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Sample Personal Statement for 18th-19th English Literature

To what extent can the language and literature of a nation or a race reflect the history and culture of this nation or race? To what extent can the soul of a nation and the universal values in the innermost recesses of the minds of humanity be revealed in the language and literature of a given country? To those questions, only the person who is long engaged in the study of this field can find distinctive answers and develop unique perceptions. I believe that the perception of the historical and cultural impulses and national legacy through literature is an important sensibility for a student of literature. I am very proud that as a Chinese student I have developed such a sensibility through my past academic studies of English literature. What is more, I would like to further develop and expand such a sensibility to acquire a scholarly and professional dimension in the very nation whose literary heritage has not only influenced the country itself but also extended to almost every part of the world.

Currently, I am a senior student at the Department of English, Foreign Language School of XX University of China. Before entering the university, I had been learning English for nearly ten years since my elementary school and from the very beginning I was interested in understanding the social and cultural aspects behind the English language. By the time I completed my senior middle school and succeeded in the highly competitive national university entrance examination, I decided that I was to study English language and English literature in my undergraduate program, because I had been cast under the inextricable spell of this beautiful language and the fascinating world of English literature. However, only after I began my systematic and formal education in English language and literature in my undergraduate program did I develop an in-depth understanding of English beyond the level of mere language instrument.

In my comprehensive study of English, I have also come to a perceptive appreciation of English language in terms of its emotional and literary expressiveness. My study of English literature has been conducted in two ways. The first is the formal academic education in which I took or audited a number of courses such as English Literature, Selected Readings of English and American Prose, Theories of Literary Criticism, American Literature,and English and American Poetry. Next, I relied on self-study to familiarize myself with most of the major works of English literature starting with Beowulf and Canterbury Tales by Chaucer to works written in the first half of 20th century. In order to deepen my interpretation of individual works, I have also resorted to prevailing literary critical approaches like those in Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory—An Introduction and 20th Century Literary Criticism edited by David Lodge to give my interpretations some theoretical weight.

My strong interest in English language and literature, my special aptitudes in language study, as well as my exacting attitude toward coursework, all have contributed to make my undergraduate study an important success, bringing me first-class scholarships with top academic performance in my class; my overall GPA has reached 3.8. While helping me lay a solid academic foundation, my dedicated efforts at coursework also significantly improved my perseverance and both the academic foundation and my persistent personality will be of immense significance to my future academic pursuit. As a junior student, I have gone beyond my language learning to perform tentative study on the English culture, history, society and historical figures and wrote a series essays ranging from Cultural Convergence and Divergence as Evidenced in the Translation of English Idioms, Jane Austin’s View of Marriage in Pride and Prejudice, and The Teaching of English Literature to Chinese Students of English Major. At present, I am busy writing my BA thesis entitled Coleridge’s Romantic World, in which, by examining his premise of “willing suspension of disbelief” in his Biographia Literaria, I analyze his views of the mind as creative in perception, intuitive in its discovery of the first premises of metaphysics and religion, and capable of a poetic re-creation of the world of sense by the fusing and formative power of the “secondary imagination”.

Apart from formal academic education, I have also devoted myself to extracurricular development by participating in a number of social practices and charity activities. Besides serving as a student leader in my class, I have been the chairperson of AIESEC’s XX University Branch, launching several major cross-cultural studies and helping many students to do internship at European and American companies in Beijing. I also helped organize XX in XX and acted as the organization’s chairperson from 2002 to 2003, contributing my efforts to popularizing humanitarianism and advocating the love for humanity. As a recognition of my contributions, I won my university’s scholarship for social work, scholarship for outstanding student leadership, and outstanding volunteer of XX. An important byproduct of those activities enhanced my awareness of different cultural values, developed my cultural tolerance, and deepened my understanding of western culture. What is most important is that while working for XX I gained a totally new understanding of the meaning of life and realized the importance of universal human concerns to the interpretation of literature.

Although 18th-19th century English literature did not reach the literary greatness represented by Shakespeare and the Elizabethan Period, this period produced a number of writers whom I am very interested in studying, novelists like Defoe, Fielding and Sterne. But I am more interested in examining the relevance of the political and satirical literature of the 18th century, represented by Pope and Swift, to the social and political reality of that time. For 19th century English literature, I am interested in tracing the development of English romantic tradition starting with Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridege and leading to John Keats,Byron and Shelley. I am interested in tracing the development of the romantic sensibility and looking into underlying reasons underlying the Romanticists’ efforts to exalt the primary role of imaginative literature in keeping man emotionally alive and morally sensitive, that is, keeping him essentially human, in the face of the pressures of a technological and increasingly urban society, with its mass media and mass culture that threaten to blunt the mind’s “discriminatory powers” and to “reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor.” In my proposed program, I would like to study Romantic poets and poetry from the perspectives of literature, philosophy, religion and psychology and, hopefully, to arrive at some original interpretations. A tentative topic for my thesis would be something like The Romantic Poets: Aesthetics and Ideology.

As the most prestigious university of the UK, XX University is the university of great masters. For a person like me who is deeply enamored of English literature, XX University is ideal for ushering me into the sacred and the beautiful palace of literature. I am so delighted to find that almost all the major 18th and 19th century English writers are covered in your curriculum. I am convinced that my prospective study at XX will immeasurably improve my specialized understanding of English literature but also expose me to the essence of English culture and language, in addition to cultivating my sense of elitism at the world’s first-rate university. Of course I am well aware of the challenging nature of my undertaking. Yet my faith is firm and my efforts will be persistent, and my firm faith and persistent efforts are bound to lead me into the realm of literature to which I am ready to devote to for the rest of my life. Or just as what Shelley says, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”


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