The English School at Somerville is a thriving community of lively, thoughtful and enthusiastic readers and writers. 

Somerville has a long history of brilliant authors and scholars. Many famous novelists and poets studied English here, including Penelope Fitzgerald, Iris Murdoch, AS Byatt, Frances Hardinge and Susan Cooper. Our tutors are, and have always been, influential voices in their fields of expertise, winning prizes for their books and articles about English literature and language. A former Principal of Somerville was Helen Darbishire, the great Wordsworth scholar. Among the Emeritus Fellows is Katherine Duncan-Jones, a former English tutor, known internationally for her work on Shakespeare.

Learn more about Somerville’S writers and authors

Teaching and Learning

The three full-time teaching Fellows are Professor Fiona Stafford, Dr Annie Sutherland, and Dr Philip West. They are responsible for organising tuition over the entire BA degree, and teach many of the core papers, including Old and Middle English (Dr Sutherland), Early Modern literature and Language (Dr West), and Eighteenth-century, Romantic and Victorian literature (Prof. Stafford).  Other core areas are taught by College Lecturers or other members of the English Faculty.

The first two years of the course introduce students to English Literature from the earliest, Old English texts to the 21stCentury. Papers are taught through a mixture of tutorials, classes and lectures and there is a great deal of individual choice as well as guidance throughout the degree. The papers are examined through a mixture of submitted portfolios, extended essays and written examinations. At the end of the First year, under the guidance of Dr Sutherland, some students choose to take ‘Course 2’, which focuses on the language and literature of the earlier periods of English.  

In a typical week, students are expected to write a tutorial essay of around 1,500 words or to prepare a presentation for a Class, as well as undertaking commentary exercises for the language or Old and Middle English papers. They also attend lectures on a wide range of topics, delivered by members of the English Faculty. In the final year of the course, students choose an Option from a long list offered by the Faculty, attending seminars and writing an extended essay towards the end of term. Finalists also write a dissertation on a topic of their own choice, guided by an individual supervisor.

It is no myth that Somerville is the friendliest College in Oxford and the English department epitomises this; from day one I felt really at home with my literary family.

Rosanna Greenwood (2015, English Language & Literature)

When students are not attending lectures at the Faculty or classes and tutorials in Somerville, they typically spend their working day in a variety of locations. Oxford has no shortage of good places to read or to do some writing, from student rooms to the College Library, the English Faculty Library or the Bodleian – or, indeed, one of Oxford’s many coffee shops. The English tutors regularly organise trips to Exhibitions, Museums and plays and encourage imaginative approaches to literary texts.  

Somerville has exceptional resources for English students, including the very large College library.  The vast resources of the Bodleian library are also available to members of the College, whether accessed in person or online.  There are also generous scholarships, special funds and prizes to support trips, books, and equipment. 

The English Community at Somerville

Our community of English students is large and diverse. Every year Somerville admits twelve undergraduates, from applicants across all regions and nations of the UK and around the world. Somerville English students come from many different backgrounds and schools: their wide range of interests, enthusiasms and opinions leads to exciting, varied discussions. Many lifelong friendships have begun in Somerville English tutorials.

Graduate students are also an important part of the community at Somerville.  They may be working towards an MSt, M.Phil or DPhil and usually find the exceptional resources of the Somerville Library very helpful to their work. Some graduate students are working towards the part-time MSt in Creative Writing.

Somerville English students benefit greatly from being part of the wider University. Oxford’s many student papers, magazines and societies provide ample opportunities for extracurricular writing, from journalism to drama to creative writing, and many celebrated Somerville authors acquired their first publishing experience in their pages. The University has a lively student theatre scene with many opportunities for aspiring actors, directors and producers. Many Somerville English students have gone on to successful careers in theatre and film, TV and Radio, as well as writing, journalism, and publishing.

Most of all, it is the kindness and support of the tutors who encourage us to develop our own critical voices and explore what we love to read that makes English so special.

Isabel Ireland (2014, English Language & Literature)

Next Steps

Many of the people who studied English at Somerville have gone on to highly successful academic careers, including Emma Smith, Kate McLoughlin, Lynda Mugglestone, Clair Wills, Claire Lamont and Kathryn Sutherland.  However, the great virtue of an English degree is that it equips you with the critical and creative perceptiveness to succeed anywhere. Somerville English students regularly go on to work in a huge range of professions and jobs after graduating, including higher education, law, medicine, nursing, teaching, charities, the Civil Service, fashion design, creative arts, music, singing, politics, social work, advertising, arts administration, museums, libraries, travel, hospitality, marketing, banking, business, management consultancy. 

Further Information

You can find out more on the University’s applications website.

The most enjoyable aspect of studying English at Somerville is the freedom which students are given within each paper we study. The emphasis is always placed on what you find interesting, with tutors encouraging independent thought and exploration from the moment you start the course. 

Daunish Nergargar (2014, English Language & Literature)

Fellows and Lecturers
  • Fiona Stafford FBA, FRSE

    Fellow & Tutor in English Literature; Professor of English Language and Literature
  • Annie Sutherland

    Rosemary Woolf Fellow & Tutor in Old and Middle English; Associate Professor of English
  • Philip West

    Fellow & Tutor in Early Modern English Literature; Associate Professor of English
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