Guest Blog: Mary and Melanie Cummings

Mary and Melanie Cummings from Canada write about their experiences of our Fictions of Home summer course.

It’s like being part of a really smart book club. This is how we describe our Summer 2019 Literature Cambridge experience to anyone who asks.


Admittedly we were somewhat intimidated before heading to our first lecture. We’d learned at a group dinner the night before that some of our ‘book club’ mates held PhDs and Masters degrees, or were working toward those academic credentials. While a friendly bunch of 17 women, nevertheless worry set in overnight. We are both avid readers and hold Bachelors degrees but it’s been a while since we sat in a lecture hall, or contributed literary observations among classmates.

Charleston Farm House, Sussex, July 2019

Charleston Farm House, Sussex, July 2019

Minutes into our first class those fears abated. Lecture after lecture captivated our attention. Vaunted professors Trudi Tate, Alison Hennegan, Corinna Russell, Jane Potter and Isobel Maddison explored aspects of home in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Katherine Mansfield’s short stories and Viet Nguyen’s The Refugees, among other novels and poems.  

Inevitably the tea time break that followed the hour-long morning lecture was abuzz with chatter about the presentation. After that, in our smaller group ‘supervisions’ we enjoyed more fascinating conversation among our new-found peers.

Life is good when daily homework involves re-reading passages of a classic novel, visiting Kettle’s Yard art gallery, the Wren Library to see first editions of Jane Austen’s Emma — among other jaw-dropping treasures — Girton College, Cambridge’s first women’s college, or simply roaming the cobblestone streets of the historic university city. When this experience includes meeting classmates from countries all over the world, including Turkey, Ireland, Japan, U.S., Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, England, Spain and France, the adventure is amplified.

Having ‘a room of one’s own’ at Wolfson College was a delight for many of us used to sharing our spaces at home. Walking across the beautiful grounds to break bread - er toast – over breakfast with our classmates each morning in the campus dining room quickly turned into a gabfest as the week progressed. 

Literature Cambridge was an unmatched travel experience from the get go. We were lucky enough to arrive the weekend before our week-long Fictions of Home course, to visit Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House with the Virginia Woolf group from the previous week’s course. These students were as friendly as they were fascinating in the short time we had together. All in all, we learned, laughed, lived it up and shared author recommendations and book lists with wonderful classmates who are now electronic pen pals.

Literature Cambridge