Classics and French at Oxford

UCAS Personal Statement

I am fascinated by the way that the language and culture of ancient Rome continues to affect modern French society. I want to explore this relationship through the intrinsically linked, yet subtly different, disciplines of language and literature, which were brought together in a discussion about the effect of the passive voice in ‘La Parure’ at a taster day. I enjoyed analysing how Maupassant used this grammatical construction to suggest Mathilde Loisel’s feeling of powerlessness as a result of her class and gender. I was also struck by the impact of the perfect passive participle “iactatus” in the opening of ‘The Aeneid’ to show Aeneas’ subjection to the will of the Gods.

The most rewarding aspects of studying French and Latin together have been examining how literary analysis transcends modern and ancient languages and how classical models have been adapted, which my study of English Literature has also enriched. My desire to both place texts in their contexts and compare them across time and space was confirmed during a lecture on epic poetry, where I discovered how the ancient concept of creativity focussed on writing within a tradition, whereas the modern notion emphasises individual genius. I enjoyed applying this approach when exploring how the portrayal of Phaedra has been shaped by the three unities and reinterpretations of Euripides’ original, such as the introduction of Aricie in Racine’s play. The Senecan version is especially intriguing because its reception has been affected by historical debates about its purpose. In addition, the influence of the writer’s biography on the reader was revealed to me when considering how the presentation of adultery in Catullus’ ‘Poem 51’ and Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ reflects the authors’ contrasting personal lives. I have a particular interest in poetry, as both a reader and prize-winning writer. This has given me direct experience of how nuances are developed in poetry by the use of language, form and structure. For me, poetry is timeless: Horace’s ‘Odes III’ simultaneously combines Augustan tradition and the universal struggles of life through different poetic personae. The depiction of young love and evocation of the senses in Rimbaud’s poem ‘Roman’ similarly connects with readers through the pronoun “on”, allowing them to re-live and contemplate their own past. Employing an interdisciplinary method when completing my EPQ on the evolution of modern French has enabled me to investigate the interconnected nature of the development of different languages and how the history of a language repeats itself, in the way that the increasing standardisation of French is creating a divide between the spoken and written language, akin to that between Classical and Vulgar Latin.

My academic and extracurricular activities have strengthened each other and my motivation to study French and Latin at university. Exploring Cicero’s ‘In Catilinam 1’ and his use of rhetorical devices has taught me how to achieve a balance between style and content in debates and Model UN conferences. Learning the classical language Tamil at the Bhavan Centre has given me a greater sense of the ancient world and improved my capacity for language learning. Volunteering to teach modern foreign languages and Latin in primary schools has shown me how learning a language makes past and present cultures more accessible. I have demonstrated my love of reading and its importance in the community as Head Librarian of my school and when speaking at the House of Commons for the Steve Sinnott Foundation. Watching films, such as ‘Entre Les Murs’, has helped me to understand French society and the complexities of national identity in a modern, diverse community, a subject I also follow in the media. To explore the intersections between the classical and the contemporary, between Latin and French, from a linguistic and literary perspective, represents an incredible opportunity that I would love to seize.

Behind the Statement

How did you make start on your personal statement or begin planning?

At the end of Year 12, I started thinking about works I had studied for my A Levels and if there were any connections between them which I wanted to explore in my personal statement.

How did you decide what experiences to include in your personal statement? What did you cut out?

I wanted to include experiences that were quite contrasting. I mentioned some supercurricular activities linked to my subjects, such as films I had watched. I contrasted this with extracurricular activities, such as participating in debating competitions. These extracurricular activities were not directly linked to my chosen subjects but showed more general skills useful for university study. I avoided putting in experiences that I couldn't clearly connect to my enthusiasm for my chosen subjects.

How did you get these experiences in the first place?

Some were through my school, some were through independent research (e.g. TV documentaries, radio programmes, museum exhibitions, newspaper articles etc).

How did you structure your personal statement? 

As I was applying for a Joint Honours course, I tried to particularly highlight the links between my chosen subjects at the start and end of my personal statement. I also chose to only mention extracurricular activities in the last paragraph of the personal statement so that I could maintain more of a focus on the academic side of things.

How did you decide on an introduction for your personal statement?

I wanted to make my motivation for studying my chosen subjects clear from the start.

How did you decide on a conclusion for your personal statement?

I felt my conclusion should be reassert my introduction without copying it directly.

What do you think are the strengths of your personal statement?

I think I managed to cover multiple reasons for wanting to study my chosen subjects with examples that were clearly linked together.

Is there anything you wish you knew beforehand/advice? 

You can make the vast majority of experiences you have relevant to your personal statement; you just need to spend a bit of time thinking about how to connect those activities to your chosen course!