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Spirit of Place

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Artist, Writers and the British Landscape

Susan Owens

A lyrical, compelling account of the British landscape in writing and art from Beowulf to now.

When we look at the landscape, what do we see? Do we experience the view over a valley or dappled sunlight on a path in the same way as those who were there before us? We have altered the countryside in innumerable ways over the last thousand years, and never more so than in the last hundred. How are these changes reflected in – and affected by – art and literature?

British landscape painting is often said to be an invention of the eighteenth century. Yet when we look for representations of the country in British art and literature, we find a story that begins with Old English poetry and continues its winding path up to the present day. People have sat down to write about the land, and to draw and paint it, for as long as they have had materials to do so.

Spirit of Place offers a panoramic view of the British landscape as seen through the eyes of writers and artists from Bede and the Gawain-poet to Gainsborough, Austen, W. G. Sebald and Barbara Hepworth. Shaped by these distinctive voices and evocative imagery, this book describes how the British landscape has been framed, reimagined and reshaped by each generation. Each account or work of art, whether illuminated in a manuscript, jotted down in a journal or constructed from sticks and stones, holds up a mirror to its maker and their world.

Shortlisted for Book of the Year, Apollo Awards 2020