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The Countryside Before Yesterday

Alan Howkins compares two histories of rural England

Alan Howkins | Published in

Change and Tradition in Rural England; An anthology of writings on country life by Denys Thompson (291pp Cambridge University Press, 1980)

The Rural World, 1780-1850: Social Change in the English Countryside by Pamela Horn (331pp Hutchinson, 1980)

We all have to come to terms with our rural past. The countryside as an object, and the landscape, particularly of southern England, are an essentiaI part of our being, especially if we live in a city. It is for this reason that television commercials stress the goodness and innocence of rural life, particularly in the recent past. It is also for this reason that books of rural memoir, especially about the period before 1914, are so popular, and why television serials set in that same period continue to attract mass viewing audiences.

Both these books speak to that rural past. One as a set of descriptions and evocations of it, often written by contemporaries, the other as a social history of the period of acute social transformation in the countryside. Both, in different ways have much to recommend them and both have flaws.

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