Literature personal statement

Literature possesses many powers. It can be beautiful and appalling, transcendent and horrific. Kafka tells us that “ A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” It is for all these reasons and many more that I wish to study English. It goes without saying that I already deeply enjoy literature, but more importantly I want to understand it as fully as possible, in all its transcendence and horror. Why English then? English is the language in which I feel most naturally at home in, but more importantly I feel that it is a unique and hugely rich language. From mediaeval ballads that fuse together French and Saxon to modern post-colonial novels that blend the English used by the forces of empire with native languages and cultures, English carries with it an immensely rich amount of history. However it is also exceptionally immediate, its history does not burden it down and the vast array of works being created today include what will surely remain masterpieces long into the future. It is for all these reasons that I want to study English at university. The prospect of studying the subject at an English university is doubly exciting because it would allow me to experience the context in which English was born as well as where it is going since the UK has become a hub of post-colonial literature by the likes of Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith.

My passion for English literature is shown in the courses that I currently taking. I am taking four final year English courses: English (the standard course), Studies in Literature, Media Studies and Creative Writing. Last year I also took two final year AP courses, French and European History, both excellent complements to English. I received a mark of five on both AP exams as well as 790 and 770 in the Writing and Reading sections of the SAT Reasoning Test which I took in June. I am also planning to take SAT Subject Tests in Literature, History and French in December as well as the Literature AP exam in May. I have received excellent marks in school; my average last year was 92% (A+) and I received a 97% in English. Reading books as diverse as The Canterbury Tales, Jane Eyre and Under the Volcano was not only hugely enjoyable, but also gave me a sense of the way that English continues to change and adapt. This was underscored by a unit studying the history of the English language, beginning just after the collapse of the Roman Empire and ending in the present.

My passion for literature has not been a detriment to success in other areas of my life, on the contrary it has likely helped me understand the world better. I am President of my school's debating union, which means that I am responsible for promoting and teaching debating within the school as well as organising trips to tournaments across Canada. I myself have been extremely successful in competition and will be attending the North American Championships this November. I have been able to apply my love and knowledge of literature to this endeavour in order to improve my oratorical skills. I am also a keen visual artist and love making connections in my artwork to literature as well as current issues in the world. Last year I participated in a Co-op Work Placement at a local art collective and gallery as a programming intern, which involved speaking to visitors; researching artists, funding and other gallery related materials; organising and cataloguing exhibit submissions as well as installing and taking down shows.

I hope that by following my passion for English Literature in the language's birthplace I can not only gain a deep and intimate knowledge and understanding of literature, but also learn to use that understanding to help understand the world I live in.


Literature acts as a lens through which we can understand and view the world. The world can be a harsh and incomprehensible place, and for me literature helps to show that there is nothing definite, that everything and everyone is full of nuances. Even traditionally evil characters like Satan in Paradise Lost and Medea in Euripides' play present incredibly diverse and contradictory motives, desires and personality that move their characters beyond a devil or a murderess. The best literature reflects my world, time and place changed, back at me, leading me to realise that while historical circumstances change beyond recognition, universal human truths do not. The more I read, discuss and think, the greater my understanding grows; not just of literature itself but of myriad other concepts. Math is said to help one think logically and rationally; in my mind literature helps one think humanly.
Literature of course, is built of language. In addition English, my mother tongue, I have also learned German and French. Learning these languages has helped me to better appreciate the historical construction of English; the way it has evolved under the influence of many other tongues. I learned German in 2006 when I spent six months in Berlin, a terrifyingly wonderful experience. Terrifying because it require plunging into an entirely new and unfamiliar atmosphere --new language; people; school-- but rewarding because I was living in one of the world's most fascinating. In Berlin I saw not only great art and culture, but also a living and continually evolving history, and the way a location has reacted to some of the most cataclysmic events in history.
Back in Toronto, I have become an avid debater and am now the President of my school's debating union. The art of argument is one that I greatly enjoy and simply discussing an issue passionately, whether it be globalisation of the economy or of literature, is tremendously rewarding for me. I often do very well at tournaments, but the most rewarding part of debating is when I can really understand an issue, not just facts and figures, but also the philosophical implications of it. My other great interest is Fine Art, both actively and passively. I love creating works of not just beauty, but also of meaning, to try and convey the same truths that a work of literature does through visual means. I also love to have an artwork give me the same understanding that a novel does. This led me to a Co-op Placement for school last year at an art gallery, where I was responsible for communicating with guests, research and exhibit installation. Also as part of my co-op, I worked with a local artist, for whom I acted as a studio assistant, but more importantly who provided me with invaluable help in developing my own ideas. I have also had the good fortune to have travelled quite extensively. I have recognised Rome as I saw it in Piranesi's etchings and saw the Berlin I read of in Isherwood's memoirs. Travelling has also exposed me to new cultures, customs and sights in a more immediate way than any other media could.
Kafka said 'A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.' Characters like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus with whom I feel immediate affinity, help me understand not only the world, but myself. Like Dedalus, I am a student of literature and art. In addition to two straightforward literature courses, I also take creative writing and media studies, which both allow me to explore different forms of expression. I hope to study English at university so that I can continue to explore the almost boundless amount of literature with other eager students, to discuss, debate and ultimately to better understand our world.

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This personal statement was written by emiliocdj for application in 2009.

emiliocdj's Comments

Personal Statement for Canadian Application to read english at Cambridge or UCL. I've written two since I was told by some to be more self-expressive and subtle (2) and by others to very explicitly state my credentials (1).


This personal statement is unrated


You reppeat yourself in some

You reppeat yourself in some areas and perhaps your use of the words horrific and transcendent are slightly too limited. You could also talk in more depth about a favourite book.

although i agree it is a

although i agree it is a little repetitive, i would definately accept it if i was an admissions tutor, it's a lot better than most on here. i love the contrast between this and the american one.

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