World Book Day the UCL Way

Zehrah Heesan takes a look at UCL’s most readable alumni

UCL Buzz World Book Day

So it’s World Book Day and as you’d expect I’ll be spending the rest of this article encouraging you to free your minds within the paper-based realms of imagination. However, this World Book Day, instead of skulking around Waterstones until you get your £1 off voucher (which, let’s face it, you’ll never actually use), why don’t you delve into UCL’s past and discover the works of some of our literary Alumni. 

1. Stella Gibbons

Her most famous work, Cold Comfort Farm, is a satirical parody of the literary style of Thomas Hardy (a former Kings student; seems as though the rivalry is in our blood). The novel centres on the 19-year old ‘Flora Poste’, independent woman extraordinaire, who applies her common sense and wit to solve problems at her Aunt’s farm. So maybe you’re still sceptical and thinking along the lines of Virginia Woolf who said about Gibbons: “Who is she? What is this book?” However, Gibbons won the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse at the Institut Français in 1934 and enjoyed immediate success. And in true UCL-leftist-feminist-socialist shit-stirring fashion, the novel was banned in the Irish Free State because of its endorsement of contraception. So give it a chance and give it a read, especially if comic-socio-literary commentary is your thing.

2. Rabindranath Tagore

His collection of poems, Gitanjali, have been said to consist of the most “profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse”. This resulted in him winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913 and he was in fact the first non-European to receive the award. Impressive stuff.

3. Robert Browning

Finally. Someone you can boast about. Indeed, Robert Browning went to your university. And who wouldn’t love the man that opens a poem where he is taking his second wife on a tour of his house with the lines “That’s my Last Duchess’ painted on the wall, looking as if she were alive…” That’s a disconcerting start to any new marriage. He is the pride of our UCL literary Alumni. Er…just try not to mention fact that he left UCL after a year…


4. Raymond Briggs

You recognise that name don’t you? Well, you should, this guy is an absolute legend. He managed to encapsulate the essence of childhood and Christmas (the two best things in the world) in his most famous work. You watched the Channel 4 adaptation of it without fail every Christmas morning and marvelled at the angelic tones of Peter Auty. The Snowman, with its joyful yet tear-jerking ending has had generations enthralled and will continue to do so for decades to come. And we owe it all to Mr Briggs. Good man.


5. G.K Chesterton

With 80 books, hundreds of poems, 200 short stories, 4000 essays and a few plays under his rather large belt, Chesterton evidently had too much spare time on his hands. He however, has made a lasting impact with his reason apologetics to the extent that Time magazine called him the “prince of paradox.” A man of power and influence, he owned C.S Lewis who converted to Christianity after reading Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. Just overlook the fact he studied at Slade and just took literature classes at UCL.

So, as it turns out, UCL has produced its fair share of literary legends. It doesn’t matter that one of them produced a wordless book, or that two ended up leaving. The point is that something within the walls of Gower Street stimulated these five individuals, leading to the creation of some of the most inspiring works of our time. But my main plea to you all on this fine summer’s(ish) day is that even if you don’t read any of the above suggestions (which you probably won’t); use this World Book Day to at least broaden your literary horizons. Anyway, you’re already half way there by reading The Buzz.