English education, throughout all tiers of schooling, has revolved around a strict adherence to the reading of a certain staple group of literary texts. We all know the types; Shakespeare, Hardy, Austen, Dickens and so on. As much as many a literary university student of Loughborough will instantly profess an undying love and admiration for these texts, their scope of influence will most probably not expand past Martin Hall. As cliché as this example is, Messrs Marlowe, Hardy and co. are essentially Marmite; you either get them or you don’t.

Try conversing with a friend on Northanger Abbey or Twelfth Night; you will probably lose their attention fairly quickly. If your friend is gracious enough, and quite frankly not asleep, they may grace you with an explanation for their disinterest in the matter. They may emotionally lament how they were viciously lobotomised from a young age with Gabriel Oak’s narrative in Far From the Madding Crowd, or bored to the brim with the Bennett sister’s boy problems in Pride and Prejudice.  It would appear then, that the only way to promote the exploration of literature on a larger scale, is to cater the books that students read, to what will interest them.

I am not suggesting that these books should be dumbed down in any way; there are plenty of examples of intelligent, interesting and educational works that would rival any great work in their use of moral, message and form. Works such as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye, or C.S. Lewis are able to address contemporary issues for the student population, providing an outlet for comparison with their own lives.

Authors who write this type of literature have an adolescent’s age and interests in mind. The language and plots of young adult literature are similar to what students are accustomed to finding in reality, television, movies, and popular culture. Students cannot fully relate to the works of Shakespeare, as his context is not contemporary enough, coupled with the fact that the English language has changed so much since the 1600s.

I certainly think there is still a major place in literary education for the customary authors that define the subject; they are after all known as the best works of literature for a reason. However, they take a certain level of practice to be fully appreciated, like training for a marathon. So why not fire bite size chunks of contemporary shrapnel at students instead of blowing their heads off with a cannon ball of hefty literary tradition. We may just find at this point, that Literary Marmite tastes that little bit better…


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