Brief post from the wasteland of Real Life

You’ve probably noticed, but this blog has slipped off the radar a bit. Without going into dreadful personal detail, last year hit me hard, academically and personally, and I’m only just getting myself back on my feet again. If for some reason you’re interested in my personal antics, I’m still at highlyeccentric.

The pertinent stats: I came out of it with Hons. First Class – good enough that I can be reasonably confident of an Australian Postgraduate Award when I decide to go back, but not good enough that I can be cocky about overseas scholarships. My thesis could’ve been better but it could’ve been much worse, and I’m very pleased with my final essay on Yvain.

I’m sojourning in the Real World for the time being. I have an alarmingly secure job, with all the nice salary and perks and things Arts graduates aren’t supposed to get, particularly not during an Economic Crisis. I’m also quite enjoying it, but my brain’s mouldering.

Which brings me to the selfish point of this post. In taking a few years off, I declared my intention to read up on the ‘canon’ of English Literature, such as it is. Although I’m very well read in certain areas (teenage fantasy, for example), there are huge chunks missing, and as it looks like I’m definitely a lit person rather than a historian, I’m told I really can’t get by in life without Reading Literature.

Some time last year (around the middle of the year, I believe), someone in the blogosphere – an English department Academic, American, and I think female – was talking about how students could prepare for some sort of English Department PHD entrance exams. (I don’t understand the American university system very well, or this may have made more sense to me.) These exams came with reading lists for the ‘canon of English literature’, and said blogger linked to examples of practice exams from at least one university website. She recommended that prospective students read the reading list and prepare themselves by reading through the old questions and putting together bullet-pointy sort of answers (so, standard exam prep, really). It’s also possible that she was recommending students read up on these before interviews?

At any rate, I’ve lost the link. I’ve no intention of studying in the States, but I recalled that post and thought these reading lists & exams might give me a bit of structure to the way I spend my time off in the real world. Does anyone a) remember the blogger and the post? or b) not remember but know what I’m talking about anyway?


24 Responses to “Brief post from the wasteland of Real Life”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Sounds like Ecgfrith didn’t behave very well for you…. or did you change topics?

    Congrats on the job though… good to have some security while you decide what to do next academically. Independent study is a good cure for brain mouldering… 🙂

  2. highlyeccentric Says:

    Ecgfrith? I can’t even REMEMBER Ecgfrith. If I did something with Ecgfrith, it wasn’t very big. The thesis was on Wulfstan… it turned out ok, but it really deserved better than I gave it ;).

    Security is a wonderful thing, too. And a salary for buying Very Nerdy Books!

  3. Richard Scott Nokes Says:

    I suspect when she was talking about “English Department PHD entrance exams,” she was either talking about the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) subject test, or she might have been talking about qualifying exams, which are ones you take after your coursework is done, but before writing your disseration. There are lots and lots of books with advice on how to study for the GREs, and as for qualifying exams, if that’s what she was talking about you don’t have to worry about it for a while.

  4. B. Hawk Says:

    I don’t know the original reading list/exam post, but I do know that UConn has a similar list/exam for the M.A. in English (since all of the American university lists have about the same “canonical” texts on them). If you want to see the list and an overview of the exam, here it is:

    Also, if you’re interested in how medieval studies (interdisciplinary) reading lists/exams work in America, I posted the M.A. list on my blog a while back, which you can find here:

  5. Larry Swain Says:

    NO and No, and I hate losing a medievalist! Still congrats on the job et al!

    If reading the canon is for you for awhile, I might recommend something as basic as the Oxford Book of English Verse as a good overview of the most important English poetry that you’d be expected to know. In addition, consult anthologies, they generally have a good finger on the pulse of what is considered “canon” these days.

  6. highlyeccentric Says:

    Dr Nokes – I don’t want to TAKE these exams, I don’t want to study in the States. I was thinking of reading up for them because they’d give me a set reading list and some kind of structure.

    Larry – ooh, damn, yes. I have to get me a Norton, I suppose, and something with a stack of poetry in it. Poetry’s so very hard to do anything with if you’re working alone, though.

  7. Vellum Says:

    Not certain about the link, as it’s from geocities, but it’s something like this you’re looking for I think:

  8. Larry Swain Says:


    Norton is good, I happen to prefer Broadview or Longman, but have had to teach out of the Norton too. And I love the Oxford!

    As for doing it alone, you could blog it…..ahem….

  9. highlyeccentric Says:

    “This was a very pretty poem but I have no idea what it means” doesn’t make for the world’s most scintillating blog posts, Larry :P.

  10. Michelle Says:

    I think sometimes very pretty is the point of the poem. They all don’t have to have grand meanings. Believe me, independent study can give you plenty of topics for blog posts. 😉 As for scintillating, I guess that is in the eye of the beholder…

  11. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    I don’t have the answer to the question but I did want to say: congratulations on the first. I hope this talent comes back to join us in escape from the Real World some day…

  12. highlyeccentric Says:

    Brandon – thanks for the links! Ditto you, Vellum.

    Jonathan – thanks for the congrats :). I am DEFINITELY coming back, don’t you worry. And I’ll be coming back dead certain this is what I want to do, and emotionally stable to boot! I will be unstoppable… 😉

    Thanks everyone for the feedback!

  13. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    Emotional stability doesn’t seem to be a necessary requirement, and in fact often is often difficult to maintain if you’ve achieved the certainty you mention… Or so I’ve found anyway. But I’m sure it’s all possible. Sorry you’ve had troubles. Employment doesn’t necessarily help much, but this much is for sure: once one is financially stable, one has to work much harder to find things to make one emotionally unstable… So it’ll hopefully do that for you at least.

