Nine go to Cornwall for a touch of Inferno

August 25, 2000

Matthew Leigh, a classics tutor at St Anne's College, Oxford, took nine of his students to a house in Cornwall this summer to read Dante's Inferno.

He is a firm believer in reading weeks. "It gets you away from the syllabus. You are studying for its own sake. And you are able to take a broader perspective."

This is the third reading week he has organised. The other two were at his previous university, Exeter, where he taught for four years, but all were at the same Cornish house, which is owned by a retired St Anne's politics tutor who lets it to a number of universities.

The week was part funded by the university. "We got a travel grant support, rent and some food."

Organisation of the reading week requires a lot of effort, including reading in advance. "It is where I get educated as well. I learnt a lot about the medieval period."

He does not believe that reading weeks based on the Oxbridge model will vanish. To the suggestion that, in financially difficult times, they might seem indulgent, he says, "I think some people have a self-defeatingly mercantile concept of the value of education."

Jo Khinmaung, one of Leigh's first-year students, who is from Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, was one of nine on the Cornish reading week.

"We had finished our summer term and were all tired out. We had a discussion each evening. Two people prepared texts each day and talked for ten minutes. The weather was wonderful and we read on the beach.

"It was quite interesting because we were all doing classics. It was nice to read a book that wasn't from the ancient world, had classical references but also had Christian references."

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