A land; with drawings

by Jacquetta Hopkins Hawkes, 1910-

Book, 1951



Call number

GF551 .H3


Publisher Unknown


A pioneering work of modern nature writing; a natural history of the author's beloved British Isles that inhabits a lush territory somewhere between science and poetry.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Caomhghin
Has this book transcended its time and ethos? Several recommendations (including one by Robert MacFarlane) and the book's recent reissue suggested this one had. It was first published in 1949 and was immensely successful at the time though disliked by scientists as too populist. It is a paean to the creation of the modern land of Britain through geology, archaeology and a little history. She moves through the aeons of geological time as the rocks of first one and then another part of the island are created. It is very personal and not at all 'scientific' while being, for its time, very up to date and accurate scientifically. She lovingly describes the creation of the rocks in a geological timescape which leads to the creation of today's landscape which is evoked with obvious appreciation. She may reveal the effects of the geology on agriculture somewhere else and then celebrate the styles of vernacular architecture which use that local stone or materials. As is traditional in such works she laments the decline in architecture and agricultural life and the growth of cities, especially the growth of suburbs. (She has a point there of course. This was after a decade or more of strip developments out of most cities and large towns. Not usually a pretty site.) If she stuck to her rhapsodies on the land all would be well. She does link them with architecture, poetry, painting and sculpture in a very appealing way. There is a strong involvement with the roots of the land - rocks and history and people. Those parts of the book are definitely still enjoyable if a little dated. Well very dated as far as the science is concerned - no continental drift, Piltdown man, mass migration/invasion theories of prehistory to name but three.
Now let's be totally fair. Her scholarship is completely up-to-date and thorough - for its time. Alas for her, times have changed and we have the first problem. She is so very adamant about what she describes scientifically - she has an air of absolute certainty and I think, perhaps. she was typical of her time for the average scientist. Nowadays this absolute certainty seems to be mostly confined to economists. Scientists, historians, archaeologists, social historians recognise that they don't know everything - this is what appears/may have/seems/suggested etc happened. So this can jar in her descriptions especially when you know it probably wasn't so anyhow. Then again there are prejudices. It's a rare person nowadays who would suggest that the peak of human happiness was reached in eighteenth-century England. From the viewpoint of an upper middle class English woman from a city it might have appeared so, I suppose but the romanticism has blinkered her intelligence (although again this was not that uncommon in her day). But these are small problems before her rambles into the "consciousness" of the land etc. It gets perilously close to race consciousness, third age mysticism, land und volk but is such a mishmash of poor ideas that you can never be sure. She is definitely against 'modern' developments though not modern art. She dislikes or rather despises the urban working class (they have no culture). There are elements of early environmentalism glimmering in her views but they are clouded over by her prejudices.
In short it is a book of its time and its time is over. And I'm cross that I read this when I could probably have read a better informed modern book on the same topic. I must look for it.
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