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The OxNet English course ran for the first time in 2021. It is run in partnership between Pembroke College, University of Oxford, and Oldham Sixth Form College. The programme of seminar study is focused around Postcolonial Literature.

A variety of literary texts will be explored during the seminar series, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest, alongside extracts from novels, such as Midnight’s Children, Wide Sargasso Sea, White Teeth, and Girl, Woman, Other, as well as poems by, for example, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou and Benjamin Zephaniah.

To apply for the English course, there are two steps. Both of these are compulsory.

1) Fill in this application form

2) Answer one of the following questions in response to the prompt. You must write a one-page essay (one side of paper) using size 12 font. 

You must submit your completed essay to before 9am on 8th November.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Before proceeding to the extracts in the theme you are interested in, you should read the following:


REMEMBER: This is simply a device to allow us to get (a) a sense of your understanding and approach to an unfamiliar exercise that you are unlikely to have encountered at school or college  and (b) find out your approach to writing or/and problem solving. 

What is a Gobbet?  

It is a short commentary relating to a piece of primary evidence, a passage of literature, an ancient image, an artefact etc. or (included in this instance) a science or mathematics-based question.  

A response to a gobbet is an analytical commentary on a brief extract from texts that you are probably not encountered before based on the themes of our intensive courses.

It should not be a wide-ranging essay and should be no more than a page in length. It does not require an introduction and a conclusion in the way an essay does. However, it should have a narrative arc; that is, the reader should note a structure and shape to what you have written. 

What you need to do above all is to extract as much meaning as you can from the text. Squeeze it until the pips squeak! In the case of science, what is the essence of the problem under review and how might it be solved. 

What is its purpose?  

The idea of a gobbet is for you to show that you less know something about the extract but that you can display curiosity, imagination, and enough intellectual independence to tackle material that you would have not necessarily have encountered before. It is a chance for you to show the examiner you can work critically, deploy the relevant knowledge that you do have and feel able to either assess the value of what they tell us or answer the problem with some flourish.  

No extract will be without bias of some kind, and none will give you the complete picture, so it is your job to identify that bias, establish the limits of the picture it gives us, and to extract information accordingly shaping it as you will.  

How do you write a Gobbet?  

Approach a gobbet like an upturned pyramid: start with the more general information and work toward the more specific. 



1. DON’T write an essay about the subject the piece relates to. If you are shown an extract, say from and eighteenth century ‘economist’, don’t just write an essay about she/he was. Say a little bit about him but also talk about the WHEN, WHERE and WHY the source was created.  

2. DON’T just paraphrase what is already in the piece. You need to evaluate that information as well, that is the point of a gobbet.   

3. DON’T get carried away writing a short biography of the author or the extended background to the scientific of mathematical problem: only include information on the author that is relevant to assessing the value of this particular piece; for example, don’t write a gobbet about a passage from Hume by writing down all you know about his life. The gobbet is about THIS PASSAGE, not Hume in general. Aspects of his life will be relevant to evaluating the information contained in the passage, so keep it to that.  

4. DON’T write an introduction and conclusion as you would with an essay.  


1. DO include cross-references to any other sources, written or otherwise, that you are aware of that contrast or corroborate with what is said in this piece 

2. DO be PRECISE, CONCISE and STRICT about only sticking to relevant information:  you’ve a limited time on each response 

Make one response from each extract in your chosen subject. You may seek to answer the accompanying ‘guide question’ or challenge it. 

Respond to one of the extracts and questions below. Submit your response to before midnight on 8th of November 2021.

