Sorry for the slow posting this week. I’ve been reading plays and poems in preparation for my second PhD exam, which starts in about 30 minutes. My first exam was on the history and theory of the novel; this second exam is on contemporary literature: novels, stories, plays, and poems published since 1945.
Before I took the first exam, I didn’t realise how physically intense it would be. It was strangely less of an intellectual challenge than a physical one. The sheer bodily exertion of planning, writing, and revising four separate essays, imagining all the time how the professorial committee would react, searching through scholarly books and novels for that half-remembered quotation–it was quite an overwhelming experience.
If anyone is preparing to do such an exam, I would recommend, alongside all the reading, a period of athletic training. Take up spin, or regular running, just so you can push through, late on the Saturday afternoon, a third or four re-write of that paragraph about 18th century metafictional novels.
Despite everything I’ve said about the gruelling nature of the experience, I found out at the end of last week that I passed the first exam with flying colours–a pass with distinction, the highest possible mark. It was a great relief, but I’m still in a small amount of denial that I have to devote a second weekend to the same process. And I had imagined I would happily settle down, during the week and a half gap between exam one and two, and in great ease work my way through the best British, American, and African plays of the last sixty years.
Instead, I mostly spent the time recuperating–although I have now read, finally, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — an amazing play. The exam begins imminently, and once its three days are up, all my PhD’s scholarly work will be done. I will have completed all general requirements–coursework, languages, exams–and will focus exclusively on my writing. This is a wonderful anticipation.
Best wishes to you all and your own creative and scholarly endeavours. See you on the other side,