The Lit Salon studies of significant literature give you the opportunity to experience the diverse worlds of such authors as George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro and Salman Rushdie. Through a close consideration of language use, narrative form and rhetorical techniques, we come to a greater understanding of the power and play of the word while broadening our perspectives.
For the adventurous, our signature 20-week study of James Joyce’s Ulysses, starting each year in January, takes you on a deep dive into Joyce’s groundbreaking novel. Or, our magnum two-year-plus voyage through Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time just might change your life. For a less intensive commitment, the monthly Lit Salon Book Club reads the finest late-20th and 21st century literature from around the world.
We post a wide range of our regular studies—from one to eight meetings—throughout the year. Check below for current offerings and check back frequently for new listings.
Do you have ideas for a study not listed? Contact us to suggest a study.
Upcoming Literature Studies
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov  “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”
-Opening lines of Humbert Humbert’s confession in Lolita
Subtitled “the confessions of a white widowed male, Lolita is an intoxicating mix of apologia, prison diary and urgent appeal to the members of a jury by a 38-year old defendant, Dr Humbert Humbert, an urbane European professor of literature in 1950s America. Humbert, who is obsessed with “nymphets” (Nabokov’s coinage), girls on the edge of puberty, has been charged with the murder of Clare Quilty, a playwright. As Humbert’s confession unfolds, the reader discovers that his defence is a “crime of passion”: he slaughtered Quilty out of love for Dolores Haze, his “Lolita”.
Lolita is a landmark twentieth century novel which explores the wonder and terror of obsessional love. It is, by turns, dazzling and shocking, very funny and very disturbing, both tender and troubling. It’s also an unforgettable reading experience, due in large part to Nabokov’s language: in the words of critic Michael Wood, “a fabulous, freaky, singing, acrobatic, unheard-of English”.
In his Lectures on Literature (1980) Vladimir Nabokov asserted that : “Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only re-read it.” Our text will be The Annotated Lolita but I recommend an initial reading of the text straight through – without consulting the notes. You might have a richer reading experience if you monitor your initial responses before delving into the commentary of the annotated edition.
- Facilitated by Marcy Kahan
- Wednesday afternoons 12 pm – 2 pm
- Five meeting study 5th, 12th, 19th, 26th February & 11th March.
- Location: Central London: a few minutes walk from Paddington Station
- Recommended edition: The Annotated Lolita. Edited by Alfred Appel Jr. [Penguin]
- £125 for five meeting study includes background materials and opening notes
***As of Jan 1st, only two spaces available for this study**
To register for the Salon, please click here to send an email to Marcy Kahan
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it
“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination, indeed, everything and anything except me.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
I consider this to be one of the greatest works of American Literature. The unnamed protagonist’s search for identity in a world that will not see him gives us as readers an opportunity to try to understand the psychological devastation of racism in its subtle as well as its violent forms and to consider how each of us participates in the fate of all humanity. Ellison weaves in themes and images from Virgil, Dante, Emerson, and TS Eliot while also using the structure and transcendence of Jazz to create a work that haunts and stirs to the core of our experience.
- Facilitated by Toby Brothers
- Monday afternoons 12:30-2:30 pm ** If you are interested in an early-evening study of this work, please contact us
- Eight meetings over eight weeks
- Meetings in Kentish Town
- Recommended edition: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Penguin Modern Classics (Aug. 2001); ISBN-13: 978-0141184425
- £180 for the eight-week study
TO REGISTER for the study, please use the secure Paypal payment button below to pay £95. Opening notes will be sent shortly after registration. The study is limited to 11 participants. Please contact us if you have any questions.
