Rob Vanbergen, Upper Level, Best Essay, 2015-2016
Rob Vanbergen recalls when he became “hooked” on English Literature and “everything the English Department had to offer”:
I stumbled into English when I first began attending post-secondary because a short story/novel study course was being offered, and was recommended as an elective program for University Studies. It was a few weeks into reading the short stories when I read “Story of an Hour,” and I just couldn’t get over how much information could be packed into such a short piece of fiction. I got to thinking that if Mrs. Mallard could tell me so much about her life from a page and a half of emotional ups and downs, then surely longer stories had far more to tell. I began to view all stories and novels as mysteries waiting to be solved: Who is that character? What is it that they really want?
In his fourth year of English studies and third year of History, it should come as no surprise that Rob “loves it when the two subjects intersect.” While, for him, History is more factual, English Literature provides “incredible insight into the history of the time, a history that is frequently far more personal and less publicised.” Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is case in point. He explains,
Here we have an epic poem that is clearly set in a time that pre-dates Spenser’s own, but not only does it teach us things about the ways of chivalry and the importance of religion back then, but it also functions as a commentary on the flaws of the social structure in Spenser’s modern time. These personal opinions are not things that will often be found in a history book, but it is wonderful when the connection can be made and enjoyed.
With this in mind, Rob recommends that English students take a course in religion because “knowledge of the Bible” can help to lead to “very interesting spins on papers you will write.”
Reflecting on his process of preparing for his award-winning essay, “Fashioning a Gentleman: Analyzing Flawed Virtue in Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene, Books II and VI” he explains:
Writing “Fashioning a Gentleman” was a discovery every step of the way. The paper’s original intent was to discuss the “unknightly” nature of everything EXCEPT the knights throughout Spenser’s epic, and as such the original draft is far longer—and far more confusing—as it touches upon these individual representations of “perfect” evil. It was only upon completing that first draft that I came to the realization that the allegorical representations of good were imperfect, and from there I started all over again.
Ultimately, what really struck me was how deeply one could dig into Spenser’s Faerie land and still know nothing about it.
Despite his talents in English, Rob admits to finding poetry challenging: “It is often complex and confusing beyond measure, and in my experience, among my peers it is often the most dreaded aspect of an English course.” His appreciation for the genre, “the most masterful and beautiful part of English,” grew when he discovered Shane Koyczan’s “A Letter to Remind Myself Who I Am.” He explains:
There is such rich hope in Koyczan’s piece that I found myself completely converted by the words he spoke. I felt the hurt and the suffering, but also the inspiration to carry on. Koyczan’s poems are spoken word, they are modern and written to be heard not read, but they turned me on to poetry. They taught me that poetry should be felt, not just read. I bet that anyone willing to listen to [his poems] will feel the same.
Rob’s passions don’t stop at poetry. For example, he appreciates Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”: “not only is it ridiculously funny, but it is based on an actual incident that happened to one of Pope’s friends. It manages to make the dull life of high society seem remotely interesting (and that’s saying something).” Yet he would also recommend the
Harry Potter series to everyone, arguing that it should be read and then re-read “with a copy of the mythic cycle” to “see how masterfully written and constructed this children’s series really is.”
As an award-winning English student, Rob leaves us with this final words of wisdom:
I often find that English is an outlet; a way to escape the responsibilities of “real life.” I think if you can do that—if you can really pull yourself into the book and feel how the characters feel—then you can experience that other life and always take something away from it.