There’s a very worrying trend in universities at the moment – the over-pricing, devaluing and even dropping of an incredibly important subject – English Literature. A few British universities have ceased offering it as a stand-alone degree, the Australian government has made it much more expensive, and funding in many countries is being reduced when it comes to literature. This is a terrible state of affairs. English Literature is a ‘gateway’ subject, one that allows students to develop vital skills such as use of language, the ability to analyse and theorise, and an improved ability to express oneself. Whatever career comes afterwards, a study of literature opens the mind, introduces you to other cultures and beliefs, assists critical thinking, entertains, brings the past alive, and will prove invaluable in whatever job is then taken up. Author Philip Pullman puts it well when he says that the study of literature “should not be a luxury for a wealthy minority of spoilt and privileged aesthetes, but a spring of precious truth and life that every one of us is entitled to.”
It is important to remember that the three absolute basics of education are listed as the three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. Note that reading comes first in the list, and writing second – these are vital skills and tools. To those of us who read books, all the world is open – all lives, walks of life, all perspectives on life. We find ourselves reflected in books, we meet others in books, we travel, we are comforted, delighted, and we never stop learning if we read. On my very first day at university, I attended a lecture on Marlowe’s Dr Faustus – I knew I had found what Tiggers like best and will forever be grateful to all those who taught me English Literature at university. Long may others continue to study the subject that changed and enriched my life.