If you love literature and you love country houses then this free online course from FutureLearn is definitely for you. Produced by the School of English at the University of Sheffield, Literature of the Country House is one of many MOOCs available (that’s Massive Open Online Courses to you and me), which basically means that anyone in the world, regardless of age or academic background, can sign-up to learn from leading academics based at some of the UK’s top institutions. Right now you can study everything from football to filmmaking, but for me it’s all about the country house. Last year I completed this very course prior to returning to postgraduate study at the University of Sheffield and I can whole heartedly recommend it. After being out of education for the best part of 6 years, it provided the perfect taster for what I was letting myself in for – and basically reminded me that I hadn’t forgotten everything I’d learned about textual analysis!
This year Literature of the Country House is back with new steps to complete. Starting on 29th June, the course will run for 6 weeks. Tracing the representation of the country house in literature from the sixteenth century onwards, the team of educators will be covering the likes of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde as well as offering a rare insight to archival material from the university library’s Special Collections.
Filmed on location at some of the most beautiful country houses Derbyshire and South Yorkshire have to offer, the course also provides the perfect opportunity to see inside Haddon Hall, Nostell Priory, Bolsover Castle and, of course, Chatsworth House. Chatsworth is a key location where you’ll get to learn more about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s epistolary novel, The Sylph (1778). I love this book, and it is my mission to get everyone to read it. Georgiana was only 20 when she wrote the novel, but it illustrates how disillusioned she had already become with a life of dissipation. Published anonymously, Fanny Burney responded angrily to reports which linked her to its authorship and the text often comes under criticism for stylistic inconsistencies resulting from it being written in such a hurry. I find The Sylph fascinating because it reveals not only what type of novels Georgiana herself was reading, but what she thought of various members of the Bon Ton who are subject to some rather thinly veiled portraits.
My top tip for MOOCers is to really engage with the content. I made a conscious decision to complete every step and try to join in the discussions to get the most out of the course. However, the beauty of a MOOC is that it fits around you, so you can dedicate as much or as little time as you have to study. You can have a quick look on your phone or tablet to pass the time on your morning commute or sit at home in your pyjamas working on your laptop late at night – no one will know! Whether or not you’ve studied literature before, the content is engaging and accessible to all, so why not sign-up now? There’s still time to join (or catch-up if you’re late to the party) – just click here.
Follow @FLHouseLitSheff on Twitter and use the hashtag #FLHouseLit to join in the conversation. Also, keep a look out for extra content each week on the School of English blog – including an interview with yours truly about my work placement in the archive at Chatsworth.