Josephine is an experienced English teacher. Here, she provides 6 clear steps that will allow pupils to breakdown the complex language of the 19 Century novel.
13+ and Scholarship English; Enabling students to understand meanings in 19 Century fiction.
One of the key aspects of interpreting a text is to be able to write confidently about meanings and how they are created. With 19 century texts this becomes more difficult as the language and sentence construction are more complex and often different to modern day language.
Students can often write about figurative language but can miss the wider and more important themes that underpin the whole of a novel.
Here, I provide a method that allows pupils to open up the language, simplify and summarise it. Exposure to the method widens vocabulary and increases critical engagement in the text.
Let’s look at Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. This extract is taken from Chapter 2. It highlights important themes and meanings conveyed through the narrative voice.
That this meeting views with alarm and apprehension, the existing state of the Muffin Trade in this Metropolis and its neighbourhood; that it considers the Muffin Boys, as at present constituted, wholly underserving the confidence of the public; and that it deems the whole Muffin system alike prejudicial to the health and morals of the people, and subversive of the best interests of a great commercial and mercantile community.’
(Nicholas Nickleby Chp. 2, Charles Dickens 1839)
Question: Explain the meanings created by the quotation.
In 13+ and Scholarship exams a common question is to interpret quotations. In doing so you understand the themes being raised.
‘That this meeting views with alarm and apprehension…’
Use google – it’s comprehensive and quick. Copy and paste onto a document called Word Bank – this will help you build a huge vocabulary list with meanings.
They are having a meeting.
‘…that it considers the Muffin Boys, as at present constituted, wholly underserving the confidence of the public;’
The muffin boys should not have the trust of the public. This means they shouldn’t have the trust to sell muffins.
‘…and that it deems the whole Muffin system alike prejudicial to the health and morals of the people, and subversive of the best interests of a great commercial and mercantile community.’
The character is suggesting that the muffin system is harmful to poor people and stops the trading of a large government approved business from selling them.
The businessmen are trying to stop the poor muffin sellers from selling so they can be the only seller in the market.
Having worked through the quotation in this manner, students have a well grounded and informed view of what the text is showing. An answer like this enables pupils to write a robust textual response.