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

Alexandra Harris

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

Alexandra Harris presents a case for the interest and importance of the English arts during the modern period. During the 1930s and 1940s, a rich network of cultural and personal encounters was the backdrop for a modern English renaissance, with English artists exploring what it meant to be alive at that moment and in England. Harris examines the work of writers, painters, gardeners, architects, critics and composers, some well known and some almost forgotten: John Betjeman, Florence White, Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen, the Sitwells, John Piper, Cecil Beaton and more. 4.1 out of 5 based on 11 reviews
Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Art, Architecture & Photography, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 320
RRP £19.95
Date of Publication September 2010
ISBN 978-0500251713
Publisher Thames & Hudson
 

Alexandra Harris presents a case for the interest and importance of the English arts during the modern period. During the 1930s and 1940s, a rich network of cultural and personal encounters was the backdrop for a modern English renaissance, with English artists exploring what it meant to be alive at that moment and in England. Harris examines the work of writers, painters, gardeners, architects, critics and composers, some well known and some almost forgotten: John Betjeman, Florence White, Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen, the Sitwells, John Piper, Cecil Beaton and more.

Read an extract from the book on the Guardian's website

Reviews

The Guardian

Kathryn Hughes

Brilliant ... It would be impossible to over-emphasise what a clever book Romantic Moderns is. It is a kind one too, showing tactful generosity towards people and places, sights and sounds, that have tended to get written off as embarrassing or just plain wrong... The result is not just an important book but a deeply pleasurable one, too.

25/09/2010

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The Independent

Boyd Tonkin

Truly outstanding … Romantic Moderns proves, in language often as sinuous, graceful and colourful as the work of its subjects, that black-and-white distinctions will always tell a big, fat lie about our cultural past.

17/12/2010

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The Observer

Daisy Hay

Magnificent … Woolf and Piper both merit a place in Harris's subtitle. Yet despite this emphasis, Romantic Moderns is not really a book about individuals. It is emphatically a book about people: about how we live, how we decorate our homes, gardens and tea tables, about how we respond to the world around us and about how we are shaped by history and culture.

05/12/2010

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The Financial Times

Harry Eyres

[A] brilliant, delightfully readable book … Sometimes you may feel Harris stretches her category too far, so that it can include almost any art made in England in the 1930s and 1940s, and plays down its reactionary side. But on the whole her revaluation is thoroughly invigorating.

18/10/2010

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The Sunday Times

Edward King

Impressive … The originality of Romantic Moderns is the extraordinary breadth of its focus … It is this eclectic approach to cultural history, ranging freely between areas as varied as garden design and literary theory, that makes Romantic Moderns so convincing and such a joy to read.

10/10/2010

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The Daily Telegraph

Martin Gayford

...she is not as inclusive about artists and writers as she is about media. Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson get only walk-on parts, though they too might count as Romantic Modernists ... This, however, is a book that makes you think freshly about that perennially puzzling question of what it means to be British. It’s elegant and wittily written, beautifully designed and splendidly illustrated: altogether, an admirable debut.

21/11/2010

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Times Literary Supplement

Tanya Harrod

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.

14/01/2011

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The Sunday Telegraph

Peter Parker

Well researched, wide-ranging and generously illustrated, the book contains many delights and surprises: Lubetkin retiring to “a remote sash-windowed cottage” in the Cotswolds; T S Eliot as “a champion of agriculture”. If in the end it turns out to be rather more about Englishness than about Modernism, it is none the worse for that.

03/10/2010

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The Spectator

Simon Heffer

The book is interesting because it has insights and novelty, not least in taking a period and a culture regarded by many as second best compared with what was happening elsewhere at the time, and shows it to have been enlightened, intelligent and full of beauty. However, it infuriates partly because of the author’s occasionally cloying and highly adjectival style, and partly because, for all her scholarship in the subject, one gets the sense that she has spread herself too broadly and lacks a feel for the real popular currents of the Twenties and Thirties.

25/09/2010

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The London Review of Books

Julian Bell

The less I knew about the subject at hand, the more I enjoyed her warm-hearted commentaries ... The more it approached the familiar, however, the more Romantic Moderns seemed to present a parallel-universe 1930s to the decade inhabited by my parents. A cosmos minus a dimension or two. I suppose Harris writes in appreciation rather than in analysis. Even so, to push the era’s politics so far into the periphery as she does, and never even to look at issues of class consciousness, makes for a kind of unreality.

03/02/2011

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The Literary Review

Paul Johnson

The picking of favourites is inevitable in this panoramic treatment, and I disagree with some of Harris’s choices. There is too much of Virginia Woolf (as often happens now), who does not really belong in this romantic pléiade, being a Bloomsbury cynic, and her gruesome idol Roger Fry, who, far from being at home in the colour of the 1930s, was the evangelist of the outdated School of Mud.

01/11/2010

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