student life

Why I chose to study English Literature

Written by lauren_allen

February 2013 and Mum and I are standing in the chapel of University of Greenwich. Mum’s in tears. No one’s getting married and we’re not at a funeral. She’s crying because this is where she could see me graduating in three years’ time.

After what felt like the most challenging and desperate period of my life to date, I’ve come away from university life with the biggest clichéd view of further education; that it is the best three years of your life.

Before University

I can remember taking home university prospectus’s from my PSHE teacher’s classroom in Year 9, knowing that continuing my studies wasn’t something I was going to miss out on. At the time, of course, the plans I had for my future at the age of 14 were quite different from what they are now. I was looking at Child Psychology courses, or teaching qualifications, as being a real-life replica of Matilda’s Miss Honey was something I had wanted since I first read Roald Dahl’s books as an 8-year-old. I even went to university still with the determined view that I would take on a PGCE after my undergraduate degree, but after a work placement in my second year, I quickly realised it wasn’t for me. Cue several very scary and anxious months of not having a life plan for the girl who had always had one.

Back in college, second year arrived before we knew it and everyone was applying for university and making plans to move to different ends of the country. I had dabbled with the idea of moving far away from home, but a little voice in my head wouldn’t let me, meaning that the furthest away from Essex I looked was London, and one in Cambridge. And as though fairy dust fell from the skies and made all my wishes come true, I found University of Greenwich.

Choosing the University

Greenwich is a beautiful borough in London, sitting on the bank of the River Thames, with the university campus radiating more inspiration than I ever thought was possible from what is, essentially, a building. I had been to a few open days littered sporadically throughout the year, with the majority of universities offering more or less the same English Literature course, but Greenwich was an exception to that discovery, as it also had its campus and exquisite immediate surroundings to offer, such as Greenwich Park – which includes the world famous Royal Observatory – and the National Maritime Museum. Greenwich is also a firm-favourite with movie-makers all over the world, as it has been the setting of choice for Les Miserables, The King’s Speech, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and that’s only a few.

Of course, it helped that I had an innate love of reading to get me through my degree. However, my course allowed me to gain access to authors, novels, plays and poetry that, otherwise, I highly doubt I would have discovered on my own, such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and Jean Rhys. I have always enjoyed plays, with Harold Pinter’s Betrayal being my favourite during college, but after core modules involving drama-heavy texts, I opted for a full Drama course in my third year entitled Contemporary British Theatre. Pinter aside, A-Level and GCSE English Literature was almost entirely focused on Shakespeare and World War poetry, and whilst these are great, they don’t offer the broad knowledge and exploration that a degree allows. This breadth arises not only through variety in the set texts, but the focus on a more independent learning, allowing you to determine and decipher what your literary interests and specialities are.

I feel my time at University of Greenwich was a true test of my character and the fundamentals of what makes me the person that I am. I’m biased, but literature is an art form that profoundly encourages you to discover flecks of your personality that you never knew existed, and forces you to care about things that you never before thought of as a problem. Below are a list of my favourite texts from the past three years, so if you haven’t read them, please do! I hope that your education is or will be as enlightening as mine.


In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood

The Hours – Michael Cunningham

Disgrace – J. M. Coetzee

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy



A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams

Our Country’s Good – Timberlake Wertenbaker

Jerusalem – Jez Butterworth

The Homecoming – Harold Pinter

Hangmen – Martin McDonagh

Cleansed – Sarah Kane

King Charles III – Mike Bartlett


Poetry Collections

Ariel – Sylvia Plath

Birthday Letters – Ted Hughes