Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Set Texts

More influential than prizes, or time on the best seller list, or the applause of the critics in determining the lifespan of a literary text is its inclusion in the school syllabus.

John Mullan in the Guardian looks at how exam texts are chosen in Britain and the knock-on effect on the publishing world.

The two biggest novelists turning up on UK syllabuses turn out to be (surprise, surprise) Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan.

What set texts do you remember having to study? I had to do E. M. Forster's Passage to India, Shakespeare's King Lear and Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles for 'A' Level, all of which I loved. I suppose we read some poetry too, but I can't remember what.

I've also done a fair amount of teaching of set texts over the years, for O Level (in the UK and in Nigeria), for 'A' Level (UK), and Matriculation (here). My favourite book to teach? William Golding's Lord of the Flies: it stands rereading and is as contemporary and relevant as when it was first written. Runners up: Anita Desai's Village by the Sea, and Chinua Acebe's Things Fall Apart.

I'm really happy to see the move towards more contemporary texts in the classroom (in Britain at least). There is a serious need to revise the Malaysian syllabus - I know that a date has been set for it, and hope I will have more news on that before long.

Related Post:

Shakespeare the African (15/3/05)

6 comments:

Argus Lou said...

Yes! Yes, Bib. Sixth Form English Literature really did it for me. I'm so glad I insisted on switching from the Science stream in the face of everyone, including my parents, objecting to 'my silly move'. (Can you believe my Form Five Convent school in Perak did not offer English Lit?)

That little known 'Little Dorrit' by Charles Dickens, 'Moonstone' by W (I forget the author's name, sorry!), that less-read 'Coriolanus' by Shakespeare (no less tragic than Lear, Macbeth or Hamlet), 'Tess of D'Urbervilles' by Thomas Hardy; poems by Tennyson, poems 'Wasteland' and 'A Farewell to Arms' (tell me the poets' names, please). Great thanks to my Lit teacher Ms Quan in TAR College.

I enjoyed English Lit so much I retook my STPM the following year - seeing as my overall results spelt B,E,E,R. Ha ha - and rejoiced at having to study another seven books. Yahoo!

Anonymous said...

I had to do "Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa" and John Steinbeck's "The Pearl" for SPM.

Jane Sunshine said...

I did these text for the STPM: Shakespeare-Tempest and Macbeth,
Poems: The Romantics-Keats, Wordsworth etc,
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Rasselas by Samuel Johnson

Alex Tang said...

Gosh, I must be ancient. I remember studying Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Durell's "My Family and Other Animals" for my SPM.

I still love Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. I remember going to the British Council and borrowing a vinyl recording of the play. It gave me hours of enjoyment in listening. Somehow, I always felt Shakespeare's works need to be listened to rather than read.

animah said...

To Argus Lou: The Wasteland is by TS Elliot, Moonstone is Wilkie Collins. Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway.

Did English Lit throughout the 80s. It included Things Fall Apart, Pride & Prejudice (abridged), The Merchant of Venice, Jane Eyre (now enjoying a revival in the UK due to a brilliant new BBC serialisation) and a brilliant South African novel, how can I forget the title!
Surprisingly, the Shakespeare moved me most and is what I remember the best.
I did Malay books too. One was an Osman Awang, and another a Khatijah something - will check. We did the old classical Malay which I had great difficulty with then, but would love to read again.

Argus Lou said...

Thanks, Animah. It's all coming back to me now - was it Meatloaf or that Canadian woman singer who mouthed this line so tunefully? ^_^