Literature Course 2021/2022

20th Century English Romantic Fiction

The course theme in 2021/2022 was 20th Century English Romantic Fiction. Each of the novels and short stories that made up this course were stories of the human condition and of the very human responses to it: profound, moving, tolerant, and seldom without humour. The voices heardwere those of the humanist - one who, to quote the Edwardian writer, E.M. Forster, 'is seriously committed to human values while refusing to take himself too seriously'.

Course-members were asked to read the following titles, which are usually obtainable as a set in our online shop or at our reception. They were discussed in the order given below.

  • The Painted Veil by William Somerset Maugham | 19 Oct to 12 Nov 2021
  • Frenchman´s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier | 23 Nov to 17 Dec 2021
  • Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym | 10 Jan to 4 Feb 2022
  • Strangers by Anita Brookner | 14 Feb to 11 March 2022
  • The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis | 21 March to 22 Apr 2022
  • Pack of Cards by PEnelope Lively | 2 May to 27 May 2022
  • The Sea Lady by Margaret Drabble | 13 June to 8 July 2022

Books & Authors

The Painted Veil (1925)

by W. Somerset Maugham

(published by Vintage 2001) Kitty Fane is the beautiful but shallow wife of Walter, a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong. Unsatisfied by her marriage, she starts an affair with charming, attractive and exciting Charles Townsend. But when Walter discovers her deception, he exacts a strange and terrible vengeance: Kitty must accompany him to his new posting in remote mainland China, where a cholera epidemic rages.

Image: Amazon

William Somerset Maugham

1874 - 1965

was born in Paris in 1874. When he was ten years old, his parents died; and he came to live with his uncle in England. As a student he went to Heidelberg and studied medicine until he was licensed to practice at St. Thomas Hospital in London. Extensive travels took him as far as East Asia and the South Sea Islands, and missions for the British Secret Service during The First World War to Russia and Switzerland. In 1930 he settled on Cap Ferrat on the Riviera, where he died in 1965.

Image: Russia Beyond

Frenchman's Creek (1941)

by Daphne Du Maurier

Lady Dona St Columb seems to revel in scandal: she is involved in every intrigue of the Restoration Court. But secretly, the shallowness of Court life disgusts her, and in her heart she longs for freedom and honest love. Retreating to Navron, her husband's Cornish estate, she seeks peace and solitude away from London. But Navron is being used as the base for a French pirate, an outlaw hunted all over Cornwall.

Image: Warm days will never cease

Daphne du Maurier

1907 - 1989

was born in 1907 as the daughter of actor Gerald du Maurier and granddaughter of writer George du Maurier. Growing up in London and Paris, she devoted herself to her passions of sailing, travel and writing. In 1931 she published her first novel, The Loving Spirit followed a few years and novels later by Rebecca, bringing her worldwide fame. She became one of the most widely read writers of her time. Many of her novels were adapted into films, most famously The Birds, Rebecca and Under Suspicion by Hitchcock. Daphne du Maurier died in Cornwall in 1989.

Image: WDR

Quartet In Autumn (1977)

by Barbara Pym

In 1970s London, Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia work in the same office and suffer the same problem - loneliness. Lovingly and with delightful humour, Pym conduct us trough their day-to-day existence: their preoccupations, their irritations, their judgements, and - perhaps most keenlz felt - their worries about having somehow missed out on life as post-war Britain shifted around them.

Image: Amazon

Barbara Pym

1913 - 1980

was born in 1913 in Oswestry, Shropshire, died in 1980 in Oxford. She studied literature in Oxford and worked as an editorial assistant at the African Institute in London. Barbara Pym wrote thirteen novels. After initial successes, she fell silent from 1962. Rediscovery set in in 1977, after notable literary figures in The Times Literary Supplement called her underrated. Her novel Quartet in Autumn was nominated for the Booker Prize that same year. The Royal Society of Literature accepted the author in 1979. In 2015, 82 international experts chose Excellent Women as one of the most important British novels.

Image: Babelio

Strangers (1981)

by Anita Brookner

Paul Sturgis is retired and lives alone in south Kensington. His only acquaitance is a widowed cousin whom he visits on Sundays. He takes pleasure in small exchanges with strangers. Unable to make sense of his solitary nature, and fearing a lonely death, he wonders whether at last he might be ready for companionship. But a chance meeting with an old girlfriend and an encounter in Venice with a recently divorced younger woman compel Paul to decide how (and with whom) he will spend the rest of his days.

Image: Amazon

Anita Brookner

1928 - 2016

Was born in London in 1928, studied art history at King's College and completed postgraduate studies at the University of Paris. Brookner became an expert in 18th and 19th century French art. In 1967 she became the first woman to hold the Slade Professorship of Fine Arts at Cambridge. Her literary debut, A Start in Life, was published in 1981 and her novel Hotel du Lac won the Booker Prize in 1984. Although Anita Brookner did not begin writing literature until she was in her fifties, she wrote a total of 24 novels until her death in 2016 in London.

Image: The New York Times

The Old Devils (1986)

by Kingsley Amis

Malcolm, Peter and Charlie and their Soave-sodden wives have one main ambition left in life: to drink Wales dry. But their routine is both shaken and stirred when they are joined by professional Welshman Alun Weaver (CBE) and his wife, Rhiannon, returning to their Celtic roots.

Image: Amazon

Kingsley Amis

1922 - 1995

was born in London in 1922, studied English at Oxford and was an English lecturer in Swansea and Cambridge from 1948 to 1961. In his youth he was a member of the Communist Party, but later joined the Tory Party. He wrote more than twenty novels, three collections of poetry, short stories, radio and television scripts, and books of social and literary criticism. His works include the James Bond novel Colonel Sun; the first James Bond continuation novel published after Ian Fleming's death. He won the Somerset Maugham Award for his first novel, Lucky Jim. He died in London in 1995.

Image: The Idle Woman

Pack Of Cards (1987)

by Penelope Lively

One of Britain's most acclaimed writers, Penelope Lively has won some of our most prestigious literary awards, including the Booker Prize. In Pack of Cards her gifts of acute perception and wry humour are distilled into a unique collection of mesmerizing stories.

Image: Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively

Born in 1933

was born in 1933 in Cairo, Egypt and moved to England at the age of twelve. She studied Modern History at St. Anne's College, Oxford. In 1957 she married Jack Lively. They had two children, Josephine and Adam. Lively received the Booker Prize for her novel Moon Tiger and wide acclaim for The Photograph and How It All Began. Lively is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of PEN and the Society of Authors. In recognition of her contributions to British literature, she has been appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She now has six grandchildren and lives in London.

Image: NPR

The Sea Lady (2006)

by Margaret Drabble

Humphrey and Ailsa meet as children by a grey, northern sea. Humphrey is quiet, serious - and will in time explore the sea's mysteries; Ailsa is angry, a freckled cobra ready to strike. Yet they fascinate one another and when they meet again years later they fall briefly - and disastrously - in love.

Image: Amazon

Margaret Drabble

Born in 1939

was born in Sheffield in 1939 and was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the author of eighteen novels including A Summer Bird-Cage, The Millstone, The Peppered Moth, The Red Queen, The Sea Lady and most recently, the highly acclaimed The Pure Gold Baby. She has also written biographies, screenplays and was the editor of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. She was promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2008 Honours list. She was also awarded the 2011 Golden PEN Award for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature". She is married to the biographer Michael Holroyd.

Image: United Agents