After the 'dee dum, dee dum' incident I was in panic mode but things started to look up when, for the first time during the interview process, the tutors started asking me about things I knew really well!
‘What do you think Christina Rossetti’s poem ’Goblin Market’ is about?' asked one of the male tutors.
I told him it was ambiguous as it could be interpreted in many different ways; It could be viewed as a fairy-tale story about sisterhood whilst simultaneously being viewed as a highly sexual depiction of lesbianism. All the time I was using quotes to justify my points.
‘Where have you got the lesbian interpretation from?’ he asked.
‘Sucking my juices…’
Oh no…what have I said? Should I really be discussing this in an Oxford interview?
The tutors exchange glances and smile at each other but, surprisingly, seemed pleased I’d felt confident enough to quote these parts of the poem.
‘How do you think Rossetti intended the poem to be read?’
I described the public interpretation Rossetti put forward about her poem. I discussed her life and her religion and how if we looked at her other poems, such as her little rhymes for children it would seem more likely that it was aimed at children.
‘Have you read any of Rossetti’s poems on convents?’
Luckily I had read ‘Convent Threshold’, so discussed the religious nature of the piece.
‘Why might she have set the poem on the boundary of a female entering a convent?'
I discussed how I thought she had done this as it left the reader’s mind open to possibilities, a liminal boundary which leaves us in suspense.
‘Do you think ambiguity is important in literature then?'
I said that I did, as it stopped texts being predictable and left several paths available, as well as making the reader work to observe the multiple interpretations at play.
‘In your personal statement, you have described Woolf’s style as ‘relentless’ in ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Why do you think this?’
I described how the first time I had read the essay I found it quite overpowering as Woolf literally covers every angle of her argument, leaving no opportunity for us to disagree. However, I then told them that the second time I read it, it had an entirely different effect. I said that I had since learnt about Woolf and her life and beliefs and my view on feminism had changed. I’d previously, ignorantly seen it as being inextricably connected with her desire to position women above men but now I saw that feminism stood for equality between men and women, her essay became quite inspirational.
‘What do you think Woolf would have thought about Rossetti?’
Luckily I had read that Woolf wasn’t a fan of Rossetti, feeling she only wrote about what she knew but what she knew was very little. I said I thought Woolf pushed the boundaries more than Rossetti but that we had to remember the contexts were different. Woolf was surrounded by the Bloomsbury group and lived in a more liberal society. I commented on how I thought if Woolf had read the modern interpretation of ‘Goblin Market’ about lesbianism, it might grow on her.
With that the interview came to an end. I felt I couldn’t have offered any more, I really had done my best!
The tutors don't know that you know something if it stays in your head - when they ask you about something that you know really well give as much information as you can. Answer the question but also expand upon it, comparing the texts to others you have read.
Make connections - if you have mentioned authors in your personal statement see how they connect. I made sure to look up what Woolf thought of Rossetti. I also made the connection between Woolf and my studies of Robert Browning through Woolf's book Flush written about Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's pet dog.
Don't be embarrassed - the Oxford tutors need to know you have discuss the grittier parts of literature, the 'sucking my juices' line showed I had the confidence to discuss a range of topics.