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English at Magdalen

“Some say life is the thing, but I prefer reading”, Logan Pearsall Smith once suggested – only half-joking – and many readers might agree with him. However, the study of English should not be thought of as an escape from real life; it is, rather, a way of learning how to engage with real life through fresh eyes and fresh ears.

Over the course of a three-year English degree at Magdalen, you will be expected to read widely and deeply in every period from Old English to contemporary writing. From your first term onwards, you will have the opportunity to research authors and topics that particularly interest you, and you will be able to discuss your work with experts who are genuinely interested in what you have to say. And throughout, by engaging with some of the finest writing in the language, you will learn how to read more closely, think more carefully, and write more precisely. As well as being a source of great pleasure, these are skills that support a wide range of careers: recent Magdalen English graduates are currently working as diplomats, actors, teachers, television directors, academics, management consultants, and solicitors.

In addition to a well-stocked library, Magdalen has an active drama society (the Magdalen Players) and a poetry society (the John Florio Society) that meets regularly to discuss the members’ own work. Former students and Fellows of the College include Oscar Wilde, John Betjeman, C. S. Lewis, Seamus Heaney, Alan Hollinghurst, Julian Barnes, James Fenton, Peter Brook, Katie Mitchell, and Ian Hislop.

Magdalen has three Tutorial Fellows in English, together with several Lecturers. The range of their research interests means that most undergraduate teaching is done within the College, particularly in the first two years, although we also use external tutors for certain specialized options in the final year of the course.

We admit up to 8 students each year for the single honours degree in English Language and Literature, and also admit students for joint degrees in Classics and English, and Modern Languages and English.