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Things You’ll Only Understand If You’re a Literature Student

Things You’ll Only Understand If You’re a Literature Student main image

By Charlotte Stevenson

Remember all those clichés in movies and YA novels about college cliques or stereotypes? Well, they’re not all completely off the mark. While university is very much about your own individual experience and shaping your own path, it’s impossible not to fall into certain tribes and become partly defined by the course you study. After all, what does a math student really know about what it’s like to read Shakespeare every week?

If you’re studying English literature for the next few years, everything below should be painfully familiar.

All that reading basically makes you an expert on everything

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Studying literature means you’re also studying pretty much every subject under the sun. In each text you study, there will be elements of history, sociology, art, music, natural science and even math. While this means you get to learn some really interesting things, it can leave you feeling like you’re running out of room to store information in your brain.

For example, when I studied Frankenstein I ended up having some very in depth philosophical debates which required a lot of scientific research into the ethics of cloning. And yet people will still behave as if my course is nothing more than a glorified book club…

Tracking down primary sources for your essays is impossible

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There’s nothing more rewarding than the feeling that, after countless hours of research online and in the library, you’ve discovered that one book or essay that will be completely perfect for your upcoming essay. Which is why it’s so frustrating when this source of information has already been checked out of the library and can’t be found anywhere else on the internet. Faced with an imminent deadline, you’re left finding creative solutions to bulking out your essay (will they notice if I make the font bigger?).

You’re only ever either writing or preparing to write

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Unlike many subjects, the work pace for literature studies is constant. Assignments are likely to include weekly tasks (such as the mandatory and critical reading for each module) as well as monthly graded assignments (essays and reviews), and so you’re constantly either writing an essay or planning your next one. How you’re meant to find the time to actually read books is beyond you.

Writing 1,000 words suddenly becomes the easiest thing in the world

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With all that writing, you soon learn that writing 1,000 words isn’t really that difficult. Having three 2,000-word essays due in the same month is completely normal so you stop being fazed by high word-counts. That is, until it’s the night before the deadline and you still have 1,500 words to write. Which is why it would be useful to acquire some successful time management skills.

You find words inherently hilarious, to the confusion of anyone not on your course

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Despite the stress of having lots of work, reading and writing about books is actually really fun. It’s especially hilarious when you get to learn an unfamiliar word or phrase from a medieval text or from some nonsense poetry. For this reason, the word snafu has already become a running joke among me and my friends, though to anyone not on our course it must seem like we’re telling jokes in code.

You’ll start to over-analyze everything you read

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Once the introductory lectures are out of the way and you’re up to speed on literary theory, you’ll soon find your own interests and original thoughts developing about literally everything you read. Your favorite novels will be re-read with a critical eye, and even messages from your friends will be searched for literary value. On the bright side, this means you’re gaining confidence as a literary writer and critic, but it’s probably best not to start telling friends about the hidden subtext in their late-night DMs.

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