  • 1. I resisted all the way: a new thing for me, and a circumstance which greatly strengthened the bad opinion Bessie and Miss Abbot were disposed to entertain of me. The fact is, I was a trifle beside myself; or rather out of myself, as the French would say. I was conscious that a moment's mutiny had already rendered me liable to strange penalties, and, like any other rebel slave, I felt resolved, in my desperation, to go all lengths. 
    "Hold her arms, Miss Abbot: she's like a mad cat." 
    "For shame, for shame!" cried the lady's-maid. "What shocking conduct, Miss Eyre, to strike a young gentleman, your benefactress's son! Your young master." 
    "Master! How is he my master? Am I a servant?" 
    "No; you are less than a servant, for you do nothing for your keep. There, sit down, and think over your wickedness." 
    They had got me by this time into the apartment indicated by Mrs. Reed, and had thrust me upon a stool: my impulse was to rise from it like a spring; their two pair of hands arrested me instantly. 
    "If you don't sit still, you must be tied down," said Bessie. "Miss Abbot, lend me your garters; she would break mine directly." 
    Miss Abbot turned to divest a stout leg of the necessary ligature. This preparation for bonds, and the additional ignominy it inferred, took a little of the excitement out of me. 
    "Don't take them off," I cried; "I will not stir." 
    In guarantee whereof, I attached myself to my seat by my hands. 
    "Mind you don't," said Bessie; and when she had ascertained that I was really subsiding, she loosened her hold of me; then she and Miss Abbot stood with folded arms, looking darkly and doubtfully on my face, as incredulous of my sanity. 
    "She never did so before," at last said Bessie, turning to the Abigail. 
    "But it was always in her," was the reply. "I've told missis often my opinion about the child, and missis agreed with me. She's an underhand little thing: I never saw a girl of her age with so much cover." 
    Bessie answered not; but ere long, addressing me, she said: 
    "You ought to be aware, miss, that you are under obligations to Mrs. Reed: she keeps you: if she were to turn you off you would have to go to the poorhouse." 
    I had nothing to say to these words: they were not new to me: my very first recollections of existence included hints of the same kind. This reproach of my dependence had become a vague singsong in my ear; very painful and crushing, but only half intelligible. Miss Abbot joined in: 
    "And you ought not to think yourself on an equality with the Misses Reed and Master Reed, because missis kindly allows you to be brought up with them. They will have a great deal of money and you will have none: it is your place to be humble, and to try to make yourself agreeable to them." 
    "What we tell you is for your good," added Bessie, in no harsh voice: "you should try to be useful and pleasant, then, perhaps, you would have a home here; but if you become passionate and rude, missis will send you away, I am sure." 
    "Besides," said Miss Abbot, "God will punish her: He might strike her dead in the midst of her tantrums, and then where would she go? Come, Bessie, we will leave her: I wouldn't have her heart for anything. Say your prayers, Miss Eyre, when you are by yourself; for if you don't repent, something bad might be permitted to come down the chimney and fetch you away." 

  •         Extract from Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, [1847] 1983) 

Is this extract about gender? 

2. There is one window high up – you cannot see out of it. My bed had doors but they have been taken away. There is not much else in the room. Her bed, a black Press, the table in the middle and two black chairs carved with fruit and flowers. They have high backs and no arms. The dressing-room is very small, the room next to this one is hung with tapestry. Looking at the tapestry one day I recognized my mother dressed in an evening gown but with bare feet. She looked away from me, over my head just as she used to do. I wouldn’t tell Grace this. Her name oughtn’t to be Grace. Names matter, like when he wouldn’t call me Antoinette, and I saw Antoinette drifting out of the window with her scents, her pretty clothes and her looking-glass. There is no looking-glass here and I don’t know what I am like now. I remember watching myself brush my hair and how my eyes looked back at me. The girl I saw was myself yet not quite myself. Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. But the glass was between us – hard, cold and misted over with my breath. Now they have taken everything away. What am I doing in this place and who am I? The door of the tapestry room is kept locked. It leads, I know, into a passage. That is where Grace stands and talks to another woman whom I have never seen. Her name is Leah. I listen but I cannot understand what they say.  

So there is still the sound of whisperings that I have heard all my life, but these are different voices.  
When night comes, and she has had several drinks and sleeps, it is easy to take the keys. I know now where she keeps them. Then I open the door and walk into their world. It is, as I always knew, made of cardboard. I have seen it before somewhere, this cardboard world where everything is coloured brown or dark red or yellow that has no light in it. As I walk along the passages I wish I could see what is behind the cardboard. They tell me I am in England but I don’t believe them. We lost our way to England. 

Excerpt from Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) 

Is there a sense of loss in this passage of writing? If so, how might that be discerned? 

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