Home > My Oxford Year(7)

My Oxford Year(7)
Author: Julia Whelan

Peripherally, I see the other students smile. I don’t.

“Never in my wildest dreams,” he continues, looking out into the room, “did I expect to find in the work of the Victorians such despair. Lust. Terror.” He makes eye contact with a different person at each word, a politician “connecting” with his audience. “Wisdom. Love.”

And bam. His eyes lock with mine and there’s a whisper of hesitation in his voice, like the momentary skip of an old record. No one else notices. But I do. And he does. He quickly looks back out to the group. “Do you believe me?” he asks.

Not on your life, I think.

He claps his hands. “Any questions, then? Before we start?”

I raise my hand.

“We don’t raise hands here. Forty lashes and no grog for you.” He smiles at me. The gall.

“Do you have a syllabus we can look at?” I ask, sure he doesn’t.

“A syllabus?”

There’s a titter somewhere in the class. He cocks his head at me. “Yes,” I continue. “A document in which you outline the weekly reading, due dates, grading standards, expectations?”

“Ah, good question,” he says easily. “You don’t need to prepare any of the material ahead of time, and I don’t foresee any papers, but if we do have one it’ll be set at your convenience, and lastly, I’m not responsible for marking. So . . .”

By the snickers from some of the other students I glean that this is common knowledge. I look down at the table, realizing that I might be on the verge of embarrassing myself. “Okay. No syllabus is an Oxfordian thing that I’ll just have to get used to.”

A voice pipes up across from me. “Oxonian, actually.”

I glance over. A girl who looks like an English rose cameo you’d find on an antique pin scribbles something in her notebook, not looking at me.

“Tomato, to-mah-to,” I reply, with forced geniality.

“It’s not a matter of pronunciation, of dialectology,” she counters in a low, luxuriant voice. She keeps writing. “It’s not a linguistic schism from the colonies, it’s quite simply and literally a different word.”

My face heats. “Oh yeah?”

She deigns to look up. “‘Oxfordian’ refers to the theory purporting that the seventeenth Earl of Oxford authored the works of Shakespeare. A theory that has fallen predominantly out of favor amongst most legitimate academics.”

The way she says “legitimate academics” feels like a slap. “Okay, cool,” I say. “Thanks for the tip.”

She smiles tightly and looks back down at her notebook. I bury my face in mine as well. If I could disappear right now I would.

“All right, then, Oxonians,” Jamie Davenport says buoyantly, “Onward!”

EVERYONE IN THE class is obviously smart. The pink-haired girl next to me hasn’t said anything, but has at least ten pages of notes. Charlie, who never even pulled out a notebook, rattles off crisp and cogent comments with about as much effort as a yawn. And the English Rose drops her observations quietly yet deliberately, with perfectly chosen words and no extraneous “uhs” or “likes” or “you knows.” How is that possible?

I haven’t said anything.

I wasn’t an English major in undergrad. I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, poli sci and history. I took English classes for fun, and am well read, but I didn’t live, breathe, and eat it the way these people did. They are here, doing a master of studies in English at Oxford University, because they earned it.

I basically won a contest.

No disrespect to the Rhodes, but it’s true. I got the scholarship because of the overall applicant I was, not because the committee knew I would excel in the study of English literature and language, 1830–1914. How could they know I’d be good at this? They were all hedge-fund execs and mathematics professors and social entrepreneurs.

What am I doing here?

A thought runs screaming through my mind like an escapee from an insane asylum: if I had actually applied to Oxford, I probably wouldn’t be here.

Somehow this fact never occurred to me until just now while someone says, “Yes, but as Stanley Fish would have us believe,” and another person says, “Harold Bloom would disagree with you there,” and another replies, “Well, Bloom,” as if that’s retort enough, and then there are just words: “Derrida” and “Said” and “New Historicism” and “Queer Theory” and everything is “Post” (Post-Modernism, Post-Feminism, Post-Christian), until I honestly don’t know what we’re talking about anymore.

I realize that as much as I’d like to get out of this class and ask Styan about other options, I have no right to. The political operative from Ohio thinks the posh prat of a TA is beneath her? Because the truth is, all my anger, embarrassment, and hurt pride aside, I have to admit he’s giving a damn fine lecture. He hasn’t looked at his notes once. He’s fielded questions with ease, moderated discussion with finesse, and managed with tact to tell certain people, “That’s an interesting point, but have you evidence?” when he obviously means, “That’s stupid, shut up.”

Jamie Davenport comes around to the front of the podium, nodding along to whatever English Rose is saying. “Right, Cecelia, exactly. There’s a theory that Shakespeare’s plays taught us how to be human, how to understand ourselves. I believe that poetry teaches us how to feel.” He looks out to the rest of the group, and says:

“My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

It gives a lovely light.”

