New Book | Green Unpleasant Land

Posted in books by Editor on August 25, 2021

From Peepal Tree Press:

Corinne Fowler, Green Unpleasant Land: Creative Responses to Rural England’s Colonial Connections (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2021), 324 pages, ISBN: ‎978-1845234829, £20 / $30.

Green Unpleasant Land explores the countryside’s repressed colonial past and demonstrates its importance as a source of ideas about Englishness. The book presents historical evidence to show that rural England was a place of conflict and global expansion. It also examines four centuries of literary response to explore how race, class, and gender have both created and deconstructed England’s pastoral mythologies. In particular, the book argues that Black and British Asian writers have challenged narrow, nostalgic views of rural England but also expressed attachment to English landscapes and the natural world.

The book questions the countryside’s reputation as a retreat from urban life. It interrogates the idea that country houses are models for civilised living or that moorlands are places of freedom. It presents new perspectives on the ‘English’ flora and fauna that feature in literature, parks, allotments, and suburban gardens. The book reconsiders a range of rural locations through the lens of British colonial involvement, including East India Company activity and the slavery business. The book connects England’s outward-reaching histories to what was happening in the countryside: the enclosure of common land, the beginnings of industrial mass farming, and the reshaping of landownership through imperial profits. In bringing together histories usually separated by the Atlantic, Green Unpleasant Land makes connections, for instance, between the rebellion of enslaved people for their freedom in Jamaica in 1831, and the struggles of English agricultural workers in the Captain Swing uprising of the same year.

But Green Unpleasant Land is more than an academic study—accessibly written as it is—because it contains a section of Corinne Fowler’s own stories and poems written in response to the research she has undertaken and the material objects she has encountered. It is a personal story, too, of her own family relationship to transatlantic enslavement.

Green Unpleasant Land should make uncomfortable reading for anyone who wants to uphold nostalgic views of rural England. The heatedness of the recent media response to such work shows just what is at stake: a selective vision of nation that underplays the impact of four colonial centuries, or a vision that embraces, as Paul Gilroy expresses it, a post-imperial “convivial culture.”

Corinne Fowler is a research expert at the University of Leicester, and is Director of Colonial Countryside: National Trust Houses Reinterpreted. Professor Fowler is an expert in the legacies of colonialism and postcolonialism to literature, heritage, and representations of British history. She co-founded and led the Centre for New Writing for six years, where she bought together writers and researchers to commission over 100 creative works.




Part I.  Empire, Literature, and Rural England
1  Nation at the Crossroads
2  Green Unpleasant Land
3  Pastoral
4  Country Houses
5  Moorlands
6  Plants, Gardens, and Empire

Part II.  Creative Responses: The Colonial Countryside
Fields  Strawberries
Gardens  Azaleas
Graveyards  Myrtilla
Hills  Cotswolds
Maypoles  Green and Pleasant Land
Moorlands  Heathcliff
Parks Kings  Heath Park
Pastoral  A New Chronology
Pubs  Public Houses of Britain
Seeds  William Blathwayt of Dyrham Park
Woodlands  An Escaped Slave from Yorkshire, 1789


Further Reading

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