Mr Prynne's Notes and Materials for English Students
This page has been produced by Caius English Fellow Jeremy Prynne. Please refer to the College's English subject page for the latest information on English at Caius.
The information in these various notes of guidance ('Tips'), concerning aspects of practice in the study of English at Caius, has not been updated in all detail against changed regulations introduced by the Faculty of English since October 2003; also, advice given here reflects only the author's personal opinions and is thus not 'official'. Proceed therefore with due caution, and in any case of doubt or uncertainty, consult your Director of Studies.
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Admission to Caius, to read English
This is a personal document dating back some years. For current College policy visit English at Caius.
Reading English at Caius
- Tips on Reading
- Tips on Books and Libraries
- Tips on Reading Lists
- Tips on Lectures
- Tips on Presentation of Essays
- Tips on Supervisions
- Tips on Practical Criticism
- Tips on Classes and Seminars
The exam process, in English
- Tips on Part I Portfolios
- Tips on Producing Dissertations
- Tips on Original Compositions
- Tips on Exam Revision
- Tips on Exams
The new Part I English Exam (2004 onwards)
Other useful advice
PART I READING LISTS: c. 1750-1830
Late Augustan Poetry and Background
Late 18th Century Politics and Radicalism
Romantic Background and Introduction
Romantic Colony, Empire, and Slavery
Sir Walter Scott
S. T. Coleridge
Thomas De Quincey
Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley, née Godwin
READING LISTS FOR PART II: AMERICAN LITERATURE
AMERICAN ENGLISH & AMERICAN SCENES: AN INTRODUCTION
John Dos Passos
T. S. Eliot
William Carlos Williams
NOTES FOR COURSES
NOTES FOR COURSES, 1: WORDSWORTH'S PRELUDE
Wordsworth's Prelude : Some relevant Wordsworth reading
Wordsworth's Prelude : One
Wordsworth's Prelude : Two
Wordsworth's Prelude : Three
Wordsworth's Prelude : Four
Wordsworth's Prelude : Five
Wordsworth's Prelude : Six
Wordsworth's Prelude : Seven
Wordsworth's Prelude : Eight
NOTES FOR COURSES, 2: READING POUND
The English Tripos
The Cambridge English course consists of two parts. Part 1 occupies the first two years, and is chiefly a survey of English literature from 1350 to the present day. Inevitably students have a lot of freedom to choose which authors they read within the various period papers into which this survey is divided, so it is by no means a straight slog through literary history. The idea behind this part of the course is that you will develop your particular interests and work out what kind of literary criticism you want to write. To help you develop your interests it is possible to write a dissertation of 5,000 words in place of taking one of the period papers. Most students take advantage of this option, and most also opt to submit a portfolio of essays instead of taking another of the period papers in the traditional form of a three hour examination. In Part 1 there is also a Shakespeare paper, a paper on Literary Criticism, as well as the option of taking a paper in either a foreign language or in English Language for Literature. A few students each year also venture into some other optional areas, such as Anglo-Saxon or early Medieval literature, and we are very happy to encourage people who want to embark on learning a new language, such as Italian or Latin.
Part 2 is much more flexible, and most students find that once they have worked out what interests them in Part 1 they are in a good position to choose papers in Part 2 which develop those interests. In Part 2 there are only two compulsory papers: one is on Practical Criticism (or the close verbal analysis of unseen passages) and the other is on Tragedy from ancient Greece to the present day, for which the only works of which you must show knowledge are Greek and Shakespearean tragedy. In order to take this paper, which ranges across a wide variety of periods and cultures, it is helpful to have done some reading in a foreign language in Part 1, but students who have not done so can nonetheless do very well at it. The paper encourages students, if they wish, to think about versions of tragedy in contemporary writing and film. It is an enormously stimulating paper, and illustrates the fact that even the compulsory papers in Part 2 give students a great deal of freedom to pursue their own interests. All Part 2 students also have to write at least one dissertation (which is longer than the Part 1 equivalent at 7,500 words), and there is the option of writing two dissertations for students who prefer this way of presenting their ideas to the tense business of sitting exams. People who do one dissertation also take two optional papers. These range from papers on contemporary literature, American literature, and Commonwealth literature, through challenging papers on the history of thought and the History and Theory of Literary Criticism, to papers on particular authors and particular historical periods (such as early sixteenth-century literature, or Victorian literature). Students who opt to write two dissertations only take one of these optional papers.
