It is six seasons since I last saw them play, but I still follow online the fortunes of French Division 2 rugby club Aviron Bayonnais. “UN ESSAI!” will appear upper case type on the text commentary. Too often it is in favour of the opposition: perhaps it is too much to expect that they will have success on the field as well as having the best fans in the world. But the word “essai” seems much more impressive than “try,” the corresponding English word.
”Un essai” can have an academic meaning, Edward Gibbon, who wrote “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” would have been surprised at the word being applied to the successful attempt by fifteen very large men to carry a ball over a white line. Gibbon’s “’Essai Sur L’étude De La Litterature” was a major piece of scholarship, written and published in French. Still in print, a new paperback copy will set a buyer back £75. Gibbon’s understanding of what was meant by an essay was almost as far removed from teenage youths writing on two sides of A4 lined paper as it was from the tries of the rugbymen.
The current piece of teacher training work is not classified as an essay, but rather as an assignment. Four thousand words are expected: 2,750 in the body of the assignment and 1,250 in the appendices. It is described as a portfolio in the course description, but the main body of the piece is definitely an essay, with an introduction, a main section, and a conclusion, and with references and a bibliography.
It is forty years too late, but I have finally devised a method for writing essays. In undergraduate days they would be like the some of the efforts of Bayonne players to reach the line: there would be much effort and lots of arguments to and fro, but, at the end, the essay wouldn’t have reached the intended goal.
Now, the essay seems like a big jigsaw. There is a need to imagine the picture that should be completed and then assemble the diverse pieces accordingly. If the final picture is clear enough in the imagination, there is no need to have all the pieces at the outset, instead they can be found as the essay progresses, shaped and placed in the right place.
Of course, effort is still required and the search for the pieces needed can be dull, but at least the line can be seen.