Free Online Course to Examine English Country Houses & Literature Associated with Them

Free Online Course Custom Made for Lovers of Downton Abbey
Literature of the English Country House

Today is the first day of a free online literature course from the University of Sheffield in England. The purpose of the course is to examine the English Country Houses and the types of literature associated with them. The texts will range from those of Thomas More to those of Oscar Wilde. You can still join the course Here.

“The country house has fascinated writers and readers for over 450 years, attracting the attention of celebrated writers like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and providing a setting for the performance of literature for writers such as William Shakespeare. We’ll be tracing the history of country house literature, from the sixteenth and seventeenth-century poetry and drama of Thomas More and Margaret Cavendish, through the polite satire and sociability of the eighteenth-century, the Gothic terror and intrigue of Ann Radcliffe and Charles Dickens, all the way through to the dawn of the twentieth century and the wit of Oscar Wilde.”

English Country Houses That Will be Explored:

Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire

“This building, completed in 1597, is often understood to be a ‘prodigy’ house. That is, Hardwick Hall was built for show (even for showing off) and certainly had many more windows than one would find in a more modest structure of the time. A contemporary rhyme asks us to note: “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”. Hardwick was designed to accommodate all sorts of entertainment, including visits from travelling acting companies based in London. We will read a scene from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ in which players figure and will look at a manuscript poem that was written by a servant for a baby’s birthday and that might have been read aloud in such a venue. Hardwick’s thoroughly spooky picture gallery makes an excellent spot to connect with our reading of Oscar Wilde’s ‘Canterville Ghost’. Hardwick is a National Trust property.”

Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire

“We jump into the middle of the 18th century with Nostell, which Mark Girouard in ‘Life in the English Country House’ discusses as a social house. Guests ascended an external staircase and circulated through a series of rooms starting with the Top Hall. The guests danced, played cards, and chatted in polite conversation. We will read a portion of an essay on the topic of polite conversation written by Joseph Addison and published in a paper called ‘The Spectator’ in the early 18th century. Nostell is a National Trust property.”

Chatsworth House in Derbyshire – Model for Jane Austen’s Pemberley House

“This building has been much modified over the last four hundred years. We are interested in Chatsworth as the home of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, during the second half of the 18th century. Although not built to be a social house as was the case with Nostell, it nevertheless served as a gathering point for polite society as well as political elites. We will read a portion of Georgiana’s novel, ‘The Sylph’. Chatsworth also is said to be a model for Jane Austen’s Pemberley House in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, from which we will read a selection. Chatsworth is an independent property but open to the public.”

Haddon Hall – Setting for Ann Radcliffe Book

“At the end of the 16th century, the owners of Haddon Hall ceased to change or add on to it, so it is essentially a building frozen in the time of William Shakespeare. Ann Radcliffe, who lived in nearby Chesterfield, used this fine medieval fortified manor house as a setting in her late 18th century Gothic novel ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’, from which we will read a selection. Haddon is an independent property but open to the public.”

Brodsworth Hall

“Brodsworth was built in the 1860s. Many of the furnishings have been kept as they were in the 19th century. Portions of Brodsworth have been allowed to deteriorate, as with the peeling wallpaper in the ‘Boat Bedroom’. This room is a wonderful setting to fit in with our reading of a portion of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ where Miss Havisham appears. Brodsworth is an English Heritage property.”

Firth Court

“Whilst not a country house as such, Firth Court is one of many historical buildings which borrowed style and architecture from country house living. Standing at the heart of the University of Sheffield campus on Western Bank, it is the main administrative centre for the University. The building was opened by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1905, the same year that the University of Sheffield was granted its royal charter and officially came into being. Each week we will visit Firth Court to look at rare and original books and manuscripts from our University of Sheffield Special Collections Archive.”

© University of Sheffield – See the Full Text Here





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