Class Focus: English Literature

Michael Molan’s class syllabus extended from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, giving a broad overview of some of the most critical aspects of English Literature, and focusing in on specific texts and criticism.

This week, students have had lessons on:

  • Shakespearean Love: with a focus on Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5
  • Milton’s Civil Wars: with a focus on Paradise Lost, Book 2
  • Wordsworth’s Revolutions: with a focus on ‘Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey’
  • Dickens and the Industrial Revolution: with a focus on Hard Times, Chapter 5
  • Englands of the Mind: with a focus on poems from Alice Oswald, Philip Larkin,and Linton Kwesi Johnson

They’ve also dipped into performance criticism, critical debates on language use, extracts from contemporary letters and journals, and had a presentation on ‘Seamus Heaney and National Poetry’ from guest speaker Dr Sarah Bennett (Oriel College, Oxford). Clearly, they’ve been busy!

This morning, the class is being taught by our programme Director, Professor James Basker. Educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford (where he did his D.Phil), Jim is on the faculty of Barnard College, Columbia University and is the founder of OxBridge Academic Programs. He has written several books on history and literature, the most recent of which are Amazing Grace: An Anthology of Poems about Slavery, and American Anti-Slavery Writing: Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation. We are sure they’re having fun!


Each teacher here at the Oxford Seminar awards a Class Prize to a Major student of their choice. For his presentation, Michael composed a poem in honour of the occasion, set to the theme of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities


A Tale of One Seminar

by Michael Molan

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,

it was the age of raised hands, it was the age of blank stares,

it was the epoch of nodding agreement, it was the epoch of nodding off,

it was the season of rain, it was still the season of rain,

it was the spring of arrivals day, it was the winter of grade reports,

it was the evening of Luke’s piano recital, it was not the evening of Luke’s piano recital,

we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,

we were all going direct to Heathrow, we were all going direct the other way—

in short, the Oxford Seminar 2015 had sped past so quickly that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.