“Authors in Focus 1” is a six-credit course on Oscar Wilde’s novel, plays, short stories, and mostly his mysterious personal life. Last week, the main reading was a selection of Wilde’s short stories. In class, whilst we were fervently discussing and analyzing the reasoning behind the choices made in the stories and how these choices may have been a reflection of Oscar Wilde’s personal life, I felt how the classmate sitting next to me grew more and more frustrated. At a certain point–I believe it was when The Selfish Giant was dubbed a pedophile and this was connected to the possible homoerotic encounters Wilde had with young men–my classmate held up his hand and asked something along the lines of “What if we’re reading too much into it?”
I’ve asked myself this question many times. As most of us English students (or any students of literature) have experienced, it happens on occasion that we will have to analyze or deconstruct a work that is close to us. A piece of writing that we feel ought to be taken for what it is, because it meant something to us at a specific time in our lives. Or maybe because we enjoy it so fully that taking apart and observing the reasons behind the enjoyment seems unnatural. I am surely not the only one who has refrained herself from picking her favorite Victorian novel for that final paper, just because I didn’t want to stop loving it.
This is not to suggest that analyzing narratives is a bad thing–otherwise I wouldn’t have studied English. No, to me, taking stories apart and uncovering as many elements as you can is definitely one of the most enjoyable activities of the Engelse Taal & Cultuur studies. In fact, there are many books that I have reread in which I read more, understand more and appreciate more. If it weren’t for Rudolph Glitz’s first few classes of the course then called “Literature in Theory”, I would probably have given my copy of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw away after writing my very first essay on it. Now, it’s proudly standing amongst Stranger in a Strange Land, Waiting for Godot, and a whole bunch of bandes dessinées that helped me shape myself to become who I am today.
However, the point raised by my classmate in my Oscar Wilde class (which is a fun and intriguing course, I recommend it to any English student) could not get out of my head for a few hours after class. How is it exactly that analysis counters enjoyment? What is it that triggers in us the feeling to protect certain works from being taken apart–when taking them apart could potentially enlighten us more? My answer for now is that books and stories are so strongly connected to memories that when we take them apart, we might forget the feeling we had a long time ago. Maybe someone ought to write an essay on this. Or maybe someone already has.
Header image taken from Wikipedia