Experience Britain Before You Go – Through Literature

by Jules on October 19, 2012

Great Britain − it’s people, countryside and cities − is a diverse place. It’s variety and richness has been evoked through countless works of literature over the centuries. Below are a few of the books that will give the reader a tangible sense of Britain before they arrive on its shores.

Charles Dickens – Oliver Twist
For many, Dickens is the epitome of the English novelist. His work portrays life in Britain across cultures, classes and environments. Oliver Twist is one of those that gives the broadest sweep of English life, as the titular character journeys from the workhouse in Mudfog to central London and eventually into the countryside. A real slice of English life in the late nineteenth century.

Agatha Christie – The Body in the Library
Agatha Christie is one of the most popular murder mystery writers in history. Many of her novels were inspired by and set in the area of England she called home, the English Riviera. This corner of south Devon retains many of the buildings that Christie included in her novels, and, having read about them and the dastardly deeds Christie perpetrated in them, visitors can undertake literary trails to discover them. There is even an annual Agatha Christie festival held every year.

Wordsworth – Poems
The Lake District is on the itinerary of many a visitor to Great Britain. It’s mountains, lakes and quaint villages make for a truly glorious slice of British countryside. To get a sense of the place before arrival, travellers can read the poems of William Wordsworth. He lived in a cottage in Grasmere, one of the many hamlets that dot the landscape, and his work draws inspiration from the landscape around there. His poems on nature are a delight.

Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy is regarded by many of the novelist of the English countryside. His work is predominantly based on the county of Wessex, an area that traditionally spanned the English-Welsh border. His stories of country folk and their travails are set amidst striking descriptions of a rural landscape that still exists in this corner of the nation.

Alexander McCall Smith – 44 Scotland Street
One of the most successful authors from north of the borders, Alexander McCall Smith has written compelling tales of life from all over the world. But it was with 44 Scotland Street, which started life as a serial in a Scottish newspaper, that he evokes his home country. Set in a house in Edinburgh, it documents the changing lives of a disparate group of characters, from students to the bourgeoisie, while giving a tangible sense of what life in the city is like.

Zadie Smith – NW
For descriptions of what contemporary urban life in Britain is like, readers should delve into a Zadie Smith novel. Smith’s latest novel takes a corner of London and, through the intertwining lives of a quartet of characters, gives a vivid impression of the tumultuous metropolis that is the British capital.


Perhaps the best place to find the Great British classics in in the BBC collection. Sites like AudioGo.com have a large collection of audiobooks online to download and on CD.

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