Wednesday, 13 August 2008

George Saintsbury in an unorthodox education

A friend and former colleague who had taught for many years in Montreal / Canada but who grew up, taught in a school and got his degrees in Karachi, picked up my comments on the literary critic and historian George Saintsbury and writes as follows:

"Thanks for those words about George Saintsbury. I may not have told you that I never went to college or university in Karachi where I obtained my BA and MA as what was called a "private student," a privilege afforded to teachers who had as I only their basic teaching qualifications. In fact because my family could not afford to send any of us to college, I took up teaching so I could further my education within some framework or other. And of course I chose to major in English and Philosophy simply because I was a reader. All we were offered was a copy of the university syllabus, and the right to appear for the annual university examinations each year, and if we passed, move up to the next year of study.

Actually, four of my teaching colleagues and with the encouragement of our Principal, formed a college of our own, and thus met during term each weekday late into the night (after a full day of teaching, several games of badminton, and supper) to share our readings and research. The British Council library was a great help, but I could find only whatever, full time students from the various colleges had not noticed ; so that much of my reading in terms of commentary/ criticism was from outside the recommended lists set by college English profs. Saintsbury's History of Englit was my introduction and guide to finding my way through English literature. I was also told about Legouis and Cazamian's History of English Lit as well, and it was of particular interest to me because if offered a non-English perspective. Both Saintsbury and L and C were accessible to a stranger who had to make sense of what he read several screens apart from the actual living English world.. But that effort at least engaged our creative imagination and no one had to tell us anything about universal appeal and all that. In retrospect, I came to understand why I was so much focused on reader response and respect for the reader; however outlandish their readings might seem, that was all they had on offer. And I also learned how collaboratively we made up our accounts of what we had read. So as you can see, your mention of Saintsbury did take me back a long way."

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