Which books should I read while in England?

Which books about England, or set in England, would you recommend to a traveller, and why?

Oxford, EnglandI’d appreciate any suggestions (fiction, poetry and non-fiction).

If you’d like more specific locations, I’ll be spending time in London, Oxford, the Cotswolds, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Maidstone and Richmond.

A sense of place

Jane Austen creates distinct characters and social settings, but is less interested in physical ones. E.M. Forster, like Austen, articulates every social nuance, but he tends to take his English characters to other countries to make them confront their own assumptions.

The Brontës, influenced by the Romantic tradition, are alive to a sense of place as an influence on and expression of character. Similarly, Lyme Regis is just as much a character in John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman as Sarah and Charles.

I blame Kenneth Grahame (The Wind in the Willows) and Beatrix Potter for making English woodlands, lakes and countryside into an earthly paradise, imprinting this ideal on my Antipodean mind from childhood. Suggestions for books set in the countryside are welcome!

Sarah Waters, Peter Carey and others have created a visceral London I can smell and feel. (I’m afraid the much-loved Dickens is too manipulative and sentimental for my taste.) I haven’t read Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, so that may end up on my e-book reader in preparation for my departure.

Speaking of London’s past, which histories of England and London do you recommend?

While I’m travelling, I may re-read Jack Maggs, The Forsyte Saga, Mr Rosenblum’s List and Wolf Hall. I love historical fiction and books by Victorian and Edwardian writers, but I should add some books set in contemporary England, so please make some recommendations.

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