Meet Johnson, Addison, Austen, Wilde and Many More on ‘Literature of the English Country House’!
By Dr Adam James Smith, Co-Lead Educator on the Literature of the English Country House
The School of English at the University of Sheffield have just launched ‘TheLiterature of the English Country House’, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) tracing the literary history of the English country house through over 450 years of writing. This free course explores the literature of some of our most celebrated authors. These include famous authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, as well as writers you might be less familiar with, like Joseph Addison and Georgina Duchess of Devonshire. It has been written and presented by a team of researchers in the School of English, and we’ll all be taking part in online videos, discussions and live-broadcasts over the next six weeks.
The course first ran in 2014, but this time round we’ve been able to add a wealth of new material. Last time, the emphasis on the course was firmly on developing skills in literary analysis. This time we also want to demonstrate some of the ways you can build on this initial interpretation. Each week we’ll be exploring a different ‘Research Approach.’ We’ll also be regularly consulting material in the University Library Special Collections Archive to find out what this literature looked like when it was first published (click here to get a closer look at these Special Collection).
Beginning our journey in the sixteenth century, we first approach the country house from the perspective of the tenants, learning that the country house at this time was more than a building. We’ll then consider the country house from the contrasting perspectives of servants, travelling players and residents: a task which requires learners to examine less familiar forms of literature, such as play-texts, manuscripts and literary letters.
It is likely the third week (starting 13th July), however, that will most excite guests at Madame Gilflurt’s Salon. We’ll be stepping outside of the country house to explore the world that it occupied and discovering what it was that the aristocracy was reading at the dawn of the 18th century. We learn all about the politeness, politics and sociability that dominated the coffee houses of the city and trace their influence back to the country house through the writing of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. On the 16th July there will a special live broadcast during you’ll have the opportunity to pose questions to both Professor Susan Fitzamaurice and myself on the subject of politeness and sociability in the 18th-century country house (bookmark this page if you’d like to join us).
From there we’ll see how the periodical and serialised print of eighteenth-century London informed the emergence of a new kind of literature: the novel. We’ll spend a week with Jane Austen, exploring the role of the country house in Pride and Prejudice. An appreciation of Austen’s use of intertextuality will lead us to Ann Radcliffe and the Gothic novel, Mysteries of Udolpho, where we’ll find the country house and its malevolent owner taking on a more sinister aspect. Likewise, in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations we’ll meet met the haunting Miss Havisham, whose insistence on stasis won’t hide the fact that rot has begun to set in at the English Country House. Antiquated and in decline, we’ll finally see the country house become host to an actual haunting in Oscar Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost.
If you like reading and discussing literature and you have an interest in the fascinating literary history of the English country house then this is doubtlessly the course for you, I look forward to meeting you on the platform!
To sign up for free, click here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/country-house-literature
To view the first step, click here: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/country-house-literature-2/steps/24832?utm_campaign=Share+Links&utm_medium=futurelearn-open_step&utm_source=twitter
This post copyright © Adam Smith, 2015.