From Saul Bellow’s essay:
Review of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
published in Commentary (June 1952)
“It is commonly felt that there is no strength to match the strength of those powers which attack and cripple modern mankind. And this feeling is, for the reader of modern fiction, all too often confirmed when he approaches a new book. He is prepared, skeptically, to find what he has found before, namely, that family and class, university, fashion, the giants of publicity and manufacture, have had a larger share in the creation of someone called a writer than truth or imagination that Bendix and Studebaker and the nylon division of Du Pont, and the University of Chicago, or Columbia or Harvard or Kenyon College, have once more proved mightier than the single soul of an individual; to find that one more lightly manned position has been taken. But what a great thing it is when a brilliant individual victory occurs, like Mr. Ellison’s, proving that a truly heroic quality can exist among our contemporaries. People too thoroughly determined and our institutions by their size and force too thoroughly determine can’t approach this quality. That can only be done by those who resist the heavy influences and make their own synthesis out of the vast mass of phenomena, the seething, swarming body of appearances, facts, and details. From this harassment and threatened dissolution by details, a writer tries to rescue what is important. Even when he is most bitter, he makes by his tone a declaration of values and he says, in effect: There is something nevertheless that a man may hope to be. This tone, in the best pages of Invisible Man, those pages, for instance, in which an incestuous Negro farmer tells his tale to a white New England philanthropist, comes through very powerfully; it is tragi-comic, poetic, the tone of the very strongest sort of creative intelligence. In a time of specialized intelligences, modern imaginative writers make the effort to maintain themselves as unspecialists, and their quest is for a true middle-of-consciousness for everyone. What language is it that we can all speak, and what is it that we can all recognize, burn at, weep over, what is the stature we can without exaggeration claim for ourselves; what is the main address of consciousness?
“I was keenly aware, as I read this book, of a very significant kind of independence in the writing. For there is a way for Negro novelists to go at their problems, just as there are Jewish or Italian ways. Mr. Ellison has not adopted a minority tone. If he had done so, he would have failed to establish a true middle-of-consciousness for everyone.”
01apr6:00 pm05(apr 5)12:00 pmThe Years by Virginia Woolf Five-day study in St IvesImmersive Study of Woolf's family saga in her beloved Cornwall6:00 pm - 12:00 pm (5) St Ives, CornwallType Of Study:Literature,TravelFrequency:One Off EventDuration:Five days
"Millions of things came back to her. Atoms danced apart and massed themselves. But how did they compose what people called a
“Millions of things came back to her. Atoms danced apart and massed themselves. But how did they compose what people called a life? She clenched her hands and felt the hard little coins she was holding. Perhaps there’s ‘I’ at the middle of it, she thought; a knot; a centre; and again she saw herself sitting at her table drawing on the blotting paper, digging little holes from which spokes radiated. Out and out they went; thing followed thing, scene obliterated scene.”
–Virginia Woolf, The Years
Each study in St Ives is magical. The light, the smell and sound of the sea gilds the intensive study with a unique sense of stepping into another world. This study of The Years, the last novel published by Virginia Woolf while she was still alive, expands our time in Cornwall to five days as requested by past participants. We will meet Wednesday evening for our first exploration with six more meetings spread over the coming days to allow time for enjoyment of the natural and cultural gems offered in this beautiful place. This will be the Salon’s first study of The Years; this study will have the exploratory energy that a first Salon study offers.
The Years is described as a family saga–and is often considered more accessible than other works by Woolf. With the experience of many studies of To The Lighthouse, Between the Acts, The Waves and Mrs Dalloway, I have come to relish the subtle profundity beneath the language experimentation and interior explorations that Woolf offers. The Years engages history– the personal history of a family, the mantel of history of a people, the sense of a denigrated future in the shadow of historical myths and mistakes–and considers how various characters negotiate this troubled inheritance. Woolf moves deftly between the individual and the larger cultural landscapes–illuminating how one person can exist in their vulnerable selfhood amidst the waves of the world around them.
To understand this book, you will want to read with a wide awake mind and then re-read once you have played on the surface of plot and character. Notice how the descriptions along the edges—the fragments, the other stories invoked, the changing weather passages—all comment on and expand the central narrative. We will also consider essays from her work, The Pargiters — the theoretical framework that Woolf wrote alongside The Years but then excluded from the text. This has become available in Mitchell Leaska’s edition: “The Pargiters is interesting in its own right for the insight it offers into Woolf’s politics, which she expresses more bluntly in the novel-essay than she ever had before.” (R. Higney, Modernism Lab)
- Five-day Meeting in St Ives — approximately 14 hours of study
- Meeting St Ives Cornwall; facilitated by Salon Director Toby Brothers
- Cost £325 includes notes and critical resources (transport and housing not included)
- RECOMMENDED EDITION: The Years by Virginia Woolf (Vintage Classics Woolf Series) Paperback – 6 Oct 2016 ISBN-10: 1784872237
- If possible, please also purchase The Pargiters– this book is difficult to find and tends to be pricey– if you can not find an affordable edition, please contact us— I have a few editions for purchase or loan.
