Reading the 1920s
Summer Course, 26–31 July 2020

Wolfson College, Cambridge

well of loneliness cover.jpg

What did authors in Britain write about in the decade immediately following the First World War? How did they reflect upon those complex, often troubled years, 1919-1930? What did they think about sexuality and censorship; about relations between women and men; about the decline of empire; about the hopes for peace? What can we learn from them now?

We will study a range of works, looking at poetry and fiction by some of the great writers of this period: T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, alongside two classic works written in the 1920s about the First World War. We will also hear some of the works read aloud, including a reading of The Waste Land in its entirety.

Virginia Woolf in 1926

Virginia Woolf in 1926

Provisional lecture list

• After the First World War: T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922); Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (1928); Helen Zenna Smith, Not So Quiet (1930)

• Nation vs. Nature: D. H. Lawrence, The Captain's Doll (1923); D. H. Lawrence, Birds, Beasts and Flowers (poems, 1923)

• The Social System: Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (1925)

• Sexuality and Censorship: Radclyffe Hall, The Well of Loneliness (1928)

• Ends of Empire: E. M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924)

D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence

Optional further reading:

D. H. Lawrence, England, My England and Other Stories (1922)

Leonard Woolf, Downhill All the Way: An Autobiography of the Years 1919-1939 (1967)

Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)

For an overview of the history of this period, see Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991, chapters 1-3.


Students arrive on Sunday afternoon to check in to their college room, and we will have a formal dinner together Sunday evening, with a literary reading.

We will study one or more texts per day for five days, with a lecture followed by a group seminar or supervision (tutorial). We will pay visits to places of interest in Cambridge, including some of the most beautiful, ancient colleges. Our lecturers lead the visits and can get access to areas not usually open to the public.

Take the opportunity to live for a week like a Cambridge student in the relaxed environment of Wolfson College. Immerse yourself in literature, with lectures, seminars, and discussions, and time to read and think. The course fee covers all tuition and handouts, bed and breakfast in Wolfson College, plus some communal dinners and a traditional afternoon tea.

After lectures, supervisions, and excursions, there is some time to explore Cambridge on your own, go punting, discuss literature with other students, and to reflect.


Supervisions last for one hour. Students meet in small groups (usually 3 or 4 students) with a Cambridge supervisor to discuss the topic of the day, looking closely at one or more literary works. Supervisions are a unique opportunity to discuss a work in depth, try out ideas, and refine your close reading skills. Weather permitting, some supervisions can take place in Wolfson's pleasant gardens. 

We also offer a week of study on Woolf’s Women, 19-24 July 2020.

Some highlights from our 2019 summer courses, taken by @JezPete