Doing English at Caius
Every student reading English at Cambridge will go through the course described above, but each College has a slightly different approach to teaching for the course. The emphasis at Caius is very much on encouraging students to direct themselves towards the options which interest them and towards working out their own critical approaches to what they read. We don’t attempt to tell people what to think, and will advise people on the best path through the course for them, rather than pressing them in a particular direction. Most of our teaching is done in small groups. Students will usually have a one hour supervision in a group of two or three each week on whatever period paper they are working on at that point. Each week you will be expected to read the main works of a different major author, or to read a range of works by different authors which are related thematically, and each week you will be asked to write an essay on that author or topic. This makes the rhythm of work extremely demanding, and only people who really want to read very widely and very fast will enjoy the course. The reason for this approach to teaching is that the Cambridge course aims both to equip you with knowledge and ideas about a wide range of writing of different types, and to enable you to construct arguments fast, and to write with fluency. This is why Cambridge English graduates are in such demand among employers. At the supervision you will have a chance to defend, and perhaps to modify, the argument you have made about what you have read that week, and you will do that with an expert in the field and another student. It is a uniquely stimulating form of teaching, in which there is no room to hide if you have not done the work or if you have not thought something through. This method of teaching gives students an ability to formulate and defend their ideas orally with clarity and precision.
Concurrently with supervisions on period papers you will have classes on Practical Criticism. This has traditionally been a major component of Cambridge English, and the teaching Fellows at Caius all attach great importance to an ability to read attentively, and to relate an argument about a text to the details of its language. In Part I, classes on Literary Criticism will combine this with an introduction to some more theoretical approaches to literature. Students who are taking foreign language options, and English Language for Literature, will also have classes on the language of their choice. Meanwhile you may be attending a variety of courses of lectures, which are organised centrally by the Faculty of English, on topics which may correspond to those which you are working on at that particular time, or which may be related to work which you have done in past terms or in terms to come. Co-ordinating all these various demands on your time, and creating a balance between the different elements of the course, requires a great deal of self-discipline and a strong sense of direction.
When we interview candidates for admission our chief aim is to make sure that we admit people whom we are sure want to read very widely, and whom we are confident can withstand the great pressure of writing an essay each week on a new topic or author. We also want to make sure that the people we admit will be able to rise to the large-scale conceptual issues that are raised by the Tragedy paper in Part 2, as well as being interested in the skills of close verbal analysis required by Practical Criticism.
As a result, one interview will be based on a discussion of a short passage of poetry or prose, which candidates will be given to study for a few minutes before their interview. We might begin by asking detailed questions about its style and language, and then talk about larger questions of genre and form, before moving on to discuss its relation to candidates’ wider reading. In the other interview, we tend to ask people about their range of reading outside their A Level course, and, having found out what candidates have read, we might go on to ask a mixture of large-scale general questions relating to those works, and some small scale questions about language and style. Each interview develops in its own way, like a conversation. We are not interested in tripping people up, or testing their knowledge. We are interested in finding out how widely they are willing to read, and their potential as a student of English.
To help us in this process we also ask candidates to submit two essays written in advance. Ideally these should consist of one piece of close verbal analysis of a short extract of writing in any genre, and one essay on any literary topic which you feel reflects your best work. If you have not done work that fits into one or other of these categories it really does not matter (it is now quite rare for A Level students to do Practical Criticism, for instance). You are welcome to send in work which you think reflects your best literary criticism, and which best indicates your fitness for a place at Caius.
To supplement the information provided here, you might wish to consult the Caius website www.cai.cam.ac.uk) and the English Faculty website (www.english.cam.ac.uk). You might also enjoy the Faculty’s website which is designed to encourage school pupils to go on to read English (http://aspirations.english.cam.ac.uk --note there is no ‘www’ before the URL here).