Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, And An English Barrister Walk Into A Bar… [@CambridgeUK]

A beautiful stained glass window in the Museum of London. “Dieu et Mon Droit” is the motto of the United Kingdom outside of Scotland.

Contrary to popular belief, I’m doing more than just drinking over here in lovely Cambridge, England. As my last post informed you, I’ve been participating in the Pembroke-King’s Programme at the University of Cambridge this summer. Yes, I’ll admit that I prefer spending my time running around with my friends on Brewsday Tuesday and playing Quidditch and having movie nights but I’m here first and foremost for academics apparently.

At my home university, I’m a Finance major by day and also still a Finance major by night. However, I had a few elective courses that I had to clear in order to graduate this Winter (don’t want to talk about it yet, still not ready). I decided rather than stay in Boston for the summer, why not take a look at some study abroad programs with interesting non-Finance classes? And so here I am! Studying three wicked cool subjects! And having the absolute time of my life! So check out what I learned about!


Jane Austen: Life, Times, Works

I haven’t taken a real English class since high school and my brain was desperately in need of some literary critical thinking. This class was actually the deciding factor in my coming to Cambridge, if I’m being completely honest. Like most other people in the world, Jane Austen is my Held Most Ardently heroine. Her books were some of the earliest I remember reading and they’ve certainly played a huge part in sculpting my love for literature. I came into this class having read all the major novels but desperately in need of a forum to discuss them.

Most of what I learned in this class had to do with the context of the time in which these beloved works were based and written. Austen grew up and started writing during a period of national turmoil and recovery, most of which stemmed from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and the OM² (“Original Mad Monarch” … any Targaryen fans in the house?) George III and that other guy George IV. A lot of her work was satirical and I never really understood the extent of that until I got to talk about it in depth here. I also wrote my final paper on the symbolism of mud, so I had a freaking GREAT time exercising my brain in this class. Oh, yeah – and there’s that time when my professor took us to the King’s Library where I got to exist as a person within INCHES of JANE AUSTEN’S LAST MANUSCRIPT. I SAW THE HANDWRITTEN UNFINISHED CHAPTERS OF Sanditon WITH MY OWN EYES! CAN YOU TELL I WAS SEVERELY AND PERMANENTLY AFFECTED BY THIS MOMENT?

Also – I don’t care what anyone says, I will rep the Joe Wright Pride & Prejudice adaptation until the day that I die. Keira Knightley (200)5eva.

Introduction to English Common Law

Law has been a personal interest of mine since the good ol’ glory days of high school mock trial. American citizens don’t always realize just how differently the rest of the world treats a judicial system, so I thought it would be interesting to see what ours was derived from. My class even took a field-trip to the Crown Courts so I could see a trial in action and really get the feel of how it works over here. The English Common Law system is so fascinating because its basically been around in some kind of form since the 800s, which means that England has a hell ton of precedents.

Fun fact: England does not have a stand-alone constitutional document outlining the rights of their people. Because they’re so old, they’ve got dozens (if not hundreds) of separate laws and documents and dusty tomes which together make up their fundamental Constitution. I’m sure there is a much more technical, jargon-laden way of saying that but all that I’m really trying to communicate here is: you crazy, England. If you really wanna sift through all that, I guess keep doing you. That’s exactly the type of thing that creates such an interpretive nature of practice in the English Common Law system, which in turn made for some equally stimulating and frustrating conversations in my seminar classes. Morality is a hard thing to use in defining rules sometimes.

The biggest thing I got from this class is actually more of a personal life revelation. I had always kept law school in the back of my mind as something to do after undergrad, but now I’m crossing that off the list with complete certainty. Apparently practicing law is not actually comparable to writing really witty closing statements (see above: mock trial glory days). I would hate going through those kinds of classes for 3 years so I’m just going to keep it as an area of intellectual interest (or something). The style of learning just isn’t for me. Whether this personal discovery is unfortunate or fortunate, I can’t say. But, ahem, if anyone is looking for an LSAT prep book I’ve got one you can have…

Literary London: the Narratives, Characters and (Sub)Cultures of the British Metropolis

I wasn’t even supposed to be in this class! I had originally registered for a class on British Sports but unfortunately the professor teaching it fell ill and the class was cancelled before it began. I had to choose another to take its place but most other options were politically or scientifically oriented and I can’t think of anything in the world that would have made me more miserable. Thankfully, ‘Literary London’ was there to save the day.

Not only has the professor for this class become my personal hero (he read Bleak House in a week), but thanks to him I’ve gotten exposure to centuries of inspired-by-London authors such as Ben Jonson, John Gay, Daniel Defoe, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, and Elizabeth Bowen. Early on in the course we took a field-trip to Smithfield and the Museum of London, where I took the cover picture for this post – I thought it was a nice little interdisciplinary artifact since “Dieu et Mon Droit” was also displayed in the court room I visited for Intro to English Common Law. Very proud of myself for retaining information and making that connection at the museum.

The scope of what we talked about in Literary London spanned everything from the Roman establishment of the city to the origins of what it means to “double-cross” someone to the effects of The Blitz and how all of those (and more) influenced these popular authors. And I’ve still got a week left of this class…


I don’t think I can physically communicate to you how happy I am with my decision to come to Cambridge and give myself a break from the at-times-overly-mundane world of business administration. I spent my summer taking classes on subjects I have a genuine interest in and passion for, I met and had conversations with some of the brightest students from all over the world, and I got to see a f*cking Jane Austen manuscript (still tears, never gonna stop). Forever thankful for this experience. Can’t wait to come back to you with all my new friends and reminisce some day, Cambridge.

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