I have only dimmed memories of my time there, having lived 'out' and at at some distance away for my three years. I did come away with one of the best of friends with whom I shared a great deal in years to come. (Not least holidays in Southwold!) I also had some other good friends there - all of whom did extremely well in their finals. But not me. Was this because I was distracted? Was this due to a lack of study? Possibly but I suspect it was more specifically down to something that I didn't discover until many years later. Literary criticism. Maybe I missed an important lecture early on in my English Literature degree course; maybe I arrived from a school that didn't quite get the message across; maybe I was not quite up to the mark - but literary criticism - or lack of it - was my downfall.
Bear with me,,,,slight detour ahead.
This morning, I was leafing through some old photos looking for a decent picture of my two dogs from days gone by because last night, Romy, Ruy and I lay on Romy's bed having 'girl talk'. This is usually a ritual just Romy and I indulge in before she goes to sleep but last night, Ruy was hanging around, popping in and out of the bedroom so that I asked if he'd like to join in and be an honorary girl for the purpose - and I'm so glad to say he hopped up on the bed, curled up like a little cat at the end and gossiped with us like a good 'un. We were talking about the naming of dogs and why the two I had before them (my children) had the names they had - important stuff like that. In the process, we covered 'The Herbs' and bookselling and splitting up with boyfriends - more of which another time - possibly.
As I searched unsuccessfully for a photo of the dogs, I uncovered an old card that I'd made when we lived briefly in Malaga, about 15 years ago. It is a little section from an Anglo-Saxon poem, called 'The Dream of the Rood'. At University, in the first year, we all had to study Anglo-Saxon, with a professor who absolutely looked the part of an ancient language enthusiast. In subsequent years, the early stuff was a choice and many students dropped it very quickly but for me, it was a first choice - and I chose Old Icelandic, Anglo-Saxon, Old and Early Middle English and Middle English as four of my nine subject areas - with Shakespeare and at least one modern literature subject as obligatory. As I've said, I never really got the hang of literary criticism. It wasn't until I did an MSc many, many years later that I suddenly realised that reading the critics and balancing different views was what you were supposed to do! I do believe I spent my whole university career carefully avoiding reading critics' views in case they influenced my own opinions on a particular work...hmm, why did no one point out the error of my ways to me? I do have to question some of my tutors - one in particular, who once gave me a 'B+' for an essay but whose only comment was 'Very pleasing handwriting'.
If I'd had any nouse, I should have been suspicious! As it was, my first real indication that there was a serious problem with my finals was when my favourite tutor, who knew my love of music, looked at me over her spectacles and, very gently and rather kindly, said 'You should have studied music...'
Anyway, my poor result led me to work rather hard at passing exams in the future and I have now well and truly got over my lack of honours in English Literature. I have since written a masterpiece of literary criticism on Information Management - pouring my whole three years lack into it - and it achieved a very pleasingly high mark from the wise and wonderful academic folk of London Metropolitan University - so yah, boo, sucks to you, Westfield!! That essay wiped out all the stigma of a poor degree for me - if only I'd known what it was all about, I too could have passed with flying colours.
And despite this, I still think the role of literary critic is absolutely pointless.
To continue my detour.....This morning, I found this little card and it set me thinking back to the days in a dusty room at the now defunct Westfield College discovering the delights of Anglo-Saxon poetry. In brief, the poet has a dream in which he sees a cross, covered in jewels, shining, but also with bloodstains. What moves and fascinates me - then and still - is the imagination of the poet as he goes on to tell the story of the Crucifixion from the perspective of the cross - starting with the cross as a tree, cut down by Roman soldiers, to the moment Christ embraces 'her' in the final, dramatic Passion, in which the cross shares Christ's injuries as the nails are driven into 'her' to the point where the two are buried together. Like Christ, in the poet's dream, the Cross is raised up to glory and tells 'her' story. At no point is the Cross identified as female, but the language throughout - at least in translation - makes the relationship sound to me like that between a male and a female - fascinating when you think this was written by a monk in the 7th century. And having never read what the critics said about the poem - and never will - I can think entirely what I want!
(Follow the link for a full translation of this amazing work of poetic imagination - I have slightly amended the words given here to improve the sense.)