Historic journeys in England and Englishness
English Journeys is a series of twenty elegantly designed paperbacks that celebrate the English countryside, its heritage and history. Released in 2009, these slim volumes are presented in matte covers designed by the British book illustrator Nathan Burton. The art director was Jim Stoddart who has guided several of the ‘designy’ series of recent years that promote the Penguin ethos through affordable but stylish books and booklets.
The texts are historical, dating from the 1680s to the 1960s and include literary works as well as travel journals, diaries and documentary studies. Authors include Henry James, Thomas Gray, Dorothy Wordsworth and lesser known diarists such as Celia Fiennes, above, who in the late 1600s really did ride through England on a side-saddle. The effect of individual titles, and of the series as a whole, is one of immersion in lost worlds of English identity. For example …
Everything about this farm-house was formerly the scene of plain manners and plentiful living. Oak clothes-chests, oak bedsteads, oak chest of drawers, and oak tables to eat on, long, strong, and well supplied with joint stools. Some of these things were many hundreds of years old. From Dover to the Wen, 1830.
As I came down from the hill into the valley across the golden meadows and along the flower-scented hedges a great wave of emotion and happiness stirred and rose up within me. I know not why I was so happy, nor what I was expecting, but I was in a delirium of joy, it was one of the supreme few moments of existence. A Wiltshire Diary 1870s.
Lord Fairhaven is precise, complacent and dogmatic. Hospitable and kind, though aloof and pleased with his noble position. Who is he anyway? The son of an American oil magnate. Some Country Houses, 1943.
Despite the warmth of the packaging, it’s not all indulgent nostalgia, many of stories describe bitter poverty and waste. But that’s still in the context of entering into past lives and experiences.
John Self, the English literary critic, writes that “The English Journey in question is not only through the geography of England, but through time also. Even when there is a sense of loss, there is a balancing impression of reassurance – probably because the past cannot spring up and unpleasantly surprise us as the present so often does”.