Then he smiles cheekily at us. “Author?”

The class is silent. No one knows. I’m so surprised no one knows that it takes me a moment to realize that I do. I know this! My hand pops into the air like a marionette.

He smiles, and with that mellifluous voice says, “Remember? No raising of hands.”

I immediately drop it. The class chuckles. I join them. See, I’m a good sport, and then go in for the kill. “Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1920.”

He inclines his head in surprised approval. “Well done. Dates are most definitely a strong point. Ella from Ohio.”

Potato Famine, 1845. Against my will, my cheeks flush. Charlie and Pink Hair’s heads (and every girl’s in the room, actually) whip toward me. I don’t look at anyone.

“So,” Davenport continues, heading back behind the lectern and looking at his notes, “I know this is your A course and all we’re meant to do is reconnoiter the selected reading each week, but where’s the fun in that, eh? The English faculty cocked up and gave me teaching responsibilities, so by God I’m going to teach! When I was doing my master of studies here, I often felt a bit adrift, so here’s what I propose: I’ll only do this once, don’t worry, but I’d like to have everyone dash off a quick paper for me, and we’ll have a chat about it.” He looks, again, at me. “I forgot to mention I have the right to change my mind at any given moment. Apologies.” To the rest of the class, he says, “The paper will serve to educate me, your humble Strand Convener, about your perspectives and predilections and help me guide you to the appropriate adviser for your dissertation in Trinity Term. I know, seems far off, eh? ‘Miles to go before I sleep . . .’” He looks to me and extends his hand, begging an answer to his unspoken question.

“Robert Frost, 1922,” I say. Without raising my hand. Nailed it.

“A little-known American poet.” He grins at me again. “Dates. Definitely a strong point.”

English Rose lifts her head. “Didn’t he write those quaint little children’s songs?”

I take a fortifying breath while Jamie Davenport says, “I don’t actually know,” then looks out at everyone else. “I’d like you to pick a poem, and give me a page on it. Don’t explicate rhyme scheme, meter, et cetera—this isn’t sixth form. Speak of it as you would a friend. Describe its charms and quirks, its faults, how it achieves its intended effects. Does it flirt, offend, mislead? How does it make you feel?”

Besides the fact that he might as well be talking about himself right now, this assignment actually excites me. This I can do. I will write the ever-loving shit out of this. I will redeem myself. I glance around the room. Everyone else looks very British about it, like this is where fun comes to die.

“Send them to me via e-mail and we’ll schedule a tute. Have a great week, everyone.”

He begins collecting his papers. The Jamie Davenport Show is over. As I slip toward the door, I feel Charlie next to me, questions wafting off him like cologne.

“Ella?”

I stop and look back at the lectern.

He’s not looking at me; he’s still fiddling with his papers. “A word, please?”

Charlie gives me a slight push forward and then he and Pink Hair slip reluctantly out the door. I gather myself and step in front of the podium. Davenport looks up and nails me with his eyes and suddenly I’m a boat caught in a current. What is it about those eyes?

“Yes?” I ask.

“Was it ruined?” he murmurs. “Your blouse?”

“Among other things.”

His face is open, receptive. The smugness from last night is gone, the performance of the last hour is gone. He is startlingly focused. We continue to look at each other. “Apologies,” he finally says. “For every bit of it. I won’t make excuses, but I will explain. I’d had a spot of bad news earlier and I’d had a drink and I was entirely too slow to recognize the affront I’d caused.”

My reply is quicker than my thoughts. “It’s not necessary—”

“Please, I understand if this apology comes as too little too late, and I have no expectation of forgiveness, nor do I, arguably, deserve it, but do know that I acted without malice and my idiocy was nothing more than that. Sheer idiocy. You simply got tangled up in it. It was, invariably, an act of treason against my own better judgment, and . . . well,” he concludes. “There it is.”

   
Most Popular
» Magical Midlife Meeting (Leveling Up #5)
» Magical Midlife Love (Leveling Up #4)
» The ​Crown of Gilded Bones (Blood and Ash
» Lover Unveiled (Black Dagger Brotherhood #1
» A Warm Heart in Winter (Black Dagger Brothe
» Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)
» Shadowed Steel (Heirs of Chicagoland #3)
» Wicked Hour (Heirs of Chicagoland #2)
» Wild Hunger (Heirs of Chicagoland #1)
» The Bromance Book Club (Bromance Book Club
» Crazy Stupid Bromance (Bromance Book Club #
» Undercover Bromance (Bromance Book Club #2)
romance.readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2022