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Topic: Help with picks for British Literature

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Subject: Help with picks for British Literature
Date Posted: 11/24/2009 4:31 PM ET
Member Since: 1/22/2009
Posts: 73
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I start a class in January British Literature 2 and am trying to get some feedback on good pieces of literature that I could read before the class starts.19th and 20th century works. Thanks for the help.

Date Posted: 11/24/2009 5:50 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
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That's an awfully wide ranging request!  if you told us what sort of books you ordinarily enjoy it might be a little easier to make some recommendations.  Does the class have any particular focus?

Subject: My Favorites
Date Posted: 11/24/2009 9:33 PM ET
Member Since: 12/19/2007
Posts: 46
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I love British literature!  I'm afraid I've never taken a very in-depth class, so I don't know exactly which era my recommendations fit into or if you've read them or they'll help you in the class at all, but here are some of my favorite British works: 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (this is one of my favorite books ever!)

Anything by C.S. Lewis or any play by Tom Stoppard

Date Posted: 12/3/2009 11:55 AM ET
Member Since: 9/16/2005
Posts: 463
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Well, my suggestions aren't as serious but I do enjoy English fiction. 

Two that come to mind immediately-

Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson (hilarious) and

"Hunting Unicorns" by Bella Pollen

There are many books in the Mapp and Lucia series.  IMO they read like TV British comedy. 

I also enjoyed Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Family Chronicles series.  The first in this series is called "The Light Years".  The book is set in England and is about the Cazalet family on the eve of WWII and continues on with this family in different books until just after the war.  It's fiction but not fluff.  The POV in these books switches to different family members. 

Date Posted: 12/6/2009 11:19 AM ET
Member Since: 8/3/2008
Posts: 87
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The novels by Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and E.M. Forster are nearly all considered classics, and they're all pretty quick reads.

More difficult are To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, though I don't consider either to be as impenetrable as they're reputed to be.

I'm not as up on the 19th century, but obviously you can't ignore Dickens or the Brontes.  The Wikipedia article on British literature gives a good rundown of names, though it's not much help in distinguishing which writers are the most influential or which are considered the most literary.  (In some ways, I think that's a good thing, but it sounds like you're interested in finding the ones you'd be likely to be discussing in a class.)

Date Posted: 12/6/2009 1:23 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
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FYI - T.S. Eliot is American.

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 12/6/2009 10:35 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
Posts: 3,067
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I would think a British Literature class would probably cover the classics such as Dickens, Austin, Mary Shelley, Bronte sisters, etc.  However, if this is BL 2, you may have covered them in BL 1. 20th century British Authors would include Agatha Christie, JRR Tolkien, George Orwell, James Joyce, etc.  I would say if you are taking BL2 without taking part 1, than read up on the classics.

Date Posted: 12/6/2009 11:41 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
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Sorry to be completely annoying about this, but Joyce was Irish.

I would think a (pre-war) 20th century British Lit class would cover Hardy, Forster, Lawrence, Woolf, Maugham, Orwell, Waugh, possibly Kipling, Huxley.

Any of the following would likely be useful for 19th centry reading:  some of the Romantics (Byron, Keats, Shelley et al) Dickens, Emily or Charlotte Brontë, Thackeray, Trollope, George Eliot or Hardy (who spanned the two centuries).

But it really depends what the class is focusing on.  The above list would be completely useless if the class was focusing on pre-19th century literature, or post WWII literature, or post-colonial lierature in Britain.  The subject is so wide ranging it's really difficult to know what would be most useful.

Date Posted: 12/7/2009 7:46 PM ET
Member Since: 8/3/2008
Posts: 87
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"FYI - T.S. Eliot is American."

You could make a case either way, but although he was born and raised in the U.S., as a relatively young adult he expatriated and obtained English citizenship.  I've most frequently seen him counted among British poets.  For example, the Nobel Prize committee considered him to be a winner from the United Kingdom.

Date Posted: 12/8/2009 1:36 PM ET
Member Since: 1/30/2009
Posts: 5,696
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I'm just going by what Eliot has said himself - he may have become a UK citizen, but he considered himself an American poet.  I'll try to track down the quote. (ETA:  "[M]y poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England.  It wouldn't be what it is, and I imagine it wouldn't be so good ... if I'd been born in England, and it wouldn't be what it is if I'd stayed in America. It's a combination of things. But in its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America.") Also - he published both Prufrock and The Waste Land as a US citizen.

I'm pretty sure the Nobel prize committee rules state that the person is considered to be from the country the recipent holds citizenship in at the time the prize is awarded.

But, yeah.  He lived the bulk of his adult life in England, so arguments can be made.  I think it depends on the source.  Americans claim him for America and England claims him for England.

/thread jack

Last Edited on: 12/8/09 1:41 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Who's the teacher?
Date Posted: 12/18/2009 7:52 AM ET
Member Since: 11/18/2009
Posts: 551
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When you say you're "starting" a class in British lit--are you the teacher or the student? If you're a student, I would advise you to contact the teacher for suggestions on what to read.

Subject: Jane Gardam
Date Posted: 12/18/2009 8:37 AM ET
Member Since: 6/16/2008
Posts: 1
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"Old Filth" or "The Man in the Wooden Hat" by Jane Gardam