Studying English in Oxford is a rich, rewarding, and diverse experience.
Our students read widely in literature in English across the whole scope of its history; they are also encouraged to develop their own interests over the three years of the course, and to pursue the authors or themes they find particularly fascinating in depth.
The first thing we look for in potential students at Oriel is a love of literature, and an omnivorous appetite for reading, and thinking about it: you should find the prospect of reading and writing about at least two or three books a week, every week, exciting rather than daunting. The process of interpreting texts sensitively and knowledgably frequently leads us into the terrain of other disciplines—philosophy, aesthetics and art, linguistics, history, politics, the study of Classical literatures, theology—all of which enhance understanding of the works we study together, and enable students to think and write more originally and creatively about them. Our students therefore need to be intellectually curious, imaginative, dedicated, and hard-working.
Oriel offers a vibrant community of students of English and associated joint-schools (Classics and English, and English and Modern Languages), who are taught in college in a mixture of tutorials (one or two students with a tutor) and lively group classes. Our tutors are committed both to giving our students the necessary grounding in the literature of the periods which we teach, and to encouraging them to explore the writers or subjects they find most engaging in further detail.
The first year of the English course covers Old English and the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, along with a paper which offers an introduction to the history and theory of the English language, and teaches the core skills of close reading and critical theory which are the tools of literary interpretation. At the end of the first year, students choose to specialize in the periods before or after 1550. For those interested in the more modern period, the second year is devoted to the period 1350–1830; in the final year, students study Shakespeare, and take a Centrally Taught Special Topic – an opportunity to study a subject in depth with experts in the field – and write a dissertation. These last three papers are examined by submitted work, and offer an opportunity for students to specialize and produce extended pieces of original research and writing.
In addition to the absorbing academic life of the college, our undergraduates are also part of a thriving community which participates in various extra-curricular literary activities, including the Raleigh Society, an arts and literary club; the Oriel Lions, a drama society, which sometimes performs plays in one of the college’s quads; and occasional classes and events based on creative writing, film, and poetry reading. These continue a vivid literary tradition among Oriel students and fellows: among our former members are Sir Walter Raleigh, Matthew Arnold, and John Henry Newman, whom James Joyce described as ‘the greatest of English prose writers’. In recent years, we have also taken students in their third year for a residential reading and revision week, prior to their final exams.
One piece of recent written work is required. There will be no written test at interview, but all applicants will be expected to have taken the ELAT (www.elat.org.uk/). Candidates have two interviews in the college. As part of the process, candidates are given a short text to read and then discuss with interviewers; they are also expected to discuss their recent reading, both in and out of school.