British poet Philip Larkin wrote in “Annus Mirabilis,”
Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me)/ Between the end of the Chatterley ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.
In citing D. H. Lawrence and the rock-and-rollers from Liverpool, Larkin suggests that England’s amorous pendulum began to swing in a new way in the early Sixties. But was he right to think so? In the Love Actually reading group, we’ll seek to answer that question by discussing a selection of British fiction on the theme of love, from the early twentieth century to the present day, more or less fifty years on either side of 1963.
After two years of discussing love in French fiction, we cross the English Channel to consider love in modern British fiction. We continue to ask the question, “What is love?” But we might expect different answers from the British.
The Love Actually reading group will read and discuss works of British fiction on the theme of love from the early twentieth century to the present. From September 2021 to June 2022, we will meet to consider works by James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, D.H. Lawrence, Lawrence Durrell, Iris Murdoch, Angela Carter, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, Jeanette Winterson, Ian McEwan, and Bernardine Evaristo. These are representative of the greatest British authors writing over this period. Reading the selected works chronologically, we may expect to trace not only evolutions and variations in the representation of “love” in its multiple guises, but also in the interests of the authors themselves and their fictional lovers.
Each of us may have his or her own notion of “love.” Discussing these works together should prompt reflection and reconsideration of how we understand “love” in light of the experiences and expressions of others. Many of these works will challenge simplistic or sentimental notions of love. Some readers may find aspects of these works offensive. We read them not to give (or take) offense, but rather to enlarge our understanding of the range of human experiences that make up “love.”
The Love Actually reading group meets monthly from September 2021 to June 2022. We plan to meet in person in the Reading Room at the Athenæum.
The Athenaeum is hosting two identical sections of the group, one on the second Tuesday of each month, and one on the second Wednesday of each month, with exceptions in September, December and June as noted below. Meeting days will always be back-to-back. Participants will be asked to select their preferred meeting session during registration.
Meetings will begin at 5:30pm and will conclude at 7pm. At present, group refreshments will not be organized.
Monthly reading assignments will typically be about 250 pages. Readers are free to choose the edition of their choice. Readers should take care if selecting electronic editions, especially older texts in the public domain; they may be faulty or incomplete. Recommended print editions are provided below.
*VIRTUAL MEETING* Tues, September 7 & Wed, September 8
James Joyce, “The Dead” from Dubliners. Penguin Classics.
Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier. Penguin Classics.
Tues, October 12 & Wed, October 13
D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Modern Library Classics.
Tues, November 9 & Wed, November 10
Lawrence Durrell, Justine. Penguin Books.
Tues, December 7 & Wed, December 8
Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head. Penguin Books.
Tues, January 11 & Wed, January 12
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber. Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition.
Tues, February 8 & Wed, February 9
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day. Vintage International.
Tues, March 8 & Wed, March 9
Julian Barnes, Talking It Over. Vintage International.
Tues, April 12 & Wed, April 13
Jeannette Winterson, Written on the Body. Vintage International.
Tues, May 10 & Wed, May 11
Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach. Anchor Books.
Tues, June 7 & Wed, June 8
Bernardine Evaristo, Mr. Loverman. Akashic Books.
Note for Joyce, Dubliners and Ford, The Good Soldier. These works are in the public domain and different editions are available at various price points and quality. Some publishers are careless with their reproduction and editing of public-domain texts; please choose carefully. If you are interested in extensive additional materials (historical and scholarly) for these famous works, I recommend the Norton Critical Edition.
The assigned reading list is necessarily selective. Page length was a practical consideration. All the authors chosen have written other relevant works of interest, and additional modern and contemporary British authors writing on the subject of “love” are worthy of your consideration. If you would like to read more in conjunction with our readings, you might consider these.
E. M. Forster, A Room with a View. (1908)
W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage. (1915)
D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love. (1920)
Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography. (1928)
Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. (1935)
Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca. (1938)
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited. (1945)
Graham Greene, The End of the Affair. (1951)
Lawrence Durrell, Balthazar (1958); Mountolive (1958); Clea (1960). With Justine (1957), these make up The Alexandria Quartet.
John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman. (1969)
Angela Carter, The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. (1972)
Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince. (1973)
A. S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance. (1990)
Julian Barnes, Love, etc. (2000): sequel to Talking It Over. (1991)
Alan Hollinghurst, The Line of Beauty. (2004)
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. (2005)
Athenæum member Steve Coon leads the group as facilitator. Steve earned a Ph.D. from Brown University in Comparative Literature, with a focus on 19th and 20th century fiction and poetry. Since 2012, he has led reading groups at the Athenæum, including groups on Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, Balzac & Baudelaire in Paris, Roberto Bolaño, W. G. Sebald, Melville & Conrad, and most recently “French Kisses” and “More French Kisses” on the theme of love in French fiction. Steve emphasizes that the reading group is not a “class,” but rather an opportunity for interested readers of all backgrounds to explore, enjoy, understand and engage with this important theme in British fiction.
Online registration will open to Athenæum members on Wednesday, July 28th at 8am. If you have any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.