To register for the Salon study, please use the Paypal button below to pay £325: (Please pay for the room directly to No4St Ives once your registration has been confirmed):
*Apologies– it appears that this Paypal button is only working for those with a Paypal account– I am working with Paypal to fix this issue– in the meantime, if you wish to register and don’t have nor want a PP account, please Contact Us directly.
‘A brilliant fantasia of all Time’s problems, age and youth, change and permanence, truth and illusion’ The Times Literary Supplement
The Years is the story of the Pargiter family – their intimacies and estrangements, anxieties and triumphs – mapped out against the bustling rhythms of London’s streets during the first decades of the twentieth century, as their Victorian upbringing gives way to a new world, where the rules of etiquette have shifted from the drawing room to the air-raid shelter. Virginia Woolf’s penultimate novel is a celebration of the resilience of the individual amid time, change, life, death and renewal.
Virginia Woolf: “If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying in bed, half-asleep, haf awake, in bed in the nursery at St Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one two, behind a yellow blind […}. If I were a painter I should paint these impressions in pale yellow, silver, and green. There was the pale yellow blind; the green sea; and the silver of the passion flowers.”
“Here is the past and all its inhabitants miraculously sealed as in a magic tank.”
“The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surace of a deep river. Then one sees through the surface to the depths. The past sometimes presses so close that you can feel nothing else.”
—“Sketch of the Past,” begun in June 1939.
St IVES: Virginia Woolf spent much of her childhood in St. Ives. The London Literary Salon invites you to join us in St Ives to explore this lovely coastal town and have it serve as a prism through which we will explore Woolf’s perspectives on landscape, domesticity, historical inheritance and identity in her novel The Years. We have already completed four magical weekends with Woolf’s writings in the environment that inspired it– this is an incredible experience!
You will have the opportunity to visit the iconic Tate St Ives gallery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, built between 1988 and 1993 on the site of an old gasworks, and there will be an optional boat trip to Godrevy Lighthouse.
We may also look at Talland House, now privately owned, her childhood summer home. For several months of the year the elegant house overlooking St Ives Bay would be the Stephens’ family home until 1895 when Virginia’s mother Julia Stephen died. Although the complete family never returned to St Ives following their mother’s death, her children travellled back in 1905 following the death of their father in 1904.
Accommodation: We are working with No4 St Ives which is just steps from Talland House and has an elevated position overloooking St Ives Bay. It is a 5 minute walk from the beach and St Ives Town Centre.
Rooms at No4 St Ives range from £110-£140 per night– if the room is shared, the cost is halved; breakfast included. Some of us plan to stay Sunday night as well to be able to enjoy an extra day in this beautiful site. The entire cost is to be paid upfront. If for some reason you are unable to attend, we will work to find someone to replace you & reimburse you for the room but can not guarantee that is possible. The Salon cost may be applied to a later study.
Train cost is approx. £70 each way(cheaper if bought earlier)
Salon cost is £325: We will meet around 14 hours over the five days. The first meeting starts at 5:45 Wednesday evening; the last meeting is scheduled for 9:30-11:30 Sunday morning. On previous trips, many have stayed in St Ives through Sunday evening to have time for further exploration and reflection. Please discuss this option with Sue and Mike from No4 St Ives if you are interested.
We will enjoy dinner out on Wednesday and Saturday…other costs will include the optional boat trip & visit to the St Ives gallery.
Getting there: The train from London takes just over five hours, with one change at St Erth for the branch line to St Ives.
This event and other in-depth explorations of Virginia Woolf and her works can be found on the website of the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain
Part of the challenge when reading Woolf is to understand it is not the action that matters but the impression of thoughts; it is by attending to the pattern and signification of thoughts and impressions that we will uncover meaning, innovation. As one of the primary modernist writers, Woolf plays with language; testing its ability to truly reflect human experience by recording the life of the mind not just action. Her narrative form reflects one of the characteristics of Modernist writing in its shifting centre of narrative perspective reflecting a questioning of ultimate and moral authority that characterized the time with the dissolution of Imperialism and absolute values.
Writing from the edge of the violent shift from Victorian to Modernist era, the loss of an old world in the violent destruction of war and massive social change, Woolf’s ambivalence is demonstrated in her work. She struggles against the boundaries and structures of the Victorian era while holding a great longing and nostalgia for the noble traditions of the time.
If you have any questions about this study, please contact us.
