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Torn between Georgic and Pastoral, the British Weald is a landscape regarded as embodying ‘Englishness’, but also geographically ‘on the edge’ of the nation. Richard Jeffries revered the downs and Weald. W. H. Hudson was an evocative depicter of a romanticised version and guidebooks including E.V. Lucas’s The Highways and Byways of Sussex (1904) and Arthur Beckett’s The Spirit of the Downs (1909) coaxed city-dwellers to countryside that was not ‘too country’. The Georgic-Pastoral was treated parodically by Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm (1932) offering a subversive deflation of rural narratives. Despite this, the continuing appeal of landscape narratives is evident in the success of James Rebanks’s The Shepherd’s Life (2015). Drawing on Hudson’s similarly titled book, he locates shepherding within a history of landscape suggesting that images of ‘Englishness’, encapsulated in familiar livestock and gently turning seasonal rhythms, serve a purpose in imagining a national identity poised between Georgic and Pastoral.
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