December 8, 2007


TDR Interview: Diane Purkiss (Emily Ghods, December 8, 2007, The Dartmouth Review)

Professor Diane Purkiss is an Oxford don, and a lecturer and tutor on English literature, classical Greek influences on Renaissance literature, and the Western canon generally. She has been published extensively on Shakespeare, and her book Shakespeare and the Supernatural will be published next year by Routledge; on a related theme, her The Dissolution of the English Monasteries will be published by HarperCollins in 2010. She also publishes children’s literature under the pen-name Tobias Druitt with her twelve-year old son Michael, and has an interest in folklore and myth as a result. She sat down with The Dartmouth Review last month for a chat about literature, both English and American. [...]

TDR: Are you a proponent of a Great Books course of study, then? Of instituting a core curriculum?

DP: Yes. I think that the problem with the British education system of early specialization is that it asks students to make decisions at a very young age, having not equipped them with the resources to make those decisions. If you come from a very ropey state [public] school, or indeed a ropey independent school, and you haven’t been taught the humanities very well, it is very difficult to choose your three A-level subjects, which are the courses you decide upon taking at secondary school.

It’s quite possible to have someone who has randomly done English, History, and Biology, who may know nothing at all about French literature or very much of anything except those three subjects. Then we thrust them into the fast-stream of European culture at Oxford and it’s quite tough.

Your A-level subjects are meant to prepare you for those subjects in college which you still study, though they seldom do that. The kinds of books that are set for English A-level are very close to the kinds of books that people are never going to look at even once in tertiary school [college], mainly middlebrow novels from the Booker shortlist. [...]

TDR: You mentioned Philip Roth and some more controversial figures of the literary canon earlier. In terms of American literature and its reception in England, who is respected, who is not respected, and who deserves respect?

DP: I don’t know really, because I don’t know very many American literature scholars and what they think about American literature. But if you are talking about normal and intelligent readers, then for my own part—not that I’m speaking for an entire class of readers—American poetry is now the best lyric poetry in the English speaking world. The late 20th century has seen a stupendous flowering, from the 1960s on (from the New York School on), of great poetry; I would rather read John Ashbery than any British Isles poet, except Geoffrey Hill. He’s the only poet standing on par with the guys still publishing in America.

Not coincidentally, Professor Hill spent years in America.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 8, 2007 2:41 PM

Bill Murray forever ruined taking seriously any mention of French Literature or Poetry with his spontaneous guffaw of incredulity in Groundhog Day.

"La fille que j'aimera..."

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at December 8, 2007 8:16 PM