15may(may 15)5:00 pm17(may 17)2:00 pmHenry James in Rye: A Portrait of a Lady Weekend Retreat **STUDY FULL**5:00 pm - 2:00 pm (17) The Mermaid Inn Rye SussexType Of Study:Literature,TravelFrequency:One Off EventDuration:Weekend
Salon Weekend Retreats Building on the success of our London-based studies, we are excited to offer travel studies that place participants in locales
Salon Weekend Retreats
Building on the success of our London-based studies, we are excited to offer travel studies that place participants in locales that reflect and contextualize the literature. Journeying together to beautiful sites, the London Lit Salon retreat offers a more intensive immersion in the book while opening the mind to a part of the world illuminated through the beauty of the language.
A Portrait of A Lady by Henry James
The book is a painted portrait or even a kaleidoscope. We watch and guess what Isabel will do. But like a portrait, she is (perhaps) caught in a frame and frozen by the artistry –or the terms of her world.
Previous studies have included considerations of gender roles, the negotiated space between self and other, the corruption or freedom offered by privilege, the challenge of looking at nationalities in generalizations (and the tempting ease to do so), the ways in which humans reveal themselves…these Salon discussions are full of wonder: the meeting of the gathered minds and the provoking text is a powerful thing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to echo in the lines and characters of Henry James, Isabel in particular: “You think of me the child of my circumstances: I make my circumstance…I—this thought which is called I, –is the mould into which the world is poured like melted wax. The mould is invisible, but the world betrays the shape of the mould. You call it the power of circumstance, but it is the power of me.” –from Emerson’s essay The Transcendentalist
Our study of PoAL may include a consideration of this quote in light of Isabel’s life and choices: how much do we make ourselves? How does the world impose itself on the individual in the act of self-creation?
Salon Details and Registration
- Weekend Meeting :May 15th-17th 2020
- Meeting in Rye–The Mermaid Inn and (as weather permits) garden at Henry James House
- Facilitated by Salon Director Toby Brothers
- Cost £165 includes notes and critical resources; rooms at the Mermaid range from £90 per night to £125
- RECOMMENDED EDITION: Norton Critical Edition Oct. 2017; ISBN-10: 0393938530
Jan 2020: THIS STUDY IS NOW FULL– please contact us to be placed on the wait list
To register for the Salon study, please use the Paypal button below to pay £165: (Please pay for the room directly to The Mermaid Inn once your registration has been confirmed):
From J. Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
“The question (could a novel be art) were…framed in terms of technique, but the ideal was no longer just to promote the novel’s ability to communicate more and more details about more and more things, but also to have an aesthetic shape or effect that would be intended by the author and felt by the reader as consciously graceful, beautiful or ‘right.’ Foremost proponent of these ideas was Henry James…” p. 134
“Everything that Isabel has learned about love and marriage growing up in the United States turns out to be wrong—in Europe, marriage is a pure commodity relationship, and it is the fate girls to be bought, sold, and dominated. Their only choices are to accept their fate knowingly or undergo it without understanding it. ..In Pofa Lady James does what he intended to do…uses intense psychological analysis and careful depiction of settings to fill the spots where the vulgar might have been. “ p. 135
“H. James …recognized that, as vital and satisfying as the English novel was, English novels were missing something that French novels possessed—psychological refinement and depth. …HJ wanted to write…important novels about the progress of the inner life, in which the climax might be only a silent recognition by the protagonist that she has made a commitment fatal to her happiness. Readers had to be educated to understand the weight of such subterranean drama…” p.136
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I would recommend courses led by Toby to anyone who wants to look at a text in detail in a study group
I was certainly surprised at how much I was thrown off balance by these two astounding writers…I look forward to returning for more
We all came to the group with different backgrounds and interests but Mark has skillfully guided us through a stimulating programme of Greek literature.
I always leave the meetings with a much broader understanding of what we are reading than when I arrived
Everyone feels they get heard and therefore that each of us has a contribution to make
In all of the courses I have attended I have felt a bond within the group, and this contributes significantly to the quality of the discussions
Lovely, intimate groups with in-depth discussions, lots of learning, and friendships are made for life there
I’ve read things I’d never dared read before. I’ve made new friends and met really interesting people.
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06jan5:30 pmDubliners: The Sisters and The Dead **STUDY FULL**Dubliners: Between Paralysis and Epiphany in 'The Sisters' and 'The Dead'5:30 pm Kentish Town, LondonType Of Study:LiteratureFrequency:WeeklyDuration:Two weeks