Kayleigh Betterton, a teacher at Christ the King: Aquinas College in Lewisham, collects books by Oscar Wilde but she doesn’t lock her treasured collection in a case, she shares them with her students. Now her collection, and her generosity, has won her a prize.
Betterton said: “For A-level English Literature, students to be granted access to the first and early editions of texts they’re studying, or from the era they’re researching, is invaluable.”
Betterton told ELL that the lectures and workshops centred on her collection give her students a “real hands-on approach to analysing texts”. Betterton said: “I teach them how to ‘read’ books as physical objects and then allow them to interact with the collection themselves.”
She added: “However I think the most important aspect to this project is not how it will help them to pass an exam but how it will raise the cultural capital of the young people that I teach. I never had the opportunity to interact with objects such as these when I was younger and many of my students never will either; and so to be able to give them this opportunity is something which I value highly.”
The Anthony Davis Book Collecting Award is intended to inspire a love of physical books in a world of e-readers. It is awarded by the University of London and supported by Senate House Library and the Institute of English Studies, and it usually consists of £500 for the student personally, and £250 for the purchase of a book which the winner chooses for Senate House Library.
As well as funding the prize and awarding the winners, Anthony Davis also takes time to help those with a passion for book collecting. Betterton said: “Davis takes a genuine interest in the candidates who apply and has since helped and advised me on the ways in which I can develop my collection and continue using it as a teaching aid. His guidance has been invaluable.”
“I think that the award in itself is a fantastic idea. With the rise of people using Kindles and other e-readers, book collecting is slowly becoming a thing of the past; or at least, a passion which seems to be dominated by an older generation. The fact that this prize is aimed at younger people means that it is helping to both preserve this pastime and also secure its longevity for the future.”
Betterton’s desire for collecting Oscar Wilde started at 16 with a piece of coursework and a bit of laziness. Betterton said: “My interest in Wilde began at school when I was able to choose the texts for a piece of A-level coursework. On my teacher’s recommendation I selected Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, albeit predominately for its 177 page length.”
She added: “However this interest steadily grew and developed at university where I was allowed to focus my research on the Victorian era and subsequently Wilde’s first novel became one of my primary texts for my BA Dissertation.”
Betterton is hoping to expand her collection with an earlier edition of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and a first edition of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. The earlier edition of Dorian Gray was published in America as it was more “risqué than its English counterpart”. Betterton said: “Wilde was acutely aware of the instability of social perceptions towards homosexuality and so he published his novel in America, taking advantage of their more equivocal stance on homosexuality.”