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17th September 2012

Jonathan Wordsworth Scholar Report

Scholar’s Report

Michael Mayo, Jonathan Wordsworth Scholar

While my first year as an English DPhil student at Exeter (and as a Wordsworth Scholar) involved a surprising amount of time figuring Oxford out (second hall? fifth-week blues? six week vacations?), this second year has found me even more fully invested in my work, in the College, and in the wonderful strangeness of this city.

At the end of my first year, I applied for Transfer of Status, a requirement which involves a 10,000-word piece of writing and a viva voce assessed by members of the Department. I passed, with strong encouragement from my assessors, and began my second year with a good fraction of my thesis complete. As my thesis considers the work of James Joyce in light of the works of Ignatius of Loyola and the theory of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, I spent much of this past year investigating the works of these latter two writers. This summer, on the other hand, I’ve been able to return to Joyce, in particular his short story ‘The Dead’ and his first (or, arguably, only) novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

As much as I enjoy my own research, the greatest joy of this past year has been teaching a weekly seminar for the College’s first-year English students. While Jeri Johnson continues to teach her spectacular tutorials, she asked me this year to lead these 11 students in a course on literary criticism, theory, and close reading. Before I came overseas to study, I had taught English to American middle schoolers (ages 10-14), and I had no idea what dynamic I’d find at Exeter. The stereotypes I’d heard were only partly true: these students were indeed, and by a long shot, the brightest and most diligent group of people I’d ever taught. But they were also among the kindest, most generous, most thoughtful groups of people I’d ever met. The dynamic they created in that classroom – one which involved not only rigorous intellect but also earnest affect, in which they constantly encouraged one another toward deeper and more complex thought – led to excellent work, terrific results on their mods, and a great deal of laughter. I’ll be teaching the same course next year, and like any teacher, can’t wait to re-draft the whole thing to make it even stronger.

While most English DPhil students spend the bulk of their time in the Bodleian, I’ve divided my time between there and the College MCR. The mornings are quiet; the daily newspapers and free coffee are a welcome distraction; there’s a study room with a white board that always has my thoughts-in-process marked all over it. It’s there that I wrote the three conference papers I gave this year – one at the Rothermere Institute in Oxford, one at the International James Joyce Symposium in Dublin, and one at the City University of New York Graduate Center. These conferences put wind in the sails of my work, and keep me abreast of the latest discourse in my field.

By lunchtime, I’ve undertaken my daily writing, and the place is full of good friends from every discipline and from all over the world. The rest of the day consists of library research, termly tutorials with individual students from other colleges, and endless MCR conversations that can last past midnight. At the same time, this is my second year as the College’s Careers Officer; I spend quite a bit of my week managing and cultivating internships for Exeter students to work with a wide variety of outside organisations. Many of the year’s best moments, in fact, have come about in interviews with prospective interns – the students, and what they’ve been able to achieve already, constantly surprise.

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