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This content is taken from the The University of Sheffield's online course, Literature of the English Country House. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsWelcome to The Literature of the Country House. On this course, we'll be exploring the role of the English country house in literature to understand its literary history and its enduring appeal. Each week, we'll be thinking about different ways to interpret this literature.

Skip to 0 minutes and 28 secondsThere are three major strands running through this course, Close Reading, Material Conditions, and Research Approaches. To begin, we'll learn how to conduct a Close Reading, which will form the basis for your own literary interpretation. From then on, you'll need to close read all of the texts that we encounter. So remember that you'll be able to return to this week's introduction to Close Reading at any time. But you also need to put your close reading into context. So each week, we'll be examining material from The Special Collections archive at The University of Sheffield. We'll look at the different contexts in which this literature was produced, and we'll examine materials such as handwritten 17th-century manuscripts, and 18th-century newspapers.

Skip to 1 minute and 10 secondsYou'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. Finally, in the research approaches steps, we'll be joined by experts from The School of English at The University of Sheffield, who will share with us the approaches that they take in their own research. We've gathered here in The Bath Hotel to introduce ourselves, and tell you a little bit about what we'll each be covering. Hello, my name's Cathy Shrank. And in Week One, I'll be talking about Thomas More's 'Utopia' and literary history. Hello, I'm Tom Rutter. And in Week Two, I'm going to be talking about 'Hamlet' and travelling players.

Skip to 1 minute and 47 secondsI'm also going to be talking about what goes into the making of a modern edition of Shakespeare.

Skip to 1 minute and 57 secondsI'm Jim Fitzmaurice, and I'm mostly going to be in Week Two, and I'll be talking a lot about manuscripts, and a bit more about letters, and with special reference to Margaret Cavendish. As you know, I'm Susan Fitzmaurice, and I'll be one of the lead educators on this course. You'll join me in Week Three, when I'll discuss print culture, coffee houses, politeness, and sociability in the 18th century. Hello, I'm Joe Bray. You'll be seeing me in Week Four, when we'll be considering the representation of the country house in Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'.

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 secondsHi, I'm Amber Regis, and in Week Five, I'll be discussing 'Great Expectations' by Charles Dickens. And it's my fault that we're in the pub here this evening, because I'll also be talking about country house brewing. Hi, I'm Angela Wright, and in Week Five, I'm going to be discussing the Gothic author Ann Radcliffe's amazing novel, 'The Mysteries of Udolpho', from 1794, and Jane Austen's subsequent fascination with the fiction of Ann Radcliffe. My name's Andy Smith, and I will be teaching you in Week Six, when we'll been looking at Oscar Wilde and his contribution to the English country house tradition. And I'm Adam Smith.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 secondsI'm one of the lead educators, and you'll be seeing me throughout the course, where I'll be interviewing everyone to find out more about their individual Research Approaches. This week, Professor Cathy Shrank will be discussing how historical context can be used to enhance a Close Reading, and she'll be showing us a version of Thomas More's 'Utopia' from 1551. This first week is all about setting up some key questions to frame our study of country house literature for the course. So we'll ask, how is the country house depicted in literature? What is the role of the country house in literature? And what is the literary appeal of the English country house?

Skip to 3 minutes and 51 secondsIt's now time for us to embark on our journey through The Literature of the English Country House, so let's get started.

Welcome to the course

In the coming weeks, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing the literature of the English country house and sharing your own interpretations of the rich and varied works we’ll be exploring.

In this video, we meet the educators who will be guiding us through over four centuries of country house literature, as they explain what they’ll be discussing in the course.

Each week we’ll explore a different historical period, allowing us to examine the changing role of the English country house in literature and to understand its literary history and enduring appeal. We’ll also be thinking about different ways of interpreting this literature.

There are three major strands running through this course:

Close Reading

This approach will provide the basis for your first engagement with these texts. Close reading, as you’ll learn this week, is about paying close attention to the literary devices employed by authors. It’s about identifying and examining how and why they write this literature the way they do, and discussing the effects and implications of these decisions.

Material Conditions

The results of this close reading will then need to be put in context, so each week we’ll be examining material from the Special Collections archive at the University of Sheffield to look at the different ways in which this literature was produced.

Research Approaches

In the Research Approaches steps, 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. This week, Cathy Shrank, Professor of Tudor and Renaissance Literature, will be showing us how an awareness of historical context can be used alongside close reading to enhance a literary interpretation.

Learning will take place through videos, articles and discussion. There will also be optional tasks and exercises you can try along the way to enhance your learning. Optional material will be clearly marked and won’t be covered in any of the quizzes or tests, so don’t worry if you don’t have time to look at it. This material is just there for you to enjoy.

Each week should take you about three to four hours to complete if you do all the tasks. There is a quiz at the end of each week so you can see how much you have learnt, but literature analysis is a subject of discussion and interpretation, so participating in the discussions with fellow learners will be an important part of this course.

Each week the educators and mentors will be participating in these discussions, offering help and listening to your own literary interpretations of these texts. We’ll send you an email at the beginning and end of each week with some key information and a summary of some of the weekly activity.


Our Co-Lead Educators Dr Jim Fitzmaurice, Professor Susan Fitzmaurice and Dr Adam James Smith all have FutureLearn profile pages and you may find it useful to follow them so that you will see their comments on your activity feed. The Lead Educators will also be joined by a course mentor, Carly Stevenson who will be joining in with the activities on this course to encourage discussion and offer additional support and guidance.

Take our survey

In order to understand more about our learners, and so we can support you better, we have designed a very short survey to get to know you. We just need some basic information about you and where you are. If you have already completed this survey through the course notice email, thank you; please just mark this step as complete below and continue on to the next step. Click to launch the survey.

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This video is from the free online course:

Literature of the English Country House

The University of Sheffield