Skip to 0 minutes and 9 secondsHi. As we approach the end of our first great week, Cathy Shrank and I have been going through all of the comments to identify some common themes, and I've prepared a few questions that we're going to ask as we reflect on the course so far. So Kathy, our learners have really enjoyed looking at the texts in the Special Collections here in Western Bank Library and at 'Utopia' in particular. Why do you think 'Utopia' is such a useful text to consider at the outset of our exploration of country house literature? 'Utopia' is a useful text because it reminds us that being an owner of a country house wasn't just about privileges.
Skip to 0 minutes and 40 secondsIt also came the responsibilities and how the land was used and managed had a profound impact on the surrounding area, on the social relationships, but also on the local and national economy. Our learners have been really interested in the appearance of 'Utopia', the way it was presented, and they thought a lot about the format of the text, which I think has been really nice and led to some really great conversations. Lisa North was wondering if the portability of that small 1551 edition of 'Utopia' that we looked at is a little bit like a Kindle today. Do you think that's a sound analogy? Yes, the portability of the text would certainly give it the convenience of a Kindle.
Skip to 1 minute and 18 secondsBut what the 1551 text doesn't have that a Kindle has is the ability to contain lots of texts. And here an analogy might be the sammelband. A sammelband was when printed text - texts that had been printed individually - would be bound up within one cover. And that was like a personal collection of texts because in this period texts were not often sold bound. The customer would choose what kind of binding - how much they wanted to spend on binding - once they'd bought the printed book. And so in the sammelband you get - as with a Kindle - a kind of a personal collection of what it is that you're reading.
Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsAlthough with the sammelband, that's what you're buying at one time rather than accreting over time as on a Kindle. On a similar topic, Trevor Jenkins has actually asked whether or not the form of a book still affects the way that we read. And he's made a comment that's actually been getting quite a lot of attention, so I thought I'd just take this opportunity to quickly read it out. He suggested that maybe the removal of original paratextual material would have affected the contemporary readers of Robinson's 'Utopia'. But he doesn't know whether or not this still holds true today. So is the printed edition of a sacred object to be revered, or can the reader gain the same response from an e-book?
Skip to 2 minutes and 30 secondsAnd he also suggests that Amazon claim that e-book sales outstrip those of printed books, but critics slam e-books for dumbing down reading. Absolutely. I think the form in which we read a text really does affect how we receive it. I don't actually have a Kindle, so I don't have much experience of reading e-books for pleasure. But I think there's a very big difference for me for reading, for example, between a hardback and paperback. I'm much less likely to dog-ear the pages in my hardback, for example, because it feels expensive. It feels a proper book as opposed to a more portable, throwaway kind of thing like a paperback. I don't think Kindles are dumbing down how we read at all.
Skip to 3 minutes and 16 secondsThey are affecting how we consume literature however. For example, I read recently that Amazon are thinking about paying authors by how much of an e-book the customer gets through - which is slightly troubling if you're an author. Other ways in which form might affect how we receive a text is things like serialisation. Even now we still can read texts as serials. For example, a paper like the Saturday 'Guardian' still print short stories as single items. And there, I think, is a very big difference between reading a text that has just come as part of your newspaper and one that you've gone out and expended something to get hold of.
Skip to 4 minutes and 2 secondsWhether it's buying the collection of short stories or going down to the library to borrow it. Our learners have also had a lot of questions about the other text we've been looking at this week, Jonson's 'To Penshurst'. And the issue of patronage has come up a lot, and people have been asking, what is the role of patronage in this poem? How are we supposed to feel about the fact this might be an appeal for money? And should we be suspicious of Jonson for trying to get money for the poems that he's writing?
Skip to 4 minutes and 28 secondsPatronage was a much more usual part of early modern life than it is today, because it was printers who would have made any profits from a piece of writing. It was also the main way in which an author could make money. So I don't think readers would have been suspicious because this is a poem of patronage. It's also quite interesting the way in which Jonson is careful to position himself so that it's clear that he is not an inferior being. He's there eating the same food and drink as the lord of the manor. And he even talks about himself as being like a king when he talks about as if he reigned at Penshurst.
