Literature of the English Country House: Ben Jonson, Thomas More and the 16th-century country house

‘The Literature of the English Country House’ launches today! Here’s our tantaslizing preview of everything that will be happening during the first week of the course…

Chatsworth House

Chatsworth House

Over the next six weeks our MOOC will be exploring over 450 years of literature, identifying the ways the English country house has been represented by a wide range of authors all writing in different times and different contexts. We’ll be looking so see how the country house has been portrayed in literature and we’ve discussed what the country house represents.

Our first week begins with an introduction to all the educators who make our MOOC teaching team: Joe Bray, Jim Fitzmaurice, Susan Fitzmaurice, Amber Regis, Tom Rutter, Cathy Shrank, Adam Smith, Andrew Smith and Angela Wright. The team, which is one of the largest teaching teams yet to appear on a Furturelearn MOOC, will guide you through the course, appearing in videos, discussions and live broadcasts. We hope that the course offers a genuine insight into the teaching and research culture here in the School of English.

Left to Right: Joe Bray, Cathy Shrank, Jim Fitzmaurice, Tom Rutter, Andrew Smith, Amber Regis, Angela Wright and Susan Fitzmaurice.

Left to Right: Joe Bray, Cathy Shrank, Jim Fitzmaurice, Tom Rutter, Andrew Smith, Amber Regis, Angela Wright and Susan Fitzmaurice.

 

Beginning our journey in the sixteenth century, we approach the country house this week from the perspective of the tenants, learning that the country house at this time was more than a building. The role of the landlord came with wider social responsibilities, to tenants and the surrounding areas. We’ll be joined by Professor Cathy Shrank, who will introduce us to Ben Jonson’s country house poem ‘To Penhurst’ and Thomas More’s ‘Utopia.’

Throughout the course we’ll be thinking about how we can best read and make sense of country house literature and learnt how to build authoritative interpretations of these texts. This week Professor Susan Fitzmaurice introduces the idea of ‘close reading’, an approach which focuses specifically on particular details of language, to uncover layers of meaning in the text.

 

University Library Special Collections at Western Bank Library.

University Library Special Collections at Western Bank Library.

Cathy will then show us how we can enhance a close reading by considering the social and historical contexts in which a text was written and received. Over the coming weeks we’ll also be considering the many different contexts in which literature has been produced over the past 450 years. For this we’ll be making regular visits to the University Library Special Collections Archive, which will be introduced to us this week by Jacky Hodgson, the head of Special Collections.

Cathy  Shrank and Adam Smith examine an edition of Thomas More's 'Utopia' from 1551.

Cathy Shrank and Adam Smith examine an edition of Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ from 1551.

We’ll also get to see a 1551 edition of Thomas More’s Utopia, as Cathy shows us how much can be learned from the material conditions and physical appearance of texts, discussing the size and quality of the book and the techniques employed by the author and publisher to present it to readers in a certain way.

Here on the blog we’ll also be talking to current MA student Hannah Moss, who will tell all about her time working in the archives of Chatsworth House!

To find out more or sign up for the course, for free, by click here.

 

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