When I was in grad school, I had to make a big decision:
What was I not going to study for.
You see, my graduate school exam consisted of a 2 day, 6 question exam. One question on British lit, one on American lit, one crossover or theory question, linguistics, composition, and then your emphasis question (and mine was composition). Of course, each section had a choice of three questions, but considering, for example, that British lit spans the Medieval period (Beowulf, 1100AD) to the 20th century (Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, 1949), it seems, to me at least, almost impossible to cover everything well enough to answer a question like (here’s the American lit example they provide): “Is Edgar Allan Poe a Romantic poet? Is he an American Transcendentalist? Write an essay in which you attempt to define the relation of Poe’s work to that of two or three other authors writing in approximately the same time period, for example, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Longfellow, Whitman. Discuss both the similarities and differences between Poe’s work and the other authors’ works.” And to be honest, this question is kind of easy.
Anyway, I had to drop something, so away I did with The Romantics. There were too many Odes to remember and since I hadn’t actually taken a Romantics class (and I didn’t have a BA in English, so I was in major catch-up mode anyway), I figured I didn’t have the time to teach myself all of the dynamics.
I’ve always been a bit sad I threw the Romantics away because what little I do know of the time period, I have always enjoyed.
And now I feel even a little more sad. Today I finished reading Daisy Hay’s fantastic first novel, Young Romantics.
I picked this book up on a recommendation from NPR, and like I said a few days ago, it thoroughly intrigued me because it was about the intertwining lives of the Shelleys, Keats, and Byron. Coming into this genre as a newbie, I was floored by their views, philosophies, and how much they valued “free-love.” It’s all kind of 1960s but over 100 years earlier. And the women of the story were fascinating, especially Mary Shelley (poor Mary….). But as much as I loved the depictions of their personal lives, I became even more interested in how they wrote and produced great work. I loved learning that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein because Byron told her that everyone ought to write a ghost story! And I loved learning how Percy helped her edit the novel. Or how Keats would compete with his friends at writing sonnets (15 minutes to write a sonnet for each man and then a judge, their friend, decided whose was best–Keats always won). I could go on and on about how much I learned and loved this book, but that would be tedious and would get boring.
I’ve often been asked if I would go back and finish a PhD, and I often replied that I would, of course, if someone paid for it. But when asked what I would study, I’ve always fallen back on Composition because that’s what I know best and also because I’ve never felt any great calling toward a specific time period (except maybe the Modern period, but that could get seriously depressing. Though, let’s face it, not as depressing as studying composition theory). But now I feel kind of regenerated. Like I’ve found a passion in these Romantic poets. Now I want to know more about Keats and Byron (he was such an asshole) and obviously Wordsworth and Coleridge. I’m so excited that I’ve just ordered 2 new books.
I’m thankful for my new Romantic discoveries and a new path which to learn and explore further.