Idea of North

Overview


North is the point we look for on a map to orient ourselves. It is also the direction taken throughout history by the adventurous, the curious, the solitary, and the foolhardy. Based in the North himself, Peter Davidson, in The Idea of North, explores the very concept of "north" through its many manifestations in painting, legend, and literature.

Tracing a northbound route from rural England—whose mild climate keeps it from being truly northern—to the wind-shorn highlands of ...

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Idea of North

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Overview


North is the point we look for on a map to orient ourselves. It is also the direction taken throughout history by the adventurous, the curious, the solitary, and the foolhardy. Based in the North himself, Peter Davidson, in The Idea of North, explores the very concept of "north" through its many manifestations in painting, legend, and literature.

Tracing a northbound route from rural England—whose mild climate keeps it from being truly northern—to the wind-shorn highlands of Scotland, then through Scandinavia and into the desolate, icebound Arctic Circle, Davidson takes the reader on a journey from the heart of society to its most far-flung outposts. But we never fully leave civilization behind; rather, it is our companion on his alluring ramble through the north in art and story. Davidson presents a north that is haunted by Moomintrolls and the ghosts of long-lost Arctic explorers but at the same time, somehow, home to the fragile beauty of a Baltic midsummer evening. He sets the Icelandic Sagas, Nabokov's snowy fictional kingdom of Zembla, and Hans Christian Andersen's cryptic, forbidding Snow Queen alongside the works of such artists as Eric Ravilious, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Andy Goldsworthy, demonstrating how each illuminates a different facet of humanity's relationship to the earth's most dangerous and austere terrain.

Through the lens of Davidson's easy erudition and astonishing range of reference, we come to see that the north is more a goal than a place, receding always before us, just over the horizon, past the last town, off the edge of the map. True north may be unreachable, but The Idea of North brings intrepid readers closer than ever before.

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Editorial Reviews

Scotland on Sunday - Richard Price

"What is the North? Although it’s almost always that bit further from wherever you happen to be, Peter Davidson’s new study manages to pin down its elusive cultural quality for long enough to offer new insights and lyrical evocations."
Aberdeen Evening Express

"A truly stunning assessment of the concept of 'north' in literature, legend, history and the psyche of "Northern" people. Why do some places feel 'northern'? Peter Davidson writes with an incredible sense of place in the North-east of Scotland."
Times Literary Supplement - Tom Shippey

"An interesting meditation."
The Observer - Jane Perry

"The idea of north clearly inspires strong passion in Davidson, who never lets his learning cloud his enthusiasm for this wide and protean subject and his writing shares the awe of the poets who preceded him on this journey."
The Glasgow Herald - Melanie Reid

"this delightful, original work could only spring from someone who nurtures within a a strong sense of what he writes . . . an esoteric but important gem; original treasure from the north . . . The spiritual equivalent of a large slice of chocolate cake: unexpected, satiating, fulfilling. Suddenly, those cold, high places don't seem so lonely after all."
The Scotsman - Tom Adair

"Davidson's style . . . achieves a lyrical elegance of phrase. . . . he achieves a marvel of descriptiveness that is moving as well as expressive of something irreducibly 'north', yet universal."
The Independent - Christina Hardyment

"Besides being a discriminating critic, Davidson has an arrestingly personal voice . . . The Idea of North is one of those books that have you making a long list of references you want to follow."
Ruminator

"The charm of the book is its exhaustiveness, zooming into a variety of touchstones to show how they've influenced global culture in sly, often surprising ways. . . . The Idea of North is an exhausting book, but in the best sort of way. Davidson tackles so many different ideas about north-ness, both sympathetic and contradictory, that the writing accrues meaning and value as it goes along. . . . Davidson's north is an enormous challenging land: humbling, shifting, austere, empty, fragile, desolate, desolating, marginal, authentic--a place, as Davidson perfectly puts it, forever suffused with 'absolute, difficult beauty.'"
The Guardian

"Davidson is as interesting writing about snow sculptures and 17th-century paintings of the Arctic as he is about Auden, and his reading of the imaginary land of Zembla in Nabokov's Pale Fire as an enternal, symbolic north is highly evocative...a lovely book"
London Review of Books

"The nearer he gets to the North of England and Scotland the more deeply felt his writing becomes. . . . Marvellously sensitive."
Discover - Verlyn Klinkenborg

"This is a book about poetry, myth, and art, and the myriad ways in which artists, poets, and explorers have filtered the north's stark natural splendor through their imaginations. . . . Davidson has compiled an extraordinary catalog of the shapes the north has taken in the minds of humans. . . . A work of genuine erudition, guiding readers northward out of their home ground and into unknown territory."
Times Higher Education Supplement - Max Jones

"Provocative. . . . Davidson's evocative prose and sensitive analyses of an impressive range of sources heighten the reader's appreciation of the rich complexity of humanity's imagined Norths."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781861892300
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 4/15/2005
  • Series: Reaktion Books - Topographics Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.15 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Peter Davidson is professor of English at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and author of several books, including Poetry and Revolution.
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Table of Contents


Introduction: True North
I. Histories
—Ideas of North from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century
—Treasures and Marvels of the North
II. Imaginations of North
—Ice and Glass
—The North in the 1930s: Auden and Ravilious
—Imagined Northern Territories
—Northern Summer
—Northern Exile
—Revenants
III. Topographies
—Scandinavia
—Japan and China
—Canada
—Britain
Epilogue: Keeping the Twilight
References
Acknowledgements
Photographic Acknowledgements
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