First Encounters with the Faculty of English by Oonagh Devitt Tremblay

‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’
– Toni Morrison

The above quotation can be found on one of the many placards that adorn the walls of the Faculty of English, which feature quotations from writers and prominent thinkers. As a foreigner and new student to Cambridge, Morrison’s sentiment is well received.

Throughout the process of applying to graduate school at Cambridge, the Faculty of English may evoke feelings of intimidation, mingled of course with the nervous excitement that accompanies any sort of application or induction procedure. Whether applying from abroad or more locally, these feelings are natural and they will linger beyond the confirmation of admission, dissipating only when one finally steps through the doors of the Faculty.

Upon arrival at Cambridge, one’s days are consumed by a seemingly endless list of to-dos, ranging from securing a bank account (if arriving from abroad) to Welcome Week events, College orientation and more. This hectic schedule can seem daunting and even isolating at times – one goes from meeting to meeting, event to event, trekking through Cambridge and the relative unknown.

Amidst all this novelty, the English Faculty feels familiar and human from the outset. When I went to retrieve my Welcome Package from the Degree Committee Office, I said my name and was immediately recognized by the secretary, despite having never met. When I struggled attempting to print my reading material in the English Faculty Library, one of the librarians admitted that she too finds the printers confusing at times and she invited me to print the document from her computer.

Now that seminars have commenced and I have become more at home in Cambridge and comfortable within the Faculty, I feel almost guilty for my reaction of surprise towards the humility I was greeted with in the early days. The Faculty of English is not a frightening place and the people within its walls are warm and compassionate. But more importantly the walls of the building itself communicate messages of inspiration to all who enter. Morrison’s words imply that whatever one wants to read is worthy of being written – this is a message of inclusivity, of openness, of non-judgment. If you have a question, you may ask it without fear, if you have an idea, you may share it without hesitation. Your questions will be answered, your ideas will be respected and your thoughts will be valued. Whether a newcomer, or returning student, the English Faculty welcomes you.

Oonagh Devitt Tremblay, incoming Eighteenth-Century and
Romantic Studies M.Phil. Student


Report on the 2018 Graduate Conferences by Clare Jones

‘Buzz, buzz’ goes Hamlet in Act 2, and ‘buzz, buzz’ went the corridors of the Cambridge Faculty of English for two days this weekend whilst it became a hive of scholarly activity and exchange. Candidates from five different MPhil strands had collaborated for over six months to prepare and launch two distinct day-long conferences on literature ranging from the twelfth-century Orrmulum to Nabokov’s Pale Fire.

On Friday, ‘Attention & Distraction’ honed in on the virtues and vicissitudes of attentiveness before 1750. With three panels (with Cambridge faculty chairs) and a final plenary address about flow in the writing process given by Professor Diane Purkiss, the conference moved gracefully through time and space, covering everything from Elephant Hawk moths that function as symbols for ammonium salts to the material conditions and cultural meanings of blankness in early modern notebooks. For all the members of the graduate student committee which organized the conference (organizing finance, publicity, logistics and schedules), it was a satisfying afternoon.

On Saturday, ‘Discourses and Dialogues’ investigated diverse interdisciplinary topics that inform literary criticism with three panels (with student chairs) and a final poetry reading. The conference took a more expansive, informal shape as the conveners wished to prioritize opportunity for conversations between speakers and delegates. Questions generated and germinated were wide-ranging, touching upon the anthropological in the writings of Virginia Woolf, the humble and humorous in the writings of T. S. Eliot, and the altogether silent in the writings of Margaret Atwood. All the speakers, myself included, had the opportunity to share current research in a formal setting, and connect dots between our current research and larger debates in science, art, and history.

On Thursday, May 10, the Faculty of English will play host to a Graduate Symposium in American Literature, with papers from Cambridge MPhil and PhD students studying American Literature, so the ‘buzz, buzz’ continues, ever and anon.

Clare Jones, Eighteenth-Century and Romantic Studies M.Phil.