Conclusion: The Earth and the Land

  • Glen Cavaliero


H. E. Bates’s distinction between ‘the earth’ and ‘the land’ highlights the changing attitudes to be found in the rural fiction of this period. The fact that the rural experience had come to be essentially alien from that of the majority of readers led inevitably, as has been seen, to a feeling for it as something ‘vague, primitive, poetic’. The emasculating of the last-mentioned term is another symptom of the same estrangement; for ‘poetic’ has taken on the sense of ‘fanciful’ or ‘decorative’, much as the country comes to be thought of in conventional tourist terms as ‘picturesque’, ‘refreshing’, and so on. The paradox has been, however (and the very merits of the work of H. E. Bates illuminate it), that those novelists who have been most concerned with the land as a way of life have not been notably interesting novelists as such: praiseworthy as is, for example, the work of Street and Freeman, its value is historical rather than literary. The fidelity to observed truth serves only to indicate the limits of that truth’s significance for art.


Rural School Natural Beauty Naturalistic Writer Imaginative Content Rural Experience 
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  1. 1.
    John Cowper Powys (1872–1963) is the exception to this. He was the eldest and most prolific of the three writing brothers. His fourteen novels fall into two distinct periods, the later group, written after he returned from America to live in Wales, being concerned with Welsh history and mythology — as in Owen Glendower (1942) and Porius (1951) — and with fantasy. But the first seven — all of them set in his boyhood homes in Somerset (Wood and Stone (1915) and A Glastonbury Romance (1933), Dorset (Ducdame (1925), Wolf Solent (1929), Jobber Skald (Weymouth Sands) (1935) and Maiden Castle (1936)) and Norfolk (Rodmoor (New York 1916)) constitute intricate and exploratory studies of inner states of feeling and sexual desire, in relation to climate, landscape and the whole spiritual aura of particular places — in the latter being alien to the spirit of their time. In them the purely rural novel is subsumed to a more comprehensive picture of human life. Powys’s work complements that of Lawrence, in its emphasis on the rural experience as emblematic of spiritual rather than of material health, and is remarkable for its simultaneous realisation of complex psychological and mystical experience with a humorous and realistic acceptance of the ordinary and day-to-day. For an assessment of his work, in relation to the rural theme see H. P. Collins, John Cowper Powys: Old Earth Man (1966).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W. H. Auden, Secondary Worlds (1968), p. 83.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Charles Williams, The Place of the Lion 1952 edition, p. 96.Google Scholar

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© Glen Cavaliero 1977

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  • Glen Cavaliero

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