Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Wonderful World of English Literature

Studying literature involves the development of sophisticated reading skills and of an ability to place literary texts in their wider intellectual and historical contexts. It also requires you to consider the critical processes by which you analyse and judge, to learn about literary form and technique, and to study the development of the English language. Literature is about life and the world we live in and I believe that the love for reading literary texts should be inculcated into the students as early as Year One as this would not only enhance their reading skills but also their thinking and analytical skills as well. Sad to say, the majority of our Malaysian students do not like to read English books and when it comes to literature classics, it's a big NO. Even our undergraduate lit students would go around looking for a summary of the literary texts online just for the purposes of completing their assignments - not because they want to read. They would do anything at all costs to avoid reading the complete and unabridged version of the texts. How sad! Perhaps it's time that something is done to change our students' learning attitude and particularly their attitude towards the English subjects. When it comes to English education, the Malaysian Government is never stingy but it is meaningless for the Malaysian Government to spend so much to improve our students' proficiency in English when their negative attitude towards this language remains unchanged. Much would depend on our Malaysian students i.e. if they don't want to learn, nothing can force them.

My interest in English literature started way back during my school days thanks to my father and his collection of timeless literature classics. Although my father had the almost complete set of English literature classics on his book shelf, I did not really begin to read these texts until I was 13. Prior to that (during my primary school days), I was only interested in Enid Blyton's works.

I started reading Enid Blyton's works at the age of eleven (standard 5) as this was the trend at that time. 'Mr Pink Whistle Interferes' and 'Anytime Tales' were my favourite at that time. However, this trend has changed now and what is really saddening is that many of our graduates of the present era cannot even afford to read even one these children books or to be exact they can't even read one page of it because they don't understand the words in it.

Enid Blyton's 'Those Dreadful Children', 'The Naughtiest Girl is the Monitor', 'Secret Seven', and 'Five Go Down to the Sea' were some of my favourite books when I was 12 (standard 6). But once I entered secondary school, these books seemed to be a bit childish to me or perhaps  I should say that I had already grown up then and these children books could no longer satisfy my taste. Many of these children books were already given away when I entered secondary school. These are amongst  the few books that I am still having with me now.

My interest in English literature actually began at the age of 13 when I was in Form One. That year, we studied three English literary texts namely, 'Little Women' (Louisa M. Alcott), 'Lorna Doone' (R.D. Blackmore), and 'An Anthropology of Poems'. "Little Women' and 'Lorna Doone' seemed familiar to me because I had seen them many times on my father's book shelf. Out of curiosity, I started reading the complete and unabridged versions of these texts (belonging to my father) and it was only then that I discovered the differences between the complete and unabridged versions and the simplified versions of the texts. After reading through the complete and unabridged versions of these literary texts, the desire to read literature classics had since begun. I went on to read 'Good Wives' and 'Jo's Boys' in the same year. Above are photos of the book 'Little Women' which belongs to my father and 'Jo's Boys' (Louisa M. Alcott) which was given to me by a church member.

I have read 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' countless times when I was in Form One as I have the habit of reading my favourite texts over and over again. Above are the newer texts of 'Little Women' and 'Good Wives' which I bought when I first started teaching. The old ones have become so worn out that I really need to get some new ones.

When I was 14 (Form 2), we did 'Pride and Prejudice' (Jane Austen) for our literature classes. As usual, I went to my father's book shelf to look for the complete and unabridged version of the text. As though 'Pride and Prejudice' alone was not enough, I went on to read 'Emma', 'Sense and Sensibility', and 'Mansfield Park'. My interest in the works of Jane Austen had since begun. (If you click on the above photo, you can see my father's name written on one of the novels).

 However, it was not until I was doing my teaching practice (praktikum) at SK Tanjong Rambutan that I got to read the complete novels of Jane Austen. I also made use of the opportunity to study the 'New American Bible' thoroughly during this period of my life. Austen's works and the Bible were what kept me company for those 5 months of teaching practice. Time seemed to fly with the company of these books.

