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!