Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Today, the Sunday Times published an article about Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and his decision to take US classics off the GCSE English curriculum.

“The John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men, and other American classics including Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, have been dropped from new English literature GCSEs after Michael Gove, the education secretary, insisted teenagers had to study works by British writers.”

Apparently, Gove doesn’t like ‘Of Mice and Men’, but why does that mean he gets to say that other people can’t read it? Surely there should be more people having a say in this?

The exam board, OCR, says that the book was “studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past”, which suggests that it is a book at the very heart of the GCSE English curriculum. Personally, I am one of the 10% who never studied ‘Of Mice and Men’, and when I hear people talking about studying it, I feel left out! Although, from what I’ve heard, it sounds like I didn’t miss much. I may even attempt to read it now, as I find that reading these classics out of an educational context makes them much more enjoyable!

Also, according to OCR, “In the new syllabus 70-80% of the books are from the English canon.

I’m all for promoting British books because we’ve produced some of the best writers, but it seems very narrow-minded to take out the US classics. To be fair, a lot of British classics, while good books, are a bit grating after a while, especially if you’re spending a whole term on one of them. I’m the sort of person who reads a book and then quickly moves onto the next. Education introduces you to some great books but spending too much time on certain authors can get a little bit boring. If you’re going to bore teens (many of whom probably don’t care that much about literature), at least try to throw in a few classics by foreign writers to do the job properly!

It’s bad enough that, in this world of technology and social networking, teenagers are less likely to read books in a conventional way (if at all) but education is the main place where you’re introduced to books which make you think about the world differently, and having books on the curriculum which are from a variety of authors from Britain and beyond our shores helps us to learn more about the world. We need to give teenagers the chance to learn about other cultures through books and broaden their minds! It seems very racist trying to kick out literature by foreign authors and doesn’t set a good example for young people.

I must point out that I was one of the lucky (or unlucky?!) ones who ended up in a GCSE English class which didn’t cover ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘The Crucible’, or ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, so I can’t say how good these classics actually are, but I did study J.D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye” which, although bizarre on the first reading, turned out to be very interesting (and I have actually read it since I left school!).

I studied my GCSEs in 2005, so I’m hard-pushed to remember what else I actually studied, but I remember having an anthology of poetry with Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage and a few other poets! It wasn’t very much fun though, although I remember liking studying the film “Pleasantville”!

I may not have enjoyed a lot of the texts I studied at GCSE, but it didn’t stop me taking A Level English, or doing a degree in English Literature and English Language, both of which covered infinitely more interesting books!

Banning books only shows that someone is trying to control what you are exposed to, and when it comes to books, I think it is wrong to limit people to certain things. Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen are all great, but there’s more to literature than their collective works! There are many exciting books out there!

Maybe banning these books will make people read them anyway? Who Knows?! We will see just how well this plan works when it is put into action.

What do you think?

The article from the Sunday Times “Gove kills the mockingbird with ban on US classic novel” is found here: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1414764.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2014_05_24

Something that bugs me about books: Irritating protagonists.

Everyone has read a book which has an irritating protagonist, surely. It is a good mark of a well-written character who may remind you of some equally irritating person you know in real life, just put down on paper. Nothing wrong with that.

However, it ruins the experience of reading a little, especially when you want to throttle them!

I’ll give you some examples:

  1. Ana, Fifty Shades of Grey - She is rather pathetic, despite being fairly intelligent. I guess she is a little less experienced in the world, especially in relationships and sex, than her peers. Suddenly, she realises that getting beaten up is OK if it’s a hot, sexy, rich man doing it in a way which is pleasurable. Until she realises just how messed up he is and how she is never going to have a normal relationship with him. She annoyed me almost as much as…
  2. Bella, the Twilight saga – This girl whines on about having to move to Forks, even though she says it was her own idea. She says she loves her dad, but refuses to call him that, opting for “Charlie” when talking to everybody but him. She complains about getting presents for her birthday and celebrating her birthday because she is getting old. There is no denying this fact of life. She is happy that vampire Edward watches her sleep at night and never leaves her alone if he can help it. She does stupid things like almost killing herself in order to see hallucinations of Edward after he leaves her. She ignores the dangers and persuades Edward to have sex with her as a human, knowing that she could easily die. She obsesses about becoming a vampire, which seems like the only way to stay with Edward forever. She really has so many flaws. She says she’s not normal, and i guess the story would be boring if she was normal, but even so, she’s still a fairly normal to other people’s eyes.
  3. Emma, from the classic Jane Austen novel, Emma. – She annoys me because she is constantly trying to match-make other people, and interferes too much. She spends too much time meddling in other’s lives that she doesn’t realise the effect she has on them. Mr Knightley even tells her off for making fun of people. For someone supposedly caring about the less well-off people, she can be really bitchy! And she is really selfish, especially when she tells Harriet to refuse the marriage proposal from the guy she loves (and ends up marrying anyway!).
  4. Valentina, from Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. – She starts out so well, being the shy and quiet girl overshadowed by her domineering twin sister Julia, who nicknames her “Mouse”. Then she wants to escape her bossy sister and be with her lover, but instead of just running away, she hatches a plan to fake her death and then run away, just to sever the bond with her sister. The flaw? Her aunt’s ghost steals her body, so she ends up stuck dead, still with her sister.

Do you agree? Is there anyone else you would like to add to this list?

“A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”

— Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice