Congratulations! Huzzah! Whoop, I say to you, whoop again and thrice whoop! You have all achieved A Great Thing, and we are terribly excited to be meeting you. I’m Jem Bloomfield, and I’ll be in charge of the first-year literature module. So a lot of what will happen in the coming months will be, if not my fault, then certainly my responsibility. In order to evade this responsibility, I have disguised myself behind a beard, a tweed jacket and an air of absent-mindedness, in hopes that people will assume I’m not an academic but instead am cosplaying Professor Kirke.
Editor’s note: I am no longer in charge of the first-year lit module, though things are still probably my fault. I still have the beard and tweed, though, and friends have been kind enough to label my current look “simultaneously cosplaying Rubeus Hagrid and Gilderoy Lockhart”
Of course, one of the first things to be decided is which House you’ll be in. Or it will be decided once we’ve stopped Nathan Waddell using the Sorting Hat as a tea-cosy. It makes it really, really grumpy. Last year he used it to brew twelve pots of Earl Grey in a row whilst working on some book about Modernism, and it retaliated by putting twelve students in a row into Slytherin. We don’t even have a Slytherin House at Nottingham. Well, we didn’t then. There’s one now, and they all live together in a ruin in the grounds of Wollaton Park, muttering moodily and retouching their eyeliner. Still, at least we have a Sorting Hat. The Engineering Department has a Sorting Traffic Cone.
So, which House will it be? Will you find yourself in Hufflepuff, or Rivendell, or Sunnydale? Maybe you’ll be put into Serenity or Heorot? Could it be Stars Hollow for you, or Pemberley, or even the Confraternity of the Blessed Mary Berry? Wherever you end up, please remember to only wear your robes when you’re actually in Trent Building. Parading around them in other parts of the campus is considered bad form, and makes the other departments jealous. If necessary, you can store them in the English Common Room (on the English corridor, ground floor, two doors down from the School Office), or carry them in a gym bag. If you must spend a quiet half hour swooshing around in them and flapping the sleeves, it’s best to use the Performing Arts Studio (other side of the courtyard from the English corridor and down the steps.)
The current students can’t wait to meet you. Seriously, it’s like we promised them a squadron of puppies or something. The UoN Freshers Facebook page is a good place to connect with them, but for you lot the English Society Facebook page is particularly useful. Ask them absolutely anything, they’ll be happy to give you any pointers you need. Oh, except one thing. Just a tip: it’s not polite to ask them what their Patronus is, and definitely don’t ask them to produce it. A lot of them only learnt to do that at the end of their first year, and they can be shy about it. And frankly, you do not want to see Virginia Woolf come exploding through the wall in a cascade of light, denouncing the social and aesthetic restrictions of late-Victorian literary culture. And Jean Rhys is worse.
One thing you might want to ask instead is when the booksale will be taking place, where you can snap up secondhand copies of the deathless literary treasures you will be studying this year. You will love them forever. And you will totally not be trying to flog them to next year’s freshers, because you will have formed a lasting and profound bond with them.
Tbf, the course covers something like a thousand years or so of literature, plus drama, linguistics and creative writing. It’s unlikely you’ll end up loving every single one of your books, so maybe a few might make their way into next year’s booksale. The course is so wide that it might be a bit of a shock after A-levels. Given the grades you all just scored, it might be a little surprising that you’ll be crossing disciplinary boundaries between drama and medievalism, or linguistics and creative writing, and inevitably finding that you’re no longer absolutely the best at everything. No-one can be, given this kind of course.
But it has enormous benefits: you have the chance to explore all sorts of areas of the subject which most English courses barely even mention, let alone teaching them to you. By second year you may have decided you want to be a forensic linguist, a theatre director, or a scholar of Old Norse sagas. There are whole worlds of English Studies which you may not even have heard about. Over the next year, with us as your guides, you’ll be disappearing into those worlds and finding your place in them. Some you will leave at the end of first year, some you will keep visiting with affection for a while, and some you will decide feel eerily like home. Despite the fact that everything in that world might be written in Gothic lettering on the skins of dead animals. Those are the worlds you’ll keep exploring more and more deeply, until you can barely remember what it was like not to have known them. Until you start dreaming about them. Until you feel you owe them some obscure loyalty.
All of that is yet to come, though. At the moment, you’ve just accepted us and we’ve just accepted you. You’re going to be one of us, which is a pretty disturbing notion if you’ve met any of us. Joining the School of English doesn’t just involve signing on as a student, with us agreeing to teach you certain things and you accepting another set of essays and exams. It’s becoming part of a group of people who read, study, and discuss texts for months at a time. It’s a shared project which we’ve all taken on. Some of us will do it for a few years, and some for a few decades. Some for a lifetime. You probably don’t know yet which one you’ll turn out to be.
But as soon as you arrive you’re part of a community focused around reading, talking and thinking, to which we all contribute. The School’s life consists of all those conversations, all those discussions in seminars, and all those hours curled up around a book. Coming to Nottingham to study English means joining that culture, and sustaining it for the next few years. That’s one of the reasons why we’re so excited about you all arriving: who you are will change who we are as a School. Your ideas, your literary experiences, and your investigations through the subject, will shape our lives in the School during the coming years. It’s a prospect so remarkable that it seems to need the image of a magic castle, an enchanted lake and a fleet of tiny boats to express our anticipation.
Oh, and read Wolf Hall. It’s sort of a badge of honour amongst us. We’ve all read Wolf Hall, and we survived, and there’s no way you can take that from us. Alternatively, there’s a pretty good précis of the novel here.
Editor’s note: Wolf Hall is no longer on the syllabus, so only read it if you think it sounds an absolutely lark and you love Tudor historiography, and which of us doesn’t?