Written by Kendall Talbot
My mother likes to say I was born in the wrong country. I prefer tea over coffee (with milk and sugar, please), and I talk about the royal family as if they were my own (my invitation to Harry and Meghan’s wedding must have gotten lost in the mail). I cherish my well-worn copies of Jane Austen’s novels, as well as the multitude of BBC products they inspired (the Mr. Darcy Lake Scene™ changed my life). I adore gloomy weather (especially when it’s raining), and I have been in love with Hugh Grant since the age of twelve (even though I now know he’s old enough to be my father). Above all, however, I have always dreamed of studying literature at Oxford. I used to think that was my way into England—going to school there.
I actually got to live this dream last summer, when I studied abroad with the UT English Department’s Oxford Summer Program. I spent five weeks in Oxford, learning and exploring and growing as both a bibliophile and a human being. I’m an English major because I love and appreciate the arts—particularly literature—and I studied abroad in England because it’s the birthplace of some of my favorite works of art. Studying English literature in England greatly affected my experience with the texts and authors I was reading. It allowed me to feel closer to them, to more fully open myself up to the meaning of these works and the possible intentions of their authors, whose creative space I was sharing—the same space that had shaped their lives; influenced their ideas; molded their minds, their imaginations, and eventually, the stories in the books that I had stacked in my Wadham dorm room.
This stack of books started with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which I got to read (or rather, reread) during my literary pilgrimage to Haworth, the very town where the Brontës grew up and where Charlotte composed this revolutionary novel. On top of Jane Eyre sat Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, whose melancholy I got to experience for myself while I hiked through Emily’s beloved moors. And heaped upon the Brontës were five Shakespeare plays, all of which I got to see performed on the stages of The Globe Theater in London, and The Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford. Back home, writers like Shakespeare and the Brontës were simply renowned but fantastical figures that I’d had the pleasure of encountering in high school. They were just names behind the stories I’d been quoting since before I could actually read them. But in England, they were living, breathing people. They were like me. They read books, walked in the rain, argued with friends, drank tea, felt love and doubt. They were human. After studying their stories in their home country of England, I felt as if I intimately knew and understood these people, and that made it easier to understand the books on my shelves, too.