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Romantic Moderns

English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper

Alexandra Harris


An award-winning study of England’s unique and peculiarly insular variant of modernism

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While the battles for modern art and society were being fought in France and Spain, it has seemed a betrayal that John Betjeman and John Piper were in love with a provincial world of old churches and tea-shops. In this multi-award-winning book, Alexandra Harris tells a different story. In the 1930s and 1940s, artists and writers explored what it meant to be alive in England. Eclectically, passionately, wittily, they showed that ‘the modern’ need not be at war with the past. Constructivists and conservatives could work together, and even the Bauhaus émigré, László Moholy-Nagy, was beguiled into taking photographs for Betjeman’s nostalgic Oxford University Chest.

This modern English renaissance was shared by writers, painters, gardeners, architects, critics, tourists and composers. John Piper, Virginia Woolf, Florence White, Christopher Tunnard, Evelyn Waugh, E. M. Forster and the Sitwells are part of the story, along with Bill Brandt, Graham Sutherland, Eric Ravilious and Cecil Beaton.

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'The originality of Romantic Moderns is the extraordinary breadth of its focus … a joy to read'
The Sunday Times

'It would be impossible to over-emphasise what a clever book Romantic Moderns is … not just an important book but a deeply pleasurable one, too'

'Teems with fascinating detail …Well researched, wide-ranging and generously illustrated, the book contains many delights and surprises'
Daily Telegraph

'Brilliant, delightfully readable … thoroughly invigorating'
Financial Times

'Remarkable … Harris’s insights are based on a close, imaginative reading of collaborations and connections mapped through friendships and unlikely encounters. Her book is full of vivid snapshots, telling detail and beguiling loose ends'
Times Literary Supplement

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Edition Type: New Edition

Size: 19.8 x 12.9 cm

Extent: 416 pp

Publication date: 6 April 2023

ISBN: 9780500296486

Contents List

1. Ancient & Modern
2. Concrete and Curlicues
3. A Georgian Revival
4. Victoriana
5. From Purity to a Pageant
6. A Break for Refreshments
7. The Canon Revised
8. The Weather Forecast
9. Village Life
10. Parish News
11. Variations on a View
12. An Hour in the Garden
13. Dreaming of Manderley
14. House Building
15. Literary Architecture

About the Author

Alexandra Harris was educated at the University of Oxford and the Courtauld Institute, London, and is currently Professorial Fellow, Department of English Literature at the University of Birmingham. She is the author of several books, including Weatherland and Virginia Woolf, both published by Thames & Hudson.

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