Thinking of taking a Postgraduate Course in English Literature?

By Gemma Creagh - Last update


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Are you a fervent bookworm? Do you often forsake the digital temptress of Netflix in favour of carbon-based classics penned by Proust or Joyce? Have you ever found yourself conversationally quoting Don Quixote or The Odyssey by Homer to the barista in your local Starbucks? Is your home storage filled with so many books that it constitutes a fire hazard? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then perhaps a postgraduate course in English Literature is for you. You’ll get to relish your love of the language with like-minded literary nerds, expand your understanding of society and flex those writing muscles for good measure.

Reasons to study a postgraduate course in English Literature

1. Those who CAN teach…

Do you enjoy helping people? Have you been accused of pontificating on a regular basis? Now imagine you get paid for doing both, shaping young minds and inspiring others with an interest in the field. A postgraduate qualification means you’ll be eligible to teach in schools, universities or training centres.

2. Take on the ‘fake news’ via journalism

The comprehension of the language, along with the analytic skills you’ll gain from a postgraduate course in English literature translates perfectly into a career in journalism. If you buffer your education with technical knowledge and a working understanding of programmes such as mailchimp/wordpress, the digital world is also your proverbial oyster.

3. They say everyone has a book in them…

Where better to learn than at the feet of the masters? Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, Woolfe – they’ve developed the concepts and structtures that are now standart when it comes to storrytelling. Spend one to four years dissecting their works, and getting to the crux of what makes writing great, will no doubt be applicable to your own writing.

4. Doing anything else is not an option

At the end of the day, Confucius put it best when he (allegedly) said: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ Any postgraduate course is hard. You’ll have lots of deadlines, projects assignments and papers to hand in. These processes are all much easier when it’s a field you adore and subjects you’d be researching anyway.

Course Content

Remember those compare and contrast questions from those Leaving Cert English essays? Well, essentially the work you’ll be doing is along those lines, but amplified to eleven. When we talk about English-language literature, this usually means writers from Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, as well as literature in English from countries of the former British Empire, most notably the United States. This language is over 1,400 years and while a postgrad can be intensive, it’s not quite intensive enough to cover everything; you’ll usually specialize in a small number of areas.

Topics are usually separated by periods; the main ones would be Old English literature (c. 450–1066), Middle English literature (1066–1500), Medieval theatre, English Renaissance (1500–1660), Elizabethan period (1558–1603), Jacobean period (1603–1625), Late Renaissance (1625–1660), Restoration Age (1660–1700), Augustan literature (1700–1750), Age of Sensibility (1750–1798), Romanticism (1798–1837), Victorian literature (1837–1901), Modernism (1901–1922), and Post–modernism (1940–2000). Most of these sections have wealth of subsections, you could be covering be it prose, non-fiction, plays, poetry, and we haven’t even got to historical backgrounds, publishing or related fields. With a spectrum this broad it’s important to do your homework before deciding on a course. Each course’s prospectus can vary massively.

With regards your workload, be prepared to read and write more than you ever have before;, depending on your postgraduate level, whether its a diploma, Masters or PhD, you will, undoubtedly, have a lot on your plate. Don’t let yourself get behind, if you know you’re taking a course next september, why not start the reading now?

And finally… enjoy it

Forget about those uncouth people who poo-poo literature as a field of study. Civilization as a whole is dependant on the various forms of storytelling as a way of processing and learning. While historical texts do a great job of explaining what happened, literature, and classic literature at that, explains why. A great novel will incorporate themes that are important at the time, they will capture the mood and emotion of an era in a way that dry facts and dates on a page can’t. If humanity is to move forward, the great creative arts are something to be preserved, studied and celebrated, and as a Master/Dr. of English Literature, this responsibility falls on you.


Gemma Creagh

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