  14. highlyeccentric Says:

    I figure one should START one’s PHD in a balanced frame of mind. One will end up crazy no matter what, so one should aim to begin from the highest sanity level one can attain.

    I dunno, the Real World has been putting me in a dreadful mood of late. We have this horrible situation where, as it turns out, what makes me happy is writing essays. I think I need to find new things to be happy about 😛

  15. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    That or resume blogging 🙂 Library access can be tricky in the outside world though. Do you have friends in your alma mater who might be able to wangle you some kind of affiliated status through which you could still get library subscription journal access?

  16. Michelle Says:

    If you have trouble getting journal access, then blogging your way through books works too! If your finances allow, now is not a bad time to start building a home library.

  17. highlyeccentric Says:

    I’ve got a graduate card for the USyd library, which sadly does not allow me off-campus journal access (and I’ve moved cities). I AM living all of half an hour from the National Library of Australia, so we’ll see what they have to hand there… Otherwise, my LJ flist are pretty good about chucking me PDF copies of various articles if I ask for them.

    There IS a post coming up. I discovered one of my friends still thinks that Arthurian legends, all variations thereon, are primarily about the past. This obviously calls for a post!

  18. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    Huzzah! If there’s anything you can’t get that I may be able to, drop me a line on the address on this page and I can probably help.

  19. Stephanie Says:

    So… when you say “overseas”, you mean England or Canada, yes? Why so anti- the US? (I’m in Philadelphia at the moment, sitting in on David Wallace’s graduate class at UPenn for a month and it is FANTASTIC!) Anyway, should you ever think of coming southward to Melbourne, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

    I have to say, I’m not surprised the honours year knocked you around a bit. At Melbourne — and I’m sure it’s the same at Sydney — it’s a very tough and demanding year, in all kinds of ways. It’s great to take a break, rather than diving into a PhD then burning out after six months.

    All the best,

  20. highlyeccentric Says:

    I mean England, pretty much, unless I should get UNBELIEVABLY lucky and get into Toronto. My main bugbear against the US (aside from 1) Americans 2) the economy 3) there not even being a CHANCE of getting a Commonwealth Scholarship) is that I’d have to do a Masters first. Britain, at least, recognises Aus. 1st Class Hons as // to a Masters, or so I’m told. Given that I just scraped into first class I may have to do a Masters anyway…

    I have to say, I’m not surprised the honours year knocked you around a bit. At Melbourne — and I’m sure it’s the same at Sydney — it’s a very tough and demanding year, in all kinds of ways.

    Sadly, the things which knocked me around were almost all personal life crap – things I’d been putting off dealing with for years because Uni Was More Important suddenly came and bit me on the arse.

    Anyway, should you ever think of coming southward to Melbourne, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

    I shan’t (hesitate, that is)!

  21. Stephanie Says:

    Well, don’t forget that the wealthier US universities often have very generous scholarships: they’ll pay you to study there. No national scheme, but I reckon it’d be worth exploring universities where your favourite scholars work, or those with big medieval programmes. And you may not have to do a master’s. I know one student from Melbourne who talked his way into a US graduate programme without even doing honours in cultural studies (he’d done some graduate level law studies in an adjacent field). Your stuff is mostly Old English, rather than Middle English, though, isn’t it? Toronto’s probably still fabulous for that.

  22. highlyeccentric Says:

    Well, then there’s the question of ‘what the hell IS my field’, which is another reason I’m taking time off. My field has been Anglo-Saxon, but last year thanks to my coursework requirements I suddenly remembered that Arthuriana has been my lifelong passion – beginning when I was about SIX. I ditched it because of all the dodgy new-age bad celticist implications, but one doesn’t HAVE to be a dodgy Celtist to be an arthurianist, I’ve discovered…

  23. Hannah Says:

    I’m in the same boat – finished with first class honours, wouldn’t have trouble getting a scholarship here but want to go to Canada and haven’t heard back yet beyond ‘yes we want you in the course but we haven’t decided about the scholarship’ yet. And, competition, etc. Otoh, I have friends in Ottawa, who’d be happy to offer me accommodation for a while, so. We’ll see.

    Though, yes. Toronto would be the place to do a PhD, just for the weight of the reputation, though I don’t like making decisions based on that sort of thing.

    It is a hard balance, isn’t it, between giving your brain a rest and not letting it atrophy? Filling in the gaps in your reading of literature sounds like a good idea. I’m brushing up on my theory and reading all those Things I Should Have Read By Now, as well as random little not-particularly-literary documents like letters, petitions, medical writings, etc, from the period, which give a more varied view of the life and mindset than just that which you get through poets’ spectacles. But I’m finding that just reading isn’t enough – the brain does atrophy, and the motivation lags, particularly when Real Life does its ambushy thing, which it did for me when the bushfires hit. So, yes, blogging helps for me – even if it’s just little reactions and thoughts. I’m currently doing a series of translations of brief letters in Anglo-Norman, and working on some posts of my reactions as I read Ywain and Gawain for the first time. And suddenly it’s m uch easier to get my head back into my creative writing and the paper I wanted to write on Troilus and Criseyde, so. Maybe that’s the way to do it.

    Until real life kicks your feet out from under you and you have to find a new way to climb back up. Maybe it’s just meant to be an ongoing struggle! Keeps it from turning into a rut, I suppose.

    Good luck with it!

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