdel is truly talented and this is a brilliant read. Graphic narratives really are the way forward, the convey both heavy messages and are also light hearted, and so appeal to many people all at once. I truly recommend this book, not as easy going and comical as the first, but just as inspiring and page turning!