A thoughtful and fascinating portrait of England, told through the story of A. E. Housman and his much-loved poetry collection, A Shropshire Lad.
Why is it that for many people 'England' has always meant an unspoilt rural landscape rather than the ever-changing urban world in which most English people live? What was the 'England' for which people fought in two world wars? What is about the English that makes them constantly hanker for a vanished past, so that nostalgia has become a national characteristic?
In March 1896 a small volume of sixty-three poems was published by the small British firm of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd in an edition of 500 copies, priced at half-a-crown each. The author was not a professional poet, but a thirty-seven-year-old professor of Latin at University College, London called Alfred Edward Housman who had been obliged to pay £30 towards the cost of publication. Although slow to sell at first, A Shropshire Lad went on to become one of the most popular books of poetry ever published and has never been out of print. As well as being a publishing phenomenon, the book has had an influence on English culture and notions of what 'England' means, both in England itself and abroad, out of all proportion to its apparent scope.
Housman Country will not only look at how A Shropshire Lad came to be written and became a publishing and cultural phenomenon, but will use the poems as a prism through which to examine England and Englishness. The book contains a full transcript of A Shropshire lad itself, also making it a superb present.
Peter Parker was born in Herefordshire and educated in the Malverns, Dorset and London. He is the author of The Last Veteran, The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public-School Ethos and biographies of J.R. Ackerley and Christopher Isherwood . He was an associate editor of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and writes about books and gardening for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines. He lives in London's East End.
Peter Parker's book is replete with fabulous observation — The Times
In offering this rich blend of literary criticism and cultural history, Parker proves to be the perfect guide to what he calls 'Housman Country', measured and discreetly witty . . . his fine book reminds us why so many readers still have passages of A Shropshire Lad by heart — Spectator
It is as a biographer that Parker excels — John Carey, Sunday Times
Peter Parker's new book is much more than a biography, and having lured us into Housman's life with a magpie's eye for detail, he then sets out on a tour of Housman Country - not a geographical area but a landscape of the mind in which "literature, landscape, music and emotion" all contribute — The Economist
Parker's intricate and beautiful exploration of Housman's influence on everything from English music to the way our identity is shaped by our relationship with the weather, the land, the distant horizon, speaks with peculiar poignancy to our times — Mail on Sunday
Housman Country offers three books for the price of one: a lucid biographical portrait; a study of Housman's lasting influence on our culture; and, as an appendix, the whole of A Shropshire Lad - a volume that has never been out of print in 120 years. The poet who emerges is complex: cheery, grumpy, generous, begrudging, gentle and robust . . . as Parker shows in his fine study, the borders of Housmanland are
uncontrolled and stretch as far as Russia and China
— Blake Morrison, Guardian
A fascinating cultural history — Prospect
Parker - one of the few biographers, I suspect, who has actually shorn a lamb - penetrates to the Englishness at the heart of A. E. Housman. The book is appropriate for a year which may see the end, or rebirth, of the country — Spectator, John Sutherland
Housman Country tells us many things about England, whose future has so often been taken to lie in its past, while also raising questions as to what England can tell us about Housman — Paul Keegan, London Review of Books
This is really three books for the price of one: a partial biography of Housman; the biography of his most famous book; and the whole of A Shropshire Lad itself, reprinted for ease of reference while you enjoy Parker's patient, clear-sighted analysis of the poems — Sunday Times