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Why to Do English
on 4 May 2013
This is my go-to text not only for new students but also for any of my friends who are interesting just what "doing English" entails. I agree with many of the other positive reviews on here and think that confusion of purposes is likely at the root of the more negative opinions. Yes, this is a book aimed at British undergrad or potentially-undergrad (ie. A levels, etc) students and so will not be appropriate to other national education systems (yes, even the American and other English speaking societies) nor does it aim to uncover any new essential truths to already established academics. What I do believe this book does fantastically, however, is position the student within a history of study that is constantly shifting and evolving.
Eaglestone locates the historical origins of the study of English Literature in the attempt to instill English values upon the people of the Indian subcontinent. After failing to convert the Indians to Christianity (turns out people don't take too kindly to that), the great English novels were considered a less controversial way to "civilise" the people of that plundered nation. Following the Great War, Britain needed to replace its "officer class" and so needed, in essence, to "civilise" its own working class who didn't have the Latin and Greek to read the classics. Thus, English Literature came to Britain. This introduction about hegemony, ideology, and the use of culture to shape nations is a great way of outlining the many and varied approaches to literature that have come since within the British academy. As a result, one feels that by "Doing English" you are very much part of an ongoing conflict about what values we should hold and how society should be shaped. Although straightforward and accessible, Eaglestone's prose is marked by this vitality and earnestness which really conveys a sense of why it matters. It is this enthusiasm which, I argue, is of absolute importance for a student's success. When you feel you have a stake in it, the required efforts will follow.
Thoroughly recommended to those thinking of Doing English themselves, and even more to those with the near-impossible job of teaching it. Also a fantastic read for those sick of our contemporary philistinism which questions why anything outside of direct fiscal reward matters.