By Claire Jow (23A01B)
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the character Caroline Bingley exclaims, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” If these words ring true for you, you might want to consider taking H2 Literature in JC. (Though, admittedly, Caroline was being rather deceitful at this point as she was trying to impress Mr Darcy; remember not to quote out of context, everyone!)
What’s the syllabus for H2 Lit? What is the format of the A-level paper like?
The A-level paper is split into two papers: Paper 1 titled “Reading Literature”, and Paper 2 focusing on the English Renaissance.
Paper 1, split into three sections, explores the three main literary genres of poetry, prose and drama.
In poetry comparison, two unseen poems are given, and candidates are expected to write an essay making a comparison between them—using detailed analysis as well as textual evidence, of course! Students will have the choice of choosing between two sets of poems.
In the prose section, students can choose to write a Passage-Based Question (PBQ), responding to a passage from the set text, or an essay question, focusing on the presentation of characters or thematic concerns. Presently, the text that students study in RI is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for the Arts/Science stream, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the Humanities classes.
In the last section, candidates once again have the choice between a PBQ and an essay question. RI students are studying Saint Joan, a play by George Bernard Shaw.
Paper 2—Renaissance Literature—might sound daunting to some. You might find the texts hard to comprehend at first—who uses words like “thine” and “thee” anymore? Fret not, for after nearly two years of studying RenLit, you might find that your understanding has improved dramatically, and will slowly come to appreciate it. The Renaissance era explored what it was like to love, as well as contemplate ideas of human virtue, art, and science. If you like studying poetry with strikingly beautiful imagery and rhythmic lines, complete with ideas from Greek philosophy and mythology as well as Christianity, the RenLit texts might just become your favourite. Paper 2 consists of one unseen passage, one comparison of two texts, and one essay. The Arts/Science stream will study Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, while the Humanities classes will study sonnets from Astrophil and Stella by Sir Philip Sidney. Additionally, all H2 Literature students will read the 21 selected poems of Andrew Marvell and The Tempest by Shakespeare.
A common myth when it comes to Literature is that you “don’t need to study” for it. This is (unfortunately) not true. While Lit might have less content to study than, say, Biology, you still need to invest a significant amount of time understanding the themes in the texts, as well as learning to pick out quotes that can effectively bring a point across. (Though you are allowed to bring the texts into the exam, so memorisation is not necessarily required.) You will also need some time to understand new concepts in the texts, like the feudal hierarchy in Saint Joan, or the Neoplatonic soul in Sidney’s work.
What are Lit lessons like?
JC Literature is more rigorous, so there are no longer any creative writing assignments that you might have had in secondary school. (This might be good news for students who hated writing their own poetry.) However, many students still find Lit lessons enjoyable and fun.
H2 Lit takes up several periods in a week: 3 blocks for the Humanities classes and 2 blocks for the Arts/Science stream. Different teachers will be teaching different texts within the term or the year, so you must be able to juggle multiple lectures and tutorials for Lit within a single week.
If you took Lit in secondary school, the format of lessons (now known as tutorials) is largely the same—teachers will go through texts while students are highly encouraged to discuss their ideas or ask questions if needed. To make the best out of tutorial time, it is necessary to read your set texts beforehand. (And no, SparkNotes summaries are NOT a good replacement!)
Graded assignments—usually a take-home essay or PBQ—are done about once a term for each text.
Do you need to have taken Lit in secondary school to take Lit in JC?
Absolutely not. While it might help to use analysis skills taught by your secondary school teachers, there are many students who have managed to do well in Lit in JC without having taken it in Year 3 and 4. “Many of the skills needed in Lit are rather intuitive,” says Emily Tan (23A01C). “It also helps to learn in an environment where others are taking the same subject.”
That sounds like a lot of work. So why should I take Lit?
Well, to put it simply, because you love it. The Literature community in RI is vibrant and passionate with a strong love for the subject, which is what keeps us pushing through whenever we get a ‘C’ for a paper or get frustrated because we just don’t understand why Joan wouldn’t stop talking back to important authority figures.
Lit students also get to experience the fun that is Lit Week: a week dedicated to Literature-based activities culminating in the exciting and extremely memorable Lit Night (read more at our article here!).
All in all, Literature is the study of the human condition across time and space, and it is a fascinating window into the lives of others. Transcending boundaries of gender, class or nationality, it’s a timeless art that allows us to contemplate the lives of others and, in turn, the lives of our own, making it a worthwhile subject to study.