Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The privilege of learning about literature


I have a longing to go back to university and start from where I left off. It's been creeping up and gnawing at me for the past year now, and it's made me realise how relaxing it was to sit among friends in the courtyards, enjoying the sunshine and some literary greats. Fun, fun, fun.

Those glorious university days ended in 1997 and I remember the last day sitting around sobbing like a loon, wondering if the future world of work and all manner of things grown-up would ever live up to it (I later learned it didn't even come close!) Now 12 years on, I've decided I want to once again become a student at some stage in the future. Nothing comes close to the enjoyment and personal satisfaction of academic research. And I remember so well being immersed in dissertation heaven. Mine was based on Samuel Beckett, one of the great Irish avant-garde writers of the twentieth century. And in true Gillian fashion (making stuff over-complicated!) I tried to dig myself deeper and deeper into a dissertation hole by linking his work to Freud. (It was successful though!)

He was one literary great I was truly fascinated with. Born in 1906 in Dublin he was raised as part of a Protestant middle-class family. Later in life he claimed to have memories of being in his mother's womb. Beckett studied for his degree at Trinity College, Dublin, and during a stint in Paris, he was introduced to James Joyce, who by this time was widely known as the author of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Beckett soon became very much part of Joyce's life, joining his inner circle. For a short time, Beckett taught languages, but the appeal didn't last. His pupils at Campbell College, Belfast, were deemed 'rich and thick.'

One fascinating work of Beckett's is Waiting for Godot, which first appeared at Théâtre de Babylone in Paris in 1953. Act I begins on a country road with Estragon, an old man, trying to remove his boot. Vladimir, another old man, joins him. They begin to chat and while they wait on Godot, they engage in conversation. Two more men, Pozzo and Lucky, arrive, then a boy comes on the scene indicating that Godot will not be there today. (I can tell you're confused!)

When I had the opportunity to see several of Beckett's works dramatised, it was definitely one of the most bizarre theatrical experiences ever. Cue a darkened room filled with about 20 people, and heads appearing in boxes. It was all very accomplished, and for the Beckett devotee, perfectly sane.

If it hadn't been for my time at university, I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to get to know literary greats like Beckett and Joyce, which has made me appreciate the value of education. Malcolm X said education is our passport to the future. And education in the arts and humanities is no less important than science or technology.

Photo: James Joyce, Dublin.

12 comments:

Ellen B said...

Squee! A photo from my city! I'm all happy now :)

I studied English in Joyce's alma mater (there endeth the list of things James Joyce and I have in common) and it was definitely the happiest period of my life. I'm not sure what's done to my writing ability (intimidated it, probably!) but it was a wonderful experience. And I hope it's as good for you again when you go back, Gillian :)

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I'd love to do an MPhil in writing one day...
Hope you get to live your academic dream, Gillian.
And Waiting For Godot has always totally fascinated me - I was lucky enough at college to do the make-up for our production - great fun!
Susiex

Roderic Vincent said...

Gillian, I'm so happy you love Sam. Although I was ostensibly studying psychology I spent nearly all my second year at university reading Beckett's novels. It left me with a somewhat negative existentialist view of life and tainted my own writing style horribly. Both of those took years to recover from, but I still love Sam and go to see his plays whenever I can.

Simon Kewin said...

It is wonderful to go back to University a little later on in life. I found I appreciated it very much more the second time around. We did some Becket too! I remember doing Endgame and finding it hilarious ...

Gillian McDade said...

I'm glad I've generated a little love for Joyce and Beckett here! Thanks Ellen, Susie, Rod and Simon for the feedback.

Simon - Endgame is one of those ones which makes you laugh out loud!

The Virtual Victorian said...

Oh, I had tickets for Endgame and had to miss because of the flu...my friends went instead and loved it.

Great post. Thank you.

Julie P said...

Lovely post,Gillian,

I'm not familiar with Samuel Beckett's work but enjoyed learning about him. I think there's an inner eternal student fighting to get out of me too! I never did a degree in English or Literature, but I'd love to do more courses in writing.

I hope you let your inner eternal student free too!

Julie xx

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Aah, a piccie of my home town...
Have to confess I could never get on with JJ and have never read Beckett but you do insire me to try.
Good luck with your inner student. I fought mine a few years ago and thought for a whole week I'd do a psycology degree. I sufficed with an A level in the subject and came to the conlusion that a return to study was not for me!

Gillian McDade said...

If you haven't read Beckett, I'd definitely recommend it. If plays aren't your thing, then try Murphy or More Pricks Than Kicks, a collection of prose.

Thanks for commenting.

Ann said...

Returning to academia later in life is so enriching. You just appreciate and savour it more.

Love Endgame.

Diney said...

I loved being a student - I was a 'mature' student of Eng Lit at the grand old age of 23(!) then a mature student again aged 40.It is just the best thing in the world, to learn and expand your mind and I miss it!

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks again for the comments.