A Sense of Place: How Literature Constructs Space

Rachel Malik
Thursday 10.30am - 12.30pm

This course will take place on Zoom.

We are living at a time where the places we can visit, in real life, are severely constrained - to say the least – while the journeys we can make virtually are almost limitless. This five-week course takes a series of journeys: to William Wordsworth’s Lake District, to Charles Dickens’s London, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, two very different versions of Henry James’s Venice, ending with some glimpses of Katherine Mansfield’s New Zealand and Europe.  The course looks very specifically at how place is constructed, with what intentions and effects.

Creating places – rooms and houses, gardens, and streets, cities and villages, forests and seashores is central to writing. How often have we read that a house or city functions like a character in a novel, or, that a particular place is a means to explore a writer or character’s psyche? Over these weeks we’ll look at some distinctive representations of place/space in 19th and early 20th century writing, focusing on the means or strategies by which a distinctive sense of place is created.  What kinds of knowledge are drawn on and how are these present in the language of the text? Consider how Wordsworth uses autobiographical and local knowledge in his poetry, or how Hardy draws on geography and geology as well as folklore and myth. How are various ‘literary’ devices (juxtaposition, metaphor, symbolism, defamiliarisation) used to create the effect or illusion of place? How can place register time, mood and character?

This Zoom course will take the form of close reading and discussion of a series of shortish texts (see below). We’ll make use of whole group and break-out discussions to do this. Most of the writers or texts you will know already from previous courses, or from your own reading. This is to limit the reading demand and means that we can keep focussed on the questions raised by the course.

Week 1, April 22:        Country 1: William and Dorothy Wordsworth, poems and letters

Week 2, April 29:       City: Charles Dickens, from Sketches by Boz and Great Expectations

Week 3, May 6:          Haunted: Henry James extracts from The Aspern Papers and Italian Hours

Week 4, May 13         Country 2: Thomas Hardy, extracts from Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Week 5, May 20         Between the literal and the symbolic:  Katherine Mansfield, short stories

All texts are available free online via Project Gutenberg, Gutenberg Australia, The Katherine Mansfield Society and the Internet Archive – see below

In all cases, feel free to read more than specified!  Reading the whole of Tess and The Aspern Papers would definitely benefit our discussions.

William Wordsworth poems: Tintern Abbey, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd 1802, Why Art Thou Silent, Is Thy Love a Plant?, To the Cuckoo, Simplon Pass, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud – all of which can be found at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-wordsworth

Dorothy Wordsworth, from Grasmere Diary (April 1802) https://web.archive.org/web/20170905114252/http://www.rc.umd.edu/sites/default/RCOldSite/www/rchs/reader/dwdaff.html

Thomas Hardy: from Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891): chapters 2, 12, 20, 53 and 58. You can read online via Gutenberg here if you do not have or cannot get hold of a print edition: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/110

Charles Dickens: from Sketches by Boz, (1833-6) The Streets Day, The Streets Night, Seven Dials, Hackney Cab Stand, The River http://www.gutenberg.org/files/882/882-h/882-h.htm

Henry James, The Aspern Papers, chapters 1, 2, 3 and 5 https://www.gutenberg.org/files/211/211-h/211-h.htm but is it Miss TINA.

Katherine Mansfield stories:  The Woman at the Store (1912) https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/THE-WOMAN-AT-THE-STORE1912.pdf,  How Pearl Button was Kidnapped (1912)https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/HOW-PEARL-BUTTON-WAS-KIDNAPPED-1912.pdf, At Lehman’s (1910) https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/AT-LEHMANNS1910.pdf.

An Indiscreet Journey (1915) https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/AN-INDISCREET-JOURNEY1915.pdf, The Garden Party (1921) https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/THE-GARDEN-PARTY1921.pdf,  The Doll’s House (1921) https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/assets/KM-Stories/THE-DOLLS-HOUSE.pdf

Specific secondary reading, listening and viewing will be circulated in the weekly course notes. If you wish to do some reading prior to the start of the course, you could start exploring here:

Philip Hensher, ‘The Importance of Place in Fiction’ https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/may/17/philip-hensher-importance-place-fiction

Katherine Mansfield Society (including interview with her siblings and a documentary): https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/audio-visual/

British Library: https://www.bl.uk/discovering-literature

BBC Sounds – programmes about writers, texts (e.g. Great Expectations) as well as readings of texts (e.g. some of Mansfield’s short stories)

Summer Term: Thursday 22 April - 20 May
Summer: £67 non-member - 5-week term
Summer: £54 member - 5 week term