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Book that Changed my Life

Marion Roberts

The Country and the City Raymond Williams , London Paladin , 1975

I was recommended to read The Country and the City by the supervisor of my PhD, Professor Alan Lipman, who was and/ imagine still is, an ardent Williams tan.

The book was a revelation With painstaking and scholarly deliberation, which is always subtle and entertaining and never pedantic, Williams traces the imagery of the country and the city through English literature from the Middle Ages until the mid- twentieth century. He exposes persistencies in imagery and forms and thought, but rather than simplifying these observations, traces their subtle shifts and historical variations.

As a Marxist, Williams explains the manner in which dominant images and issues in literature both articulate and mask real transformations in power between capital and labour, landed aristocracy and an urban proletariat. His interpretations have a freshness and elegance which later, cruder explanations inspired by his work, lack. My particular favourite comes in the chapter 'Pleasing Prospects', in which he discusses the evolution of the eighteenth century landscaped park and its counterpart, the enclosures and associated agrarian revolution. He further goes onto remark, in the concluding chapter, that he can hear, in the voices which were then raised against the redevelopment of Covent Garden, 'a defence... which repeated in almost every particular the defence of the commons in the period of parliamentary enclosures'(p. 350).

In this short space it is difficult to do justice to a book of this depth and vision. My only regret is that Williams has not lived long enough to revise it and to trace those persistencies and historical variations which contribute to our thought processes in the information age of today.


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