Housman Country: Into the Heart of England

Peter Parker. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (544) ISBN 978-0-374-17304-3
Few people today read A.E. Housman, but his most famous book of poetry, A Shropshire Lad, was a bestseller, going through 48 editions in the 50 years after its 1896 publication. In this insightful but disappointingly dreary critical biography, Parker (Isherwood: A Life Revealed) attempts to recover Housman for a new generation by illustrating his significance for early 20th-century England. Engaging in close readings of the poems in A Shropshire Lad, Parker shows clearly how Housman’s Romantic poetry creates a rural world of familiar lands and fields that its modern urban readers looked back on with a nostalgic longing for home. The themes of the poems—mortality, romantic longing, exile—also evoke a wistful desire to return to a certain time and place. So popular were Housman’s poems in playing to a shared sense of national identity that several of the most famous composers of the day—Ralph Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth, among others—set them to music. English artists such as Morrissey continue to sing Housman’s praises. Regrettably, Parker’s long-winded study, delivered with a punishing level of detail, is not likely to drive newcomers to Housman to read A Shropshire Lad, despite the collection being reproduced in full in an appendix. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/13/2017
Release date: 06/20/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 546 pages - 978-0-374-53786-9
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