Delusion and Decline

Sarah Moody
Gosling Classroom
Thursdays 2.15-4.15pm

Summer term 2023: 27 April 2023 – 29 June 2023 (9 weeks)
Half Term Thursday 1 June 2023
Members:  £106. Non-members: £135;
Concessions: £10 (call the office 020 8340 3343)

Delusion and Decline - The English Country House in Fiction from the Mid Twentieth-Century Middlebrow to Contemporary

This short course offers an introduction to the decline of the country house throughout the twentieth century, and explores shifts in social class that led to the aristocracy losing power and influence, and to many country estates being demolished or becoming heritage sites.

Delusion is a key theme, as many did not readily accept this new order, and we examine how this is conveyed in key works of fiction. These include novels and short stories written in real time in the mid-twentieth century as country house decline was happening, novels from the 1980s – a time of significance for the future of country houses as heritage, and more recent work which uses hindsight to look back on the twentieth century.

The course will explore the shifts in mid-twentieth century reading culture that led to the popularity of middlebrow fiction, including work by authors such as Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, and how the country house novel became a popular genre within this. We will look at what made a novel 'middlebrow', and compare this with contemporary novels exploring similar themes, including bestselling country house novels by Kazuo Ishiguro and Graham Swift.

This literature course is also for anyone with an interest in country house architecture history and the social history of the gentry. We will be looking at specific examples of houses and families, including through the lens of society magazines Country Life and Tatler.

Key texts
Elizabeth Taylor, Palladian (1947) (Virago Modern Classics, 2011)
Nancy Mitford, Wigs on the Green (1935) (Penguin, 2015)
Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day (1989) (Faber and Faber, 2005)
Isabel Colegate, The Shooting Party (1980) (Penguin Modern Classics, 2007)
Cressida Connelly, After The Party (2018) (Penguin, 2018)
Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday (2016) (Scribner, 2017)