Each fall the population of the English department is refreshed by an incoming class of graduate students. This year, we welcomed over 20 new students to Wheeler Hall. Richard Lee is one of the new PhD students who are making their way through the first semester of graduate work at Berkeley.
Richard studied as an undergraduate at New York University before transferring and graduating from the University of Pennsylvania. He also spent a year at Oxford University working on a Masters before coming to Berkeley. He wanted, he said, to get some experiences that might help him decide between attending law school and graduate school in English. Luckily for Berkeley, Richard chose the latter. His time at Oxford was spent focusing on the early modern period, which he still professes to be his historical period of choice. He describes how the focus at Oxford was almost exclusively historicist and materialist, a kind of cultural studies perspective that emphasized textual criticism. Consequently, his Master’s thesis discussed the history of editions of Milton’s Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, particularly the 1671 printings.
Richard says that his experience at Oxford has helped him ease into graduate school in the States, since he feels like he already has a good command of the kind of general references and literary knowledge that serve as a necessary background for advanced study. Berkeley has proved to be much different than Oxford, however, and he said it reminds him of his experiences as an undergraduate at Penn because the professors are so available and communicative. (Oxford, it seems, was full of bureaucratic roadblocks between students and tutors.) Though he is using the department’s introductory seminar, English 200, to “escape” from his emphasis on the early modern, his choice of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as his main text for that course fits with what he describes as his interest in “big” authors.
In addition to the work for English 200 – which includes, he says, wading through a veritable ocean of Joyce criticism – Richard is taking a seminar of Edmund Spenser (another “big” author) with David Landreth and on post-Romantic poetic theory with Eric Falci. These are welcome departures from the kind of work he was doing at Oxford. While Richard’s Berkeley career is in its infancy, he is looking forward to the challenges and opportunities which the department is sure to offer him.