You can always tell an English major. He belongs to an exclusive club of individuals who see the world in a unique way.
Samuel Coleridge got is right when he said that no one could truly appreciate a work of literature unless he “suspended disbelief.” From childhood, I had the ability to totally lose myself in any literary work.
What marks the English major? He is the one who sees the Lady Macbeths or the Hamlets in the people he encounters in everyday life. He revels in the rhythms of everyday language. A grammatical error is a poke in the eye. A beautifully written sentence is a joy. He retreats to the written word. He secretly longs to be an author or poet or a writer of essays that will inspire and change the lives of others. He realizes his limitations, and for the most part, confines himself to the enjoyment of other’s ability to create an idea.
I have a friend who was not an English major, but he could certainly pass for one. I call him Mr. Bennet, after the long -suffering father in Pride and Prejudice who retreats to his library whenever life becomes challenging. Mr. Bennet and I worked in a business environment, and despite our love of literature, we were very competent at our jobs even though Iambic Pentameter had nothing to do with performing our daily tasks.
Mr. Bennet kept me on track, though. As a working mother of small children, I had little time to read—anything. Mr. Bennet, however, made me see that it was always necessary to be reading something, that it was necessary to have in one’s mind an idea beyond balance sheets and profit and loss statements. Similarly, I inspired Mr. Bennet to read some works that he may not have been familiar with, including Pride and Prejudice. I wanted him to understand his connection to his namesake. It was also nice to have such an ally at work.
I am not sorry that I was an English major. It has given me a lifetime resource, although I can tell it was not fun trying to find a job right out of college. “Suspending one’s disbelief” was not considered to be a marketable skill.
Like any good parent, I have imposed my passions upon my children. My daughters, even as preschoolers, knew the story of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice and were subjected to the film versions of those works, from early childhood. They also know the songs from Shakespeare’s plays.
The highlight of this year was reading Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey with my fifteen year old as she traveled through freshman English. I was proud of my twelve year old as she performed an original song, ”The Seventh Grade Blues,” at Poetry Night at the Middle School.
No, I will never be a Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen, but they continue to inspire me.
And–I will continue to suspend my disbelief.
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