Literary England I: Shakespeare & Austen

Thus far, in my review of my trip to England, I’ve focused on history, cathedrals, and C. S. Lewis. Well, I’m not going to leave the history sphere, but let’s stay with it via the literary aspect. Some of the students were taking the course for credit as a literature offering with my colleague who accompanied us. I must also point out that she was the true organizer of the trip; I was merely along to help out (and give Lewis his due).

When one thinks of English literature, there is one name that immediately comes to mind. Here is the presumed home of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon.

I’ve only dipped into certain portions of Shakespeare in my life, rarely reading any of his plays all the way through. My love of film, though, has exposed me to many of those plays. When I was in England twenty years ago, I even attended a performance of Henry V at the rebuilt Globe Theatre in London.

In the museum, I was struck by a plaque that shows just how much we owe to Shakespeare for many of the phrases that fill our vocabulary today. Take a little time to read this:

We also visited Shakespeare’s grave in the local Anglican church. The inscription on it, presumably written by the man himself, is what one might expect of Shakespeare:

Another author’s home on our stop was that of Jane Austen.

When I write, I can sit in my nice, plush recliner with the laptop comfortably in front of me, as I’m doing now. It was a little different for Austen.

Sitting in that chair, which doesn’t strike me as very comfortable, and writing by hand on that tiny table, would have required a serious commitment to writing. She had that commitment.

Although I’ve seen countless adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and films of other Austen books (Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park), I admit I’ve only read one of her novels, Northanger Abbey, and that was in preparation for this trip. Learning about her life—a short one even by nineteenth-century expectations—helped me understand why she chose the subjects she did, and also gave me greater insight into the humor she injected into her critique of upper-crust society in her time.

Upstairs, in her bedroom, there is a framed letter on the wall, sent by Winston Churchill. In it, he notes that when he was ill at one point during the war, Pride and Prejudice was a source of healthy distraction for him. Have a look:

One can find most interesting historical nuggets where least expected.

We also visited the homes of other literary greats. I’ll continue the tour tomorrow.