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Adele Unveils Plans To Pursue A Literature Degree

In recent years, I have developed a quiet respect for singer-songwriter Adele.  She produced one of the best Bond themes of all time, gave us two endlessly hilarious Graham Norton appearances, and (at least in her interviews) seems to be a genuine, sympathetic woman with an honourable sense of humour. Additionally, I will conjure to say that the tabloids have given her unnecessary bad press, which increases my sympathy towards the public figure.

Such personal compassion only increased by her announcement that, after her Vegas shows, she plans to pursue a degree in English Literature.  She admits, “if I hadn’t made it singing, I think I would be an English Lit teacher,” and quotes her “passion for English Lit” in her songwriting.  Adele, however, is not the only celebrity to return to university.  Others include Natalie Portman, Steven Spielberg, and Emma Watson. Neither is she the first celebrity to pick English Literature specifically.  Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, and Aiysha Hart, among several others, are famous English Literature alumni.

Still, Adele’s announcement is music to my ears.  As an English student, I am partially biased towards the subject, but this doesn’t discredit my belief in studying literature.  I firmly believe that a person’s happiness, drive, and well-being can improve almost instantly through reading a single, well-written piece of literature.  Such texts can deepen our understanding of the world and its people.  Literature is a cultural tradition tracing back through centuries and, thus, a medium of communication crucial to our engagement with the world. 

Adele could not have better timed her decision to pursue such a degree.  English Literature has made recent headlines for struggling in the league tables.  In 2012, it was the most popular subject at A-Levels, but it has fallen out of the top ten this year.  Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, blamed this fluctuation on the Tory government’s reforms to the GCSE syllabus.  He claimed that GCSE students are forced to memorise long passages of traditional texts, which discourages them from continuing the subject. 

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Such an argument should not be dismissed. The traditional memory-based learning style does not resemble Literature programs at the degree level (thank goodness). From personal experiences, I can assert that studying literature at university involves various learning approaches and is discussion dominant.  Our Edinburgh curriculum, for example, ranges from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the modern feminist play It’s True It’s True It’s True, to poets of multiple ethnicities, to more niche modules that you might never have thought of.  One of the Year 3 courses focuses on “gender, madness, and werewolves”.  This is not a reconstruction of the course title.  Of course, the degree involves hours of reading and research, which isn’t always a joyride, but the reward is high at the end of the day.

I’m thrilled that Adele has chosen to pursue this subject because English Literature deserves good press: hopefully, her path might inspire people to reconsider their perceptions of the degree.

Previously, I misbelieved that those who attend university as mature students only do it for vocational purposes.  This is a misconception.  Natalie Portman chose neurobiology and Hebrew literature!  James Franco, who holds countless degrees, has a PhD in English from Yale University.  Why do they do this?  There is, of course, a privilege in having the financial and emotional resources to return to university. Still, the time and effort required do not (or should not) magically adjust themselves in the face of fame. That celebrities still wish to pursue academic ambitions, even if their careers don’t require this from them, is humbling; and it is both pleasing and revealing that, in Adele’s case, literature remains an attractive prospect for public figures. 

Image Credit: “Adele Live 2017” by Ian Hughes is licensed under CC BY 2.0