Classics of British Literature

B and I just finished a college course called “Classics of British Literature.” No, we didn’t have to register and go to classes during the week. We bought this class from The Teaching Company, and have enjoyed watching these lectures (48 of them) in the comfort of our own home, usually while we ate a bowl of sherbet after dinner one or two evenings a week. Each lecture was 30 minutes long, the lecturer was John Sutherland, and the course was a grand introduction to British literature from the earliest roots to the present.

More than just a survey course, Classics of British Literature shows you how Britain’s cultural landscape acted upon its literature—and how, in turn, literature affected the cultural landscape. Professor Sutherland takes a historical approach to the wealth of works explored in these lectures, grounding them in specific contexts and, oftentimes, connecting them with one another.

While it is vital that we appreciate the universal and transcendent quality of literature, according to Professor Sutherland, we also need to appreciate “as fully as one can, the conditions that gave birth to these works of literature; to reinsert them, that is, back into history.”

The end result is not a laundry list of famous works but instead a mosaic of Britain’s history as revealed through the individual threads of its most revered literary masterpieces. Throughout the course, you discover how each work is linked to others that have come before it—whether building on its predecessors’ work or casting it aside to challenge readers and audiences with new ways of understanding a changing world.

We enjoyed the course very much, and were proud of ourselves for completing it. We didn’t have homework and weren’t required to read specific things before and after each lecture, although we could have! The list of works of literature discussed is extensive and would keep us reading for years and years! We simply enjoyed his lectures, many of them on some of our favorite authors and books. And we learned a lot!

8 thoughts on “Classics of British Literature

  1. Lezlie

    Cool! I have this one on my desk as we speak! Did you watch the DVDs? I usually buy the audio versions so I can listen to them on my commute. I’m trying to do the main readings, too, so my “classes” are taking some time! 🙂

    I’m so glad you liked this one!



  2. Robin

    Hi Lezlie, yes, we watched the DVDs, and it did take us a long time to get through them all. Some of the lectures were more interesting than others, but overall we really enjoyed the experience. We discovered that it was better to watch them early in the evening and not late at night, and that it added to our enjoyment to have the sherbet! 🙂


  3. Molly

    I LOVE the Teaching Company DVDs. How I wish I had more money – and more time. There are about 10 courses that I am seriously interested in taking!


  4. Kristen M.

    Those sound really neat … one day I will have free time and free control of the television again! For now … more Disney films …


  5. Robin

    Molly, we pour over their catalogs every time one arrives in the mail. We could spend thousands of dollars, and enjoy every minute of the time it takes to get through one course.

    Kristen M, there’s plenty of time later, but having a four-year-old in the household I’m sure takes up every second of time and energy!


  6. Robin

    J.Danger, I don’t know where we first heard about this company, but we’ve enjoyed the two classes we’ve bought for ourselves.

    Gavin, that’s one of the classes we’re really interested in taking at some point.



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