Hello, dear readers!
I’ve been thinking about my time at university a lot recently, in particular the wide variety of books I encountered during my first four years of studying. This is mainly because I’m graduating today and I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic of late. So, I thought I’d do a post discussing the best books that I studied at university. I may also do a companion post next week talking about the worst books I studied at university because there’s a fair few books on that list too!
I’m going to split the books up into the year that I studied them. The first three years are obviously my undergrad years and the last one is my MA. This is going to be an exercise for my brain too because I can’t really remember my first year of uni.
These are all books that I first read at university so I won’t be including books like Frankenstein or 1984 which I did study but read before I went to university.
L’Étranger (The Outsider) by Albert Camus
This is one of the best books I have ever read in my life. I didn’t fully appreciate it when I read it at university but I’ve read it since then and I adore it. It’s an absurd book but it’s incredibly clever and thought-provoking. Camus actually rejected the idea of the book being about existentialism but that’s what we studied it in relation to. The book is known as The Outsider in the UK but The Stranger in the US.
Looking for Jake by China Mieville
I love this collection of short stories and they introduced me to China Mieville as an author. His writing is weird and captivating and Looking for Jake is a perfect collection to show off his writing. I really love this book because it made my university education a little bit more interesting. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who likes weird fantasy novels.
Fantomina by Eliza Haywood
Fantomina is a novel from 1725 and the protagonist disguises herself as different women to understand how a man may interact with each individual persona. It’s ultimately a story about feminine power and female sexual desire as Fantomina orchestrates sexual encounters with the man she desires even though female desire was considered non-existent during the 18th century.
American Indian Stories by Zitkála-Šá
I studied American Literature in my second year of university and the module focused on pre-1945 literature. This meant that we read a lot of slave narratives and stories about the idea of ‘manifest destiny’. The one narrative that really stuck with me though was that of Zitkála-Šá, a Native American woman who wrote about her childhood and the missionaries who invaded the land of her family. Zitkála-Šá was a writer and a political activist and her writing is truly amazing.
Shambleau by C. L. Moore
This short story is one of the weirdest stories I have ever read. It’s honestly bizarre. It’s set on Mars and it re-imagines the myth of Medusa. It features Northwest Smith, a gun-toting spacefarer, who saves a woman known as Shambleau from a mob. It’s a story about sex, addiction, and aliens and it’s fantastic. I really need to read some of C. L. Moore’s other work.
Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
This story is set in Manchester during the industrial revolution, specifically between 1839 and 1842 when the Chartism was a strong movement among the working class of England. It follows the life of a young girl who is being raised by her single father. This book attempts to offer a happy ending to it’s characters, suggesting that Gaskell thought that there’d be a happy ending for working class people too, but it falls flat and it seems unrealistic. This just adds to the novel’s appeal in my opinion because it shows the huge gap between the rich and the poor because Gaskell would never understand what it meant to be working class.
The Nether World by George Gissing
Another story about the gap between the upper and lower classes in Victorian England but this one is set in London. It has several intertwining plots including a young actress who was the victim of an acid attack. It’s a tragic novel for every character but it’s a remarkable novel which highlights the conditions that working class families lived and worked in during the 19th century.
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells is one of my favourite authors and I think that The Time Machine is my favourite book by him. I love the concept of this novel and I remember reading it in a few hours while I was studying it because it just gripped me from the start. The idea that humanity could evolve into two separate species because of the social class system of 19th century England is incredible. I hate that the Morlocks are often cast as the villains though because both them and the Eloi have some pretty awful traits and there are no heroes or villains in such a broken society.
If you can’t tell, these books are all from the same module as it focused a lot of the idea of social class in 19th century England.
Zofloya by Charlotte Dacre
Zofloya: or, the Moor by Charlotte Dacre has to be one of the best Gothic novels I have ever encountered. All of Dacre’s other work is almost impossible to get hold of but I’m just thankful that this book is fairly easy to access because it is just wonderful. It’s a book about women and female sexual desire and female jealously and female violence. It’s dark and disturbing and horrifying but it’s amazing.
The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
This is one of my favourite 17th century plays. It’s slightly insane, one of the characters believes that he’s turning into a werewolf at one point, and it’s very dark and very anti-Catholic but the language is also incredibly beautiful. It’s so easy to quote speeches such as “Whether we fall by ambition, blood or lust/Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust”.