A geocritical approach to the study of literature assumes that the setting of a work is stratified by complex layers of history, culture, and artistic representation, and that one of the best ways to understand a poem, a short story, or a novel is to explore the interplay between particular spaces as we both imagine and experience them. In the first half of this course, we will focus on literature set in London. Since its founding by the Romans in 43 B.C., London has flourished as a hub of trade and commerce and has suffered from war, fire, plague and crime, all while continually rebuilding and expanding into the multicultural metropolis we know today. More than simply recording London's changing geography and the vicissitudes of urban life, the texts we read have shaped its unique and enduring character as well as our broader understanding of its personal significance and social impact. Together we will examine how representations of the city affect our attitudes and beliefs about morality, sexuality, consumerism, and progress.
—While in London, we will visit major landmarks from Westminster Abbey to St. Paul's Cathedral to the Tower, take a boat ride on the Thames to Greenwich, walk the city streets from Bloomsbury to Southwark, and ride on the famous Underground. We will visit several museums and tour the British Library, see a play at the rebuilt Globe Theatre, and enjoy a medieval banquet before taking a daytrip to Canterbury and Dover.
The second half of the course will focus on the countryside. Throughout the centuries, authors have depicted the English countryside as being everything from a wilderness fraught with monstrous peril where heroes and heroines must prove their valor to a tranquil refuge suited to philosophical contemplation and spiritual enlightenment. Reading about and inhabiting the diverse roles of immigrant, explorer, laborer, adventurer, and poet, among others, we will come to better understand how landscape shapes personality and thought. Engaging with a wide range of texts from the medieval period to the present day, we will discover how representations of England's coastline, moors, woods, lakes, rolling hills, and valleys have crafted a distinctive and enduring sense of national identity. Finally, we will examine the complex relationship between urban and rural environments and the central role literature plays in shaping our ideas about what it means to live in them.
—We will explore the countryside by bus, train, and foot. Our first stop will be Stonehenge on the way to Dartmoor National Park. From there, we will visit Tintagel—the castle where King Arthur is reputed to have been conceived—and the town of Glastonbury, where he is rumored to have been buried. After Glastonbury, we will journey to Tintern Abbey, the Roman fortress and baths at Caerleon, and Hay-on-Wye. Our tour will then take us to the Lake District where we will relax and hike and learn about the Romantics. We will wrap up the trip by staying a few days in Cambridge and Oxford before returning to London.