Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies

Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies

by Alexandra Harris


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A lively look at the English literary and artistic responses to the weather from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Keats and Ian McEwan

In a sweeping panorama, Weatherland allows us to witness England’s cultural climates across the centuries. Before the Norman Conquest, Anglo-Saxons living in a wintry world wrote about the coldness of exile or the shelters they had to defend against enemies outside. The Middle Ages brought the warmth of spring; the new lyrics were sung in praise of blossoms and cuckoos. Descriptions of a rainy night are rare before 1700, but by the end of the eighteenth century the Romantics had adopted the squall as a fit subject for their most probing thoughts.

The weather is vast and yet we experience it intimately, and Alexandra Harris builds her remarkable story from small evocative details. There is the drawing of a twelfth-century man in February, warming bare toes by the fire. There is the tiny glass left behind from the Frost Fair of 1684, and the Sunspan house in Angmering that embodies the bright ambitions of the 1930s. Harris catches the distinct voices of compelling individuals. “Bloody cold,” says Jonathan Swift in the “slobbery” January of 1713. Percy Shelley wants to become a cloud and John Ruskin wants to bottle one