Friday, October 02, 2009

The ride to Stone Court

Margaret Drabble has published a new edition of her 1979 book, 'A Writer's Britain'.  Like other books I've discussed here - Edward Thomas's The Literary Pilgrim in England and the Phaidon Companion to Art and Artists in the British Isles - it offers a chance to view the whole country through the lens of culture and the lives of writers.  And as The Metro's three star review says, 'A Writer’s Britain will get you walking'!

In The Guardian Margaret Drabble lists her Top Ten Literary Landscapes. There is an unsurprising emphasis on Romantic poets (four mentions for Wordsworth) and sublime locations: Goredale Scar, Stonehenge. The one that was new to me (never having read Arnold Bennett) is Burslem, and it sounds like an interesting place to visit. 'The Potteries still have some of the picturesque pot banks Arnold Bennett made famous in his Five Towns novels. It's a weird post-industrial landscape now, with a haunting poetic dereliction. The draper's shop from The Old Wives Tale is still there on the street corner in Burslem, and was for sale last time I saw it (in June this year).'

There is an interview with Margaret Drabble on Woman's Hour in which she says that British authors write a lot about landscape in preference to sex (compare, for example, Wordsworth to Romantic poets on the continent...)  She also feels that Wordsworth is fundamental to the link between landscape and memories of childhood.  Gillian Clarke is on the programme too and says that before she writes any poetry she looks out at the surrounding landscape from a room with two walls made of glass (as I type this I can see the terraced houses opposite, and the next terrace beyond, and the chimneys of the one beyond that...)  She regrets that Drabble included no poetry by Dafydd ap Gwilym or more scenes of the Welsh valleys.  The clip starts with a reading from George Eliot's Middlemarch, a landscape with which I'll conclude this post:

'The ride to Stone Court, which Fred and Rosamond took the next morning, lay through a pretty bit of midland landscape, almost all meadows and pastures, with hedgerows still allowed to grow in bushy beauty and to spread out coral fruit for the birds. Little details gave each field a particular physiognomy, dear to the eyes that have looked on them from childhood: the pool in the corner where the grasses were dank and trees leaned whisperingly; the great oak shadowing a bare place in mid-pasture; the high bank where the ash-trees grew; the sudden slope of the old marl-pit making a red background for the burdock; the huddled roofs and ricks of the homestead without a traceable way of approach; the gray gate and fences against the depths of the bordering wood; and the stray hovel, its old, old thatch full of mossy hills and valleys with wondrous modulations of light and shadow such as we travel far to see in later life, and see larger, but not more beautiful. These are the things that make the gamut of joy in landscape to midland-bred souls -- the things they toddled among, or perhaps learned by heart standing between their father's knees while he drove leisurely.'


Matt said...

Thanks for the post - interesting stuff and highlighted a number of books I didn't know existed, or had forgotten about. I just got the lot for under £10 on Amazon. Great stuff.


Ray Girvan said...

The Potteries ... It's a weird post-industrial landscape now, with a haunting poetic dereliction

I'd have to say that's a quite selective description: there are derelict sites, but a lot of refrubished ones too. I lived there in 1977-78, and even then there was considerable landscaping of the derelict areas under way: the huge spoil heaps of Hanley Deep Pit became Hanley Forest Park.