Confessions of an English PhD

I hold a B.A. in English, an M.A. in English Language and Literature, and a PhD in English Language and Literature. My specialties are officially medieval, early modern (Renaissance), and speculative fiction literature. My confession: I think most “great literature” is awful.

Chaucer, I like. But, I prefer Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, the Gawain-poet, and several anonymous writers. Beowulf, I enjoy.

I read Shakespeare and think he’s important to look at for his influence. However, I don’t particularly care for him. There are others from the era that I like better.

I don’t see why Hardy, Dumas, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and scores of other canonical “great” writers are considered so great. I don’t think it’s because I’m not smart or knowledgable enough, after all I read Beowulf in the original Anglo-Saxon.

That said, there are classics I enjoy: Poe, Dickens, Wright, Bierce. But, they are pretty few and far between after the 16th century.

I’m much happier reading, researching, writing about current genre greats, or those I consider to be great or even good. Quite frankly, I’ll take Pratchett, Rowling, Heinlein, Gaiman, or Brust over Dumas any day and I’m not ashamed to say it.

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7 comments on “Confessions of an English PhD

  1. calmgrove says:

    No need to confess — we’re all allowed to have our own tastes whatever our expertise, which as a classically trained musician is a view I espouse.

    Our only responsibility is to give reasoned arguments for our tastes rather than a simple ‘awesome’ or ‘meh’, and I think you aim to do that.

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    • lordtaltos says:

      It’s more a thing about assumptions, e.g. just because I’m “an English major” doesn’t mean I love (or read nothing but) “great books” or love Shakespeare sort of thing.

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      • calmgrove says:

        Well, I sort of realised that, Brent, though I could have been more explicit I suppose, I’ve had non-musician music-lovers rankle when I’ve not whole-heartedly raved about their favourite classical composer.

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      • lordtaltos says:

        Similar experiences. I had one relative who always prefaced everything he said to me about a book with “this is probably too low brow”. Meanwhile, a good percentage of the people in my field didn’t consider the stuff I was writing about and researching to be “worthwhile or literary” because it was genre fiction or popular or written for younger audiences.

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      • calmgrove says:

        It’s just academic snobbery, but I’m glad you don’t subscribe to it!

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      • lordtaltos says:

        To some degree. Another factor, I think, is a certain level of forgetfulness or ignorance on some parts. One thing I often point out is that Shakespeare, Poe, Chaucer, Hemingway, Wright, Dickens, and others were the pop culture of their day. They weren’t always on the “high art” pedestal that modern readers set up for them (actually, in the Restoration, Shakespeare was considered a third rate playwright and no one wanted to produce his plays).

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    • lordtaltos says:

      This came to mind again recently, calmgrove. A music performance major friend was asked what instrument he focused on. He said guitar and was then asked if he could teach the person acoustic classical guitar. He vehemently shook his head to the person’s surprise and said he dislikes playing acoustic and can’t play classical guitar (he is a very good hard rock rhythm guitarist).

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