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Online course

Literature of the English Country House

A journey through the literature of English country houses from the time of Thomas More to Oscar Wilde

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • Access to course tests
  • A Statement of Participation when you complete over half the course

Find out more

Literature of the English Country House

Why join the course?

On this free online course, you’ll investigate and discuss the role and representation of the English country house in literature, and learn how to build your own authoritative interpretation of these texts.

Join us as we trace the history of country house literature

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.

As well as reading extracts from the novels, poetry and drama of these well-known authors, we’ll be exploring lesser known forms and less familiar authors. You’ll encounter manuscripts, newspapers, periodicals and magazines, as well as private poetry and published letters.

Build a literary interpretation

You’ll have the opportunity to learn and practice how to conduct a ‘close reading’ as the basis for your own literary interpretation.

We’ll be joined by experts from the University of Sheffield’s School of English who will share with us the approaches that they take in their own research and what else we can use to build a literary interpretation.

Understand the material conditions

We’ll also be taking you into the University of Sheffield’s Special Collections archive to view country house literature as it originally appeared. We’ll look at the different contexts in which this literature was produced, examining such varied materials as handwritten seventeenth-century manuscripts and early eighteenth-century newspapers.

You’ll be able to think about and discuss the wide variety of ways country house literature has been composed, consumed and received over the centuries.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 18 secondsThe country house has been a subject in English literature for well over 500 years. It's just as prominent in the writing of early modern figures, like William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, as it is in the writing of today. In this course, you'll read the country house literature of some of our most celebrated authors. From famous authors like Jane Austen and Charles Dickens to writers you might be less familiar with like Joseph Addison and Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire. The country house offers an excellent way into the history of English literature and prompts questions like, how is the country house portrayed? What does it represent? What are the enduring appeals to writers and readers?

Skip to 1 minute and 2 secondsWe'll also be taking you into the Special Collections archive at The University of Sheffield. There we'll explore different ways of writing about the English country house. Of course, we'll read novels, poetry and plays, but we'll also consider other genres of writing, like letters, newspapers and periodicals. The archive allows us to reconstruct and revisit country house literature as it originally appeared. We'll examine handwritten manuscripts and we'll think about how a mere fragment can come to be a literary text and a window into the past.

Skip to 1 minute and 39 secondsIn order to develop a literary interpretation, we'll learn and practise close reading. This approach focuses on style. It allows us to read between the lines and get under the skin of the text. We'll speak to scholars at The University of Sheffield about the approaches they take in their research. They will help us to place our close readings in context. These perspectives include history, politics, gender and the connections between different works.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 secondsBy the end of the course, you'll learn how to produce your own literary interpretations, informed by the material conditions of the production and circulation of texts. You'll place your readings into context with the help of a wide variety of research approaches. So join us as we embark on our tour of the country house in English literature.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

Who is the course for?

This course is suitable for anyone who enjoys reading and discussing literary texts in English. It may also help those who are preparing for further study in English Literature, as it gives a good foundation in analysing texts. If you are already at degree level in English or another subject, this course could be a good supplement to your studies. Ultimately though, this course is suitable for anyone who loves country houses and great literature.

Who will you learn with?

Susan Fitzmaurice, Amber Regis and Adam J Smith

Working in the School of English at the University of Sheffield, we all have a fascination with English country houses, a love of great literature and a desire to share our knowledge with you.

Who developed the course?

The University of Sheffield is one of the world’s top 100 universities with a reputation for teaching and research excellence.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.

£34.00 + shipping

Estimate prices in preferred currency

Charges to your account will be made in GBP. Prices in local currency are provided as a convenience and are only an estimate based on current exchange rates.