English Literature Personal Statement
Although I have always been a reader, I really began to explore literature in the sixth form.
This deeper interest was sparked by Wilde's 'Salome'; I found it provoked senses and feelings
previously unknown. This led me to Decadent and Symbolist works such as Huysmans' 'A Rebours',
Poe, Baudelaire and Gautier, and the art of Moreau, Redon and Kiefer. Q's 'On the Art of
Writing' helped me to write in a clearer style, and his conviction that literature should be
studied as an end in itself gave me a strong urge to read English, rather than Maths or
Physics. It has come to the stage now where I could not imagine a different course; it is
English that excites me and ignites my curiosity and passion.
Having won an Assisted Place at Truro School, I became particularly involved in music, drama
and writing. Drama has long been important to me; I have acted in plays of all kinds, and had
the lead role in Durrenmatt's 'The Visit' last year. I took grades in the LAMDA system,
culminating in two Gold Medals with Distinction. I have been writing a verse play of
Cinderella, emphasising the Chinese and Egyptian elements in the story. I contributed to
school magazines, including articles on 'Decadence' and 'The Ideal Woman' (from the Venus of
Berekhat-Ram to Eliot's 'La Figlia che Piange'). In my last term I was awarded the Sixth Form
Prizes for English and Poetry. Music is important too: I sang in the Senior Choir, performed
in and ran the annual Charity Concert, and was the singer-songwriter in a rock band: 'The Red
Shoes'. My interest in music has developed lately, again prompted by 'Salome'. Preparing to
play Herod, I was encouraged to listen to Satie's 'Gnossiennes' to give me a sense of that
depraved, exotic atmosphere, and this led me to a new world that included Debussy, Webern,
Messiaen, Tallis and Bach.
Last year I read 'Moby Dick'. I found it so inspirational, so enormous, and as DH Lawrence
said of 'such considerable tiresomeness' that I dropped my coursework on WW1 poetry and gained
permission to write it on 'Moby Dick' instead. I am now reading Urquhart's translation of
Rabelais' 'Gargantua', which I came to circuitously. We studied Angela Carter's 'Wise
Children' in class, and the words 'carnivalesque' and 'grotesque' were bandied about so much
that I looked up their literary definitions and found Bakhtin's criticism of Rabelais. I
learnt that Melville was deeply influenced by Rabelais, and I was surprised to find how funny
(and foul) a very long dead French writer could be. I have become fond of Eliot, having read
'Prufrock', 'Four Quartets' and 'The Wasteland'; this led me in opposite directions: to Ted
Hughes and John Donne. Hughes' 'Crow' fascinates me, with its depiction of fate as inherently
linked to nature and the course of the world, and life to violence.
I have just read Shelley's 'Laon and Cythna'; at first I found his portrayal of non-violent
revolution almost ridiculous but later came to regard it less sceptically. This summer I also
enjoyed Hemingway's 'Old Man and the Sea', Joyce's 'Portrait of the Artist' and Woolf's 'The
Waves'. Having read Sophocles' Theban plays, Plato's 'Symposium' and the chapters on Ancient
Greece in 'A History of Western Philosophy', I want to learn Greek, but this year I shall be
working in Paris to learn French in the hope of enjoying some untranslated French literature.
I also plan to read translations of Homer and Euripides, a study of British folklore
(including the Fisher King, which should help my understanding of Eliot), Bowra on the
Palaeolithic roots of literature, some medieval Cornish poems and more Joyce, who has piqued
My reasons for wanting to read English at university are that I want to gain the skills to
unravel and enjoy, at all levels, the many works of literature, to bring structure and clarity
to my own reasoning, to begin to comprehend the greatness of the great writers and,
ultimately, to hope that my life will in some way be enriched by theirs.
This personal statement was written by cransimuth for application in 2008.
A Tragedy in Four Acts