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Appreciation And Maturity

A photo of a copy of Sense And Sensibility beside a glass of wine

I had a fantastic English teacher. Once, when we were watching an adaptation of a book (I forget which), she paused the video, telling us girls to look at the brooding eyes of the handsome actor. Perhaps it was stereotypical, but it was obvious it was more about her own attraction and was quite the funny moment. On my last day of school I told her that my music career dreams were just dreams; she told me I shouldn’t let go of them.

But it was her unapologetic admission in class that made her memorable to me. The inevitable day came when a student asked how we could be so sure an author had meant to say such-and-such through their book, how we could know for certain that what we were being taught was correct. Our teacher simply said we didn’t, and that we could only ever assume and suppose, no matter what other teachers said. Our future classes were better for it.

At that age it was impossible to truly appreciate that what you were being taught was the result of many years and many opinions – the compilation of the studies undertaken by those who have gone before us and who know the text better than we do, maybe better than we ever will. Indeed in my case it was only through blogging that I came to recognise themes and hidden meanings. And maybe we can’t say for certain that we are right, but we can say we’re pretty damn close.

It’s interesting, and I think this applies whether you’re actively writing about books or not, how we mature, finally interpreting all those meanings. In this way it’s sad that so many classics are introduced to people at school, before they are old enough to truly understand them, because they might then miss the wonders that dissecting a text, for study or leisure, can bring. I know that my writing here surpasses anything I ever thought at 15 years of age, simply because I know more about the world.

And it’s this, our knowledge, that allows us to understand themes, and see what our teachers saw in the books. We can know we’re right about Daphne du Maurier’s use of identity in Rebecca because we can empathise with the heroine’s need for love and to fit in; we can understand why Jane Austen’s work doesn’t require a lot of action because we can appreciate the social context she was writing in.

Knowledge is important, but even more than that, surely caring is paramount, too. We can know a lot of facts but if we don’t care about them, we won’t be inclined to study and again I think that’s what can set us apart from our younger years. I’m looking at this from one perspective of course, in my ‘time’ in my year group there were no passionate advocates of literature (or if there were they were silent about it) and I know that grades were everything, the actual lesson of no lasting importance.

How reflective of your own experience is this?



August 5, 2013, 12:23 pm

Yes, I think it’s truly life-changing to find a teacher who teaches you more than just the facts!


August 5, 2013, 12:51 pm

I wish I had such a fun teacher at school – I didn’t feel this way until University, when I came back to literature (in sorts).

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

August 6, 2013, 12:49 am

I know exactly what this is like. I also have felt, well how do you know? It’s not just in literature. How do you know that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds is really about LSD and not just a silly song (that I love of course, as a Beatles fan)? We don’t know, we can just guess at what the writer meant and go from there. Unless, of course, the writer is still alive and will tell you!

Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny’s Books)

August 6, 2013, 1:45 am

I remember being so grateful when a teacher would take a moment and break from party lines and just be straight with us. I think it’s easy, when you’re a kid or even a teenager, to feel quite adversarial about adults, and it’s easier when they won’t ever admit there are flaws in the adult position. I hated that. You’re lucky you had a teacher who was honest with you that way about literature.


August 6, 2013, 7:48 am

I too was lucky to have an excellent English teacher at high school. However then and now I have never been keen on critiquing books. I have noticed I pick up on potential underlying messages as an adult more. I would never pick apart each sentence to the extent though I was expected to by the curriculum at school because it just ruins the story for me.


August 7, 2013, 8:06 pm

Oh yes, this resonates with me! I (sadly) was one of those students who asked how we know what an author means in a certain passage/sentence (particularly in poetry, this used to bother me, all the interpretations). Now, as an adult, I see the purpose of this beyond just getting the right answer on the test. A book means so much more to me when I look more deeply at the details and attempt to find the “hidden” meanings. I wish I had appreciated that more in high school!


August 10, 2013, 12:22 pm

Wonderful post, Charlie! Your teaches seems to have been very inspiring and I am so jealous of you for that. I got a book recently that I read when I was in my teens and while flipping through and reading some of the passages, I see new things there that I didn’t see before. And it is not that there are actually new things there, but I am seeing it with new eyes. Our knowledge and experience definitely makes a difference when we read a book. I totally agree with you on that.



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