Could mortal lip divine
The undeveloped freight
Of a delivered syllable
Twould crumble with the weight
Emily Dickinson’s tiny poem written in the late nineteenth century testifies to the importance of words: it invites the close-reading of texts to release inner meanings. Ultimately, this is the central activity of the study of literature. Whether it be the marrying games of Jane Austen, the emotional wildness of the Bronte sisters, or the wartime engagements of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - enjoying reading is certainly part of what we do. But in the English department, it’s our belief that enjoyment is enhanced by the understanding of complexity; by appreciating richness.
Every year, nearly 40 students are engaged in pursuing literary culture on the AS course, and nearly 30 enjoy the experience so much they continue to A2. Works are not studied in isolation but paired to allow comparisons and contrasts to be drawn. This can mean identifying similarities between the 17th century metaphysical poetry of John Donne and the love poetry of the current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, or finding links between the play Dr Faustus by Shakespeare’s contemporary, Christopher Marlowe and the strange, surreal poem ‘Goblin Market’ by Victorian poet Elizabeth Browning. Both Upper and Lower Sixth courses have a significant element of coursework, and in both years encounters with ‘unseen’ poems also form part of the examination assessment. Readers need to be enthusiastic and informed about literary style and practice in each of the areas of drama, poetry and prose.
Students reading for the IB Diploma study both English and literature from other cultures at either Higher or Standard Level, reading a larger number of works than at A Level, from a wider background. The current courses include French, Latin American, Spanish, German and American books of international renown and influence: Like Water for Chocolate, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The House of Bernarda Alba, The Metamorphosis, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as well as classics of English Literature, such as Far From the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Shakespeare plays, such as Othello, Anthony and Cleopatra, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Whether studying for IB or A Level, personal response and discussion is at the heart of our study. Students debate interpretations – often with surprising passion – present the results of their own reading and research; attend theatrical performances, as well as write essays. The ability to hone a sentence to say exactly what is meant, to structure an argument and incorporate telling detail - like a lawyer putting forward a case for the prosecution - and to survey penetratingly a large quantity of diverse material are some of the skills you should come away with at the end of the course.
In the end, we aim to foster a love for words and the desire to sound out tiny details that make all the difference to subjects that carry meaning for society at large. Studying English is, at its best, a personal quest for both emotional and intellectual fulfilment.
To view the English curriculum please click here.
To view the latest edition of Brentwood School's Literary Magazine please click here.
Dr Simon Evans
Head of Department
Dr Evans has a specialisation in the works of the Irish writer James Joyce, and enjoys texts that are impenetrable and humorous. His favourite book of the 20th century is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, but he is also passionate about the poetry and literature of the past, and loves to read aloud. He believes that the best study of literature is a dialogue with the finest minds of the past, and seeks to introduce his students into that conversation today.
Mrs Mary Callender
Mrs Callender's appetite for literature is wide ranging and far reaching and consequently she struggles to pinpoint a particular aspect as being her favourite. She does however have a soft spot for Thomas Hardy and considers him a much undervalued poet as well as an inspiring novelist. Her enthusiasm and excitement for her subject always spills into her lessons.
Mrs Linda Hurlock
Mrs Hurlock’s career in education spans teaching in both tertiary and secondary education – the last ten years at Brentwood School. She is especially interested in magic-realism and has a great admiration for the works of Angela Carter and Salman Rushdie. Despite a specialisation in modern literature, her favourite novel is ‘Jane Eyre’ – first read at the age of ten and regularly since. She is also an admirer of Auden and Houseman. Mrs Hurlock is keen to foster independent thinkers and proactive learners and like Angela Carter believes that:
“Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.”
Mr Steven Taylor
Mr Taylor has a keen interest in Gothic fiction old and new, in particular the vampire genre. This grew out of a love of old Universal and Hammer horror films which he still watches. He loves Chaucer and thinks that Christopher Marlowe is a better playwright than Shakespeare. Alan Bennett, David Sedaris and Dylan Thomas also feature heavily among his favourite writers. Mr Taylor has a passion for musical theatre, too.
Mr Stephen Salisbury
Mr Salisbury enjoys a wide variety of English literature and is passionate about teaching and sharing it. He particularly enjoys the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, especially The Canterbury Tales, for its dry humour and character depiction.
The Romantic movement, especially Wordsworth continue to inspire him. By a similar token the works of EM Forster are long time favourites and sparked a love for the way he explores and satirises the English abroad. Graham Greene would rank as his favourite modern novelist. Unsurprisingly, he has a large library of cricket books enjoying the autobiographies of cricketers of The Golden Age.
“gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.”
Mr Oliver Murley
Mr Murley is a keen reader of literature. His favourite classic author is John Steinbeck with East of Eden being amongst his favourite books. He also reads contemporary authors from around the world including the surreal imaginings of Haruki Murakami, the understated power of Kazuo Ishiguro and the complex, often brutal yet sensitive portrayals of the human psyche characterised by Cormac McCarthy and Craig Davidson. He likes to encourage his students to read as much as possible as a way to enhance their analytical, empathetic and creative writing skills.
Mr Robert Higgins
Mr Higgins is a huge fan of Charles Dickens, and likes nothing better than to get lost in the detail and social commentary of his works. His favourite text to teach is ‘Othello’, but his favourite Shakespearean work is ‘As you Like It’, and he is rather proud of the fact that few people agree with him. Mr Higgins believes passionately in the importance of reading, and its power to transport and improve readers in the early years of their secondary education. As such, students in his class can expect a close monitoring of their reading habits, as well as encouragement to push their perceived ideas about preferred genres and authors. When he is not teaching, Mr Higgins can usually be found with his head in a travel guide, as he continues to seek out and experience the best dive sites around the world.
Mr Ryan Irvine
Mr Irvine was raised on the works of Lewis and Tolkein and his guilty pleasure has been fantasy and science fiction literature ever since. He thoroughly recommends the haunting My Swordhand is Singing by Marcus Sedgewick and the epic Belgariad series by David Eddings. Currently in the middle of an experiment to write a novel in a year, Mr Irvine values creativity and a deep enjoyment of literature of all types. He believes that there is a surpassing value in literature to reveal truth where reality sometimes fails to do so.
Mrs Hayley Barker
Mrs Barker is passionate about a wide variety of literature, but Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is the novel she loves most of all. She describes it as a bleak masterpiece, years ahead of its time, about a destructive and all-consuming love. As well as being an avid reader, Mrs Barker loves to write and has recently completed her first novel, a magical tale aimed at a teenage audience. She is currently submitting it hopefully to agents and publishers….watch this space!