On Monday 13th November, 13 A Level English students travelled to London for a conference on ‘Love through the Ages’.
Our first talk of the morning was from Jon Rich, an examiner who discussed what he, as a representative of examiners, did and did not want to receive in exam papers. These ranged from recommendations of what examiners seek to reward in student essays to the rather more questionable ideas he has received previously – one was the slightly worrying notion that Othello as a Jacobean play ‘had been written in Victorian times…’.
Following this, we had Dr. Michael Meeuwis from the University of Warwick discussing ‘the nature of love narratives over time.’ What made this particularly engaging was his use of three texts (Persuasion, The Great Gatsby and Tess of the D’Urbervilles) to highlight a different style of love in each. He introduced new ideas in regard to love, and the way that people fall in love. In ‘Persuasion’ Anne Eliot falls in love as she has few people to love, whilst Wentworth (who she falls in love with) falls in love with her as he has nothing to do… He explored love as a social construct, which enables students to interpret it in different ways, but also this makes it difficult to define love as it is in a permanent state of ‘flux’.
Next up was Adrian Noble, who spoke of Othello and other Shakespeare plays in regard to how love is presented in each. We found his talk interesting, yet different from the other talks, because he gave it in a university-style lecture. This was useful in preparation for next year.
After lunch, we had another talk from Jon Rich, with more sound advice. He advised not to try to make things relevant if they are not. Also, some more modern interpretations of Shakespeare should not be taken as fact, but seen as a way in which the text has adapted to its audience.
Finally we had a talk from Carol-Ann Duffy, who read us her poems in a most surprising way. When discussing this later, we decided that her lack of emotion when reading her poems made the ideas and words more pertinent in some ways and thus more relevant to the reader. She also gave us some useful context for our essays.
Overall, it was a very interesting day out and I would recommend it to any sixth former studying English Literature.
By Eleanor B, Sixth Form Student