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Writers & Artists Under English Skies

Alexandra Harris

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The story of English culture told through the experience of writers and artists, by the winner of the 2010 Guardian First Book Award


The story of English culture over a thousand years can be told as the story of changing ideas about the weather. Writers and artists across the centuries, looking up at the same skies and walking in the same brisk air, have felt very different things. In a sweeping panorama, Weatherland allows us to witness cultural climates on the move. The Anglo-Saxons lived in a wintry world, writing about the coldness of exile or the shelters they must defend against enemies outdoors. The Middle Ages brought the warmth of spring; the new lyrics were sung in praise of blossom and cuckoos. It is hard to find a description of a rainy night before 1700, but by the end of the eighteenth century the Romantics will take a squall as fit subject for their most probing thoughts. There have been times when the numbers on a rain gauge count for more than a pantheon of aerial gods. There have been times for meteoric marvels and times for gentle breeze.

The weather is vast and yet we experience it intimately, which is why Alexandra Harris builds her remarkable story from small evocative details. There is the drawing of a twelfth-century man in February, warming bare toes by the fire. There is the tiny glass left behind from the Frost Fair of 1684, and the ‘Sunspan’ house in Angmering that embodies the bright ambitions of the 1930s. Harris catches the distinct voices of compelling individuals. ‘Bloody cold’, says Jonathan Swift in the ‘slobbery’ January of 1713. Percy Shelley wants to become a cloud and John Ruskin wants to bottle one.

Weatherland is a celebration of English air and a life-story of those who have lived in it. As we enter what may be the last decades of English weather as we know it, this is a history for our times.

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'In Alexandra Harris’s deeply felt, richly observed and brilliantly articulated book the weathered life of England is superbly on view ... Prepare to be drenched and delighted in equal measure by the best written downpour England has ever witnessed '
Tim Dee

'Splendid … its glory is in the detail, in its recording of facts and lives, atmospheres and words, quirks of feeling and behaviour'
A. S. Byatt, Guardian

'Hugely ambitious, exhilaratingly written and handsomely produced'
Peter Parker, Times Literary Supplement (Book of the Year)

'A brilliant, beautiful and sensual book (and it is a lovely object, with its rich paper and fine illustrations)'
Sunday Times

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Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 22.7 x 15.2 cm

Extent: 432 pp

Publication date: 14 September 2015

ISBN: 9780500518113

Contents List

A Mirror in the Sky • Tesserae • I. 1. The Winter-Wise • 2. Forms of Mastery • 3. Imported Elements • 4. Weathervane • II. 5. ‘Whan that Aprill...’ • 6. Month by Month • 7. Secrets and Signs • 8. A Holly Branch • 9. ‘Why fares the world thus?’ • III. 10. Splendour and Artifice • 11. Shakespeare: Inside-Out • IV. 12. Two Anatomists • 13. Sky and Bones • 14. Milton’s Temperature; A Pause: On Freezeland Street • V. 15. Method and Measurement • 16. Reasoning with Mud • 17. A Language for the Breeze • 18. Dr Johnson Withstands the Weather • 19. Day by Day • VI. 20. Poets in the Storm • 21. Wordsworth: Weather’s Friend; A Flight: In Cloudland • VII. 22. Shelley on Air • 23. The Stillness of Keats • 24. Clare’s Calendar • 25. Turner and the Sun; VIII. • 26. Companions of the Sky • 27.‘Drip, Drip, Drip’: Varieties of Gloom • 28. Ruskin in the Age of Umber • 29. Rain on a Grave; IX. • 30. Bright New World • 31. Greyscale • 32. Too Much Weather; Flood

About the Author

Alexandra Harris studied at Oxford and at the Courtauld Institute in London, and worked at Christie's for a year before returning to Oxford to write a doctorate on art and literature in the 1930s. She is now a lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool, running courses on Modernism and American writing, and leading the MA in Contemporary Literature. Her first full-length book, Romantic Moderns, published by Thames & Hudson, was the winner of the 2010 Guardian First Book Award. Alexandra Harris was also a winner in the BBC's 'New Generation Thinkers' contest in 2011.