Skip to 5 minutes and 9 secondsAnd a lot of people have also been wondering about how real Penshurst is. Is Jonson talking about a place in Kent, or is this something more like Utopia? Penshurst was a real place but Jonson's representation of it in the poem is an idealised one, for example, the way in which the fish are so willing to be eaten that they throw themselves into the fishermen's nets. This idealisation is very much in line with Renaissance theories of poetry. For example, Philip Sidney writes about nature delivering a brazen world, or one that's made of brass, but a poet instead can create something that's a golden world.
Skip to 5 minutes and 45 secondsAnd this is what I think we can see Johnson doing in 'To Penshurst', making the brazen world of the estate into one that appears golden in the poem. And sometimes the kinds of things that Jonson describes are actually saying how things should be rather than how they are. And this is particularly true with a companion piece 'To Penshurst', which is the poem that follows in the collection, which is called 'To Sir Robert Wroth'. And in that poem, it replays some of the ideas and images from 'Penshurst', but you can see it having a particular agenda because Wroth was actually in quite bad financial circumstances at that time.
Skip to 6 minutes and 24 secondsSo the poem, therefore, is reminding him that he should be going back and living off his country estates rather than bankrupting himself by living at court. Excellent. And a real theme this week has been - or something we've been thinking a lot about this week - is how history and social context can help us to read these poems. A lot of our learners have been really interested in enclosure, and all of the politics and ideas that come with that, and some have been wondering whether or not we can say that Jonson's 'To Penshurst' is in fact an anti-enclosure poem. I don't think it's an explicitly anti-enclosure poem.
Skip to 6 minutes and 56 secondsFor example, it talks without any anxiety about the fact that the estate includes deer and sheep which are animals that are associated with enclosure - because the deer obviously need to be fenced in in a park and sheep were often brought in to graze the land that had been once common land but had been enclosed. And there don't seem to any anxieties in the poem about those aspects of the estate. But the poem very much presents as an ideal that should be aspired to, an estate in which there are harmonious relationships between the landlord and the tenant farmers.
Skip to 7 minutes and 33 secondsAnd these are tenant farmers who are clearly prosperous enough to be able to bring gifts to the landlord at regular times in the year. We're also told quite clearly that Penshurst as an estate is not built on human exploitation and the suffering of the lower orders, for example, its walls are reared with 'no man's groan.' Thanks very much, Cathy. Thank you. And that draws to a close the end of our interview and the end of Week 1. This week, we've been thinking a lot about how history and historical context can help us to understand literature. Next week, we'll be thinking about how literature can help us to better understand history and historical conditions.
Skip to 8 minutes and 13 secondsSpecifically, we'll be looking at different types of literature such as manuscripts, letters and playtext to think about how literature can help us to understand the lived lives of people who encountered country houses - servants, residents and visitors. At the end of next week I'll be joined by Tom Rutter, and I'll be posing to him your most common questions. Thanks very much.
End of week interview: Reflections on the week
We hope you have enjoyed Week 1 of the course.
[Updated 3rd July 2015] During this week, Cathy and Adam have looked through your comments and tried to address some of the common themes and questions in this video. Subtitles and a transcript will be available as soon as possible but please bear with us while these are processed.
Now that we have learned about close textual analysis and have started to put this into practice, we will continue next week in the same vein, giving valuable historical and cultural background and insights before introducing you to some new texts.
Professor Susan Fitzmaurice, one of our lead educators on this course and Head of the School of English at University of Sheffield will take us into Week 2 of Literature of the English Country House, in which we will visit Hardwick Hall and look at entertainment in the country house.
Hardwick was visited by travelling players and Dr Tom Rutter will explain this tradition in light of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ and you will have a chance to discuss and perform close reading on an extract from ‘Hamlet’.
Dr Jim Fitzmaurice and Professor Susan Fitzmaurice will then introduce you to some alternative texts, as they look at manuscripts and letters.
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