Uhuu, I’ve completed week 4 of the online course How to Read a Novel from The University of Edinburgh. If you’re interested in reading how I experienced the other 3 weeks, you can check out my posts about week 1, week 2, and week 3.

week 4 readers high tea

The main theme of the second week was geographical setting. Here are some of the things that were discussed during this week’s lectures:

§ The setting is a foundational element of a book and has a major impact on its plot and/or atmosphere – for example, whether the action takes place in a rural or urban area, or whether the locations are described in detail or vaguely.

Mrs Dalloway readers high tea

§ City settings can be “integral to the workings of the plot” – for example, when writers use sights of the city (streets, monuments, buildings, etc.), using them as places where characters meet or evoke certain memories.

readers high tea teded james joyce ulysses

The books used as examples of city novels are James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” (interestingly, they are both on my short-term reading list). Both books take place over the course of a single day, but in different cities: while “Ulysses” takes place in Dublin, “Mrs Dalloway” takes place in London. What makes these books good examples of city novels is that their narrations are very tied to specific locations of the Dublin and London, making it possible to reconstruct the city while reading.

§ Environment as a plot device: another interesting aspect regarding setting is that some authors became to “attached” to a certain geographical area that they set most of their books there – for example, Thomas Hardy set many of his books in South-Western England.

a coutry road a tree readers high tea

The book proposed to better understand the importance of geographical setting is “A Country Road, A Tree” by Jo Baker. The novel recreates the experiences of the Irish novelist and poet Samuel Beckett during the World War II, as he spent time in Ireland and then in France (Paris, Roussillon, and Normandy).

During this week’s lectures I realized that I read many books that are intrinsically linked to their geographical locations and impact a lot their atmosphere, for example:

  • the descriptions of Barcelona from The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series add a dark flavour to the story and create the perfect gothic environment
  • the mystical aura of the imagined Greek island Phraxos plays an important role in constructing the atmosphere of The Magus

To conclude, I am sure that from now on I will pay more attention to the geographical settings of the books I’m going to read, as I feel that I became more aware of its impact.


The completion of the fourth week of the course also marks the end of the online course “How to read a novel”. I found this learning experience interesting and thought-provoking, and it motivated me to try also other literature courses from the Future Learn platform. For example, there’s a course about Jane Austen’s life and another one about The Literature of the English Country House that I am interested in taking this Spring.

If you’re interested in checking out their Literature courses, here you can find them all  (FYI: they’re free!) 🙂

‘Till next time … happy reading!

Georgiana

5 thoughts on “Learning to be a better reader: How to Read a Novel (online course) #week4

  1. This sounds like a fascinating course … and one I’m sure I’d enjoy. How much time does it take? Is it interactive – ie do you converse with the teacher and other participants? I think I’ve read other bloggers on this course.

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    1. I think it depends on how much time you are willing to invest in it. I just watched the videos, because I was interested in the theoretical aspects, and it took around 5h in total. But if you want to also read the recommended books (1 book / class) and join the interactive discussions, then it will take more time … And yes, there were many opportunities of discussing with the teachers and the other participants 🙂

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