A Literary Reflection on First Year

Ah, September. We meet again.

This time last year I was getting ready to start my first year at university studying Comparative Literature and French, full of excitement and nerves. Here I am in almost the exact same position except for the daunting prospect of second year ahead where everything actually counts towards my degree. First year was just a practice run.




So, as my second year fast approaches, I thought why not reflect on the Comparative Literature part of my degree and talk about my favourite books I studied this year. Think of it as a whistle-stop ride through BA Comparative Literature - the ones worth reading from the modules I studied.

First up:

Childhood and Adolescence in Modern Fiction

I chose this module on the basis that I recognised a couple of books on the reading list. I thought I'd treat myself by choosing a relatively easy module to begin with so to not stress me out too much on top of the whole university experience.

'Childhood and Adolescence in Modern Fiction' focused on the difference between being a child and an adolescent and the transition that takes place between the two, resulting in most of the books being a Bildungsroman. Overall I enjoyed it but it got a bit samey towards the end. But here are my favourites:

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

I'm pretty sure I read My Brilliant Career cover-to-cover in under two days, cooped up in my room. It reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre which I studied at A Level and really enjoyed. The main themes were feminism and struggling against the patriarchy, which I always enjoy reading about.

In all honesty I can't remember why I enjoyed it so much other than the fantastic story line and even then I can't remember most of the plot. I just remember thinking it was a pleasure to read.



The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger and Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

The Catcher in the Rye is the main reason I chose this module. I studied it for my A Level coursework and absolutely loved it. Studying it at A Level made me more confident and comfortable to speak up about it in seminars, ultimately leading to me enjoying the seminars more. Trust me, speak up in seminars.

I'm pretty sure that if you read The Catcher in the Rye while you're a teenager then you will definitely relate to Holden. Not only that but my Dad is a massive fan of The Catcher in the Rye - and he's definitely not a teenager anymore - because he knows his younger self and Holden are extremely similar. The Catcher in the Rye is the perfect coming-of-age story.

As I mentioned before, I had previously studied Jane Eyre at school which made studying Wide Sargasso Sea that much more interesting. If you didn't already know, Wide Sargasso Sea is the unofficial prequel to Jane Eyre that explores the untold origin story of Bertha Mason which, in my opinion, is super cool. It explains what happened to Bertha to start her descent into madness, as at the beginning of the book she is completely normal. I just loved it so much.

The reason why I have grouped these two books together is that I chose to compare them for my coursework. The question was 'Is adolescence the same for fictional boys and girls or do they experience a different set of tensions?' and I was allowed to choose which texts I used. So, naturally, I chose books I found easy. My main line of argument was that boys and girls struggle with the same things, such as expectations, sex, relationships and their identity. However because they are different genders, and set in different time periods, the way in which they deal with their issues differ. I'm not gonna lie I had so much fun answering that.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

I thought Heidi was the sweetest story I had ever read. I fell in love with the characters as soon as I met them but most importantly I was mesmerised by the setting. Heidi is probably the main reason why I want to spend my year abroad in Switzerland - it sounds so beautiful and Heidi is such a cute little story it just makes me want to live there forever. 

I also chose Heidi for my coursework, answering the question 'In what ways is Heidi a Bildungsroman?'. I must admit it wasn't the most interesting question I chose all year but because I loved Heidi so much I honestly didn't mind. This was also my first piece of university coursework ever so it holds a special place in my heart.

Classical Literature

I didn't research much into this module before I chose it and so I was lucky in the way that I enjoyed it in the end. I chose it on the basis that I liked learning about myths and legends in primary school so this should be the same, right???

It wasn't quite the same. But that didn't really matter.

The Odyssey by Homer

My Classical Lit seminar leader would probably have a fit if he knew I was referring to The Odyssey as a 'book' - it's actually a poem - but oh well.

Fortunately, we weren't asked to read the whole of The Odyssey, only a few selected 'books'/chapters. I think everyone who reads The Odyssey enjoys it, even if only on surface level. The story just keeps getting better and better the more you read, you get roped in. There were so many interesting things to discuss about it that I was actually quite happy when it cropped up on two of my modules' reading lists. However that means I have read certain 'books' over 15 times each.

Lysistrata by Aristophanes and The Bacchae by Euripides

If you have read/seen Lysistrata before then you're probably not surprised that it made it's way onto my favourites list. Lysistrata is basically a really funny comedy all about sex. But that's not why I love it. The women in Lysistrata go on a sex strike in order to get the men to end the Peloponnesian War that's ruining their lives. Indirectly, the women are in control and make a fool of the men, which I love.

The Bacchae didn't make as strong of an impression on me as Lysistrata did. I remember finding the chorus really, really long and boring. I probably skipped over as much of that as I could. However, the reason why it is on this list is because it also gives power to the women in a society where women were not thought to be worthy. I'm all for that.

I put these two plays together because I used them both to answer the question 'Discuss the treatment of gender by two of the authors on this module'. My main argument was that both Aristophanes and Euripides give women an extremely important role in society, where they restore society to what it should be because of the chaos created by the men.

The Tale

My module called 'The Tale' was compulsory for all Comparative Lit and World Lit students, but I think I enjoyed it more than the ones I chose on my own.

The Tale is all about exploring the development of the oral tale/storytelling into written forms. We studied books from the oldest known to man to modern short stories. It was great.


Cortazar

Julio Cortazar was a Latin American novelist under the Peron regime and he is probably my favourite author to date. We studied a few of his short stories rather than just one of his books and my favourite is Letter to a Young Lady in Paris. If you haven't read it yet, I beg you to read it right now. Then come back to this.

Letter to a Young Lady in Paris is probably the most bizarre thing I have ever read. In short, it's about a man who secretly vomits up baby rabbits everyday. These rabbits go on to completely destroy his room and drive him crazy, and in the end he kills himself and the rabbits by jumping off the balcony. Sounds weird, right? But once you study it you realise there are so many things the rabbits could represent and yet we have no idea what Cortazar actually meant by them. I just found it so fascinating. (If you do read it, I'd genuienly like to know what you thought in the comments).

Russian Folk Tales

When I started studying Russian Folk Tales I didn't think I'd love it as much as I did. We've all heard Western fairy tales at some point in our lives (e.g. all the Disney movies ever) and so it was so interesting to see what the other side of the world included in theirs.

I think my love of studying the Russian Folk Tales summarises perfectly why Comparative Literature is so important. Throughout my whole academic life before university I only ever studied 'English' literature. I never noticed how bored I was of it until I got to university where I could study books from all over the world in more depth than ever before. I have learnt more about literature as a whole in this one year than I had throughout secondary school and sixth form because I could study more than just 'English' literature. There are so many other cultures that are just as important as ours and it is such a waste to only focus on our own.

I loved the Russian folk tales so much that I chose to do my last piece of coursework on them. My question was to compare them to it's 'Western counterpart', which I considered to be the Brothers Grimm. (Fun fact: lots of people think the Brothers Grimm wrote all those fairy tales. Spoiler alert: they didn't. They just stole them from people who were illiterate and too poor to write them down themselves).


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I realise that this is a super long post so if you've gotten this far then I congratulate you. Bear in mind this isn't even half of the books I studied in depth this year.

If you couldn't already tell, the course was probably my favourite part of first year. I'm so glad I chose to study Comparative Literature - it wasn't something I had done before and was choosing it purely on the basis that I thought I would enjoy it. And would you look at that, I was right!

Now that I have written this post it feels as if first year is well and truly over. 

Now, onto second year.

Turns out I'm actually quite scared.

Uh oh.


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