When I was in form 2, my schoolmates had the habit of reading the Mills & Boons series of love stories and of course I did persuade my mom to buy those books for me as I wanted to follow the tide. However, what I got was a big 'NO' from her. All she said was that I could read free of charge from my father's book shelf. So, instead of reading Mills and Boons, I read the works of Jane Austen and Pearl S. Buck. I had no idea why I was attracted to Pearl S. Buck's 'Portrait of a Marriage' at first sight but this was the novel that helped me to get started with her works and I had since gone on to read the rest.

Amongst these fours novels, 'Voices in the House' is the one I like best. However, I still feel that 'The Hidden Flower' is still the best Pearl S. Buck novel. I even wrote a script about it when I was in Form 2 in the hope that I would be able to make a movie out of it when I grew up. My ambition was to be an actress then and I really wanted to play the role of Josui Sakai in the movie.

Pearl S. Buck's works always bring back beautiful memories of my Form 2 years. Every page of it has a beautiful memory of those good old days. At 14, life was simply gorgeous. Thanks to my father for his collection of Pearl S. Buck's novels.

I started reading the Bronte sisters' work at 16 when I was in Form 4. I did not read much when I was in Form 3 because I had to study for my SRP (Sijil Rendah Pelajaran) Examination. (If you click on the above photo, you can see my father's name written clearly on his novels).

I have read 'Jane Eyre' so many times when I was in Form 4 that the book has become too worn out to photograph. Luckily, I managed to get a new one. 'Wuthering Heights' is also one of my favourite novels, and like 'Jane Eyre', I have also read it countless times. However, I did not get to read 'Wuthering Heights' when I was in Form 4 because one of my cousin brothers took the book for his Form 6 literature classes. I only bought 'Wuthering Heights' after I started teaching.

 The works of Daphne du Maurier: My Cousin Rachel, Kiss Me Again, Stranger, The Scapegoat, and The Progress of Julius.
'Jamaica Inn' (Daphne du Maurier) was my favourite book when I was 18 (Lower Six). I did a lot of reading whilst waiting for my SPM results. Perhaps I should be thankful to my father for his literature classics collection because that was what gave me a start in English literature at an early age. After I started teaching, my love for English literature continued and I went on to read more and buy more and more books. Below are photos of some of the literary texts in my collection which I bought with my own money.
The works of Charles Dickens - The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, and A Tale of Two Cities. You will love 'A Tale of Two Cities'.

The works of Joseph Conrad: Do you notice that I have two copies of 'Nostromo'?

The works of Thomas Hardy: Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Trumpet Major, A Pair of Blue Eyes, The Woodlanders, Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy's works have remained to be my favourite all these years. I love 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles' most followed by 'Jude the Obscure' - Hardy's most controversial novels.

The works of George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf

The works of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Robert Louis Stevenson

Never miss out Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'Scarlet Letter' & 'House of the Seven Gables',  Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', John Milton's 'Paradise Lost', Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', Amy Tan's 'Joy Luck Club', and Baroness Orczy's 'Scarlet Pimpernel'.

These books should be read by all primary school children! But how many of them would ever bother to read them? Or can they ever read them? What can the teachers do to encourage their students to read? Did our English teachers read these books when they were young? Sad to say, the majority of Malaysians do not like to read English books. 

The works of Anthony Trollope, Sir Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Gaskell, James Joyce, Wilkie Collins, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Why is it so difficult for our Form One students to read and understand the simplified picture version of Sherlock Holmes' 'Boscombe Valley Mystery when they are given the whole year to read such a simple thing? Perhaps it's time that something must be done about this!

The 70 Best Tales of Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde

The Great Tales of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

And of course one cannot leave out the complete works of William Shakespeare. The world of English Literature would not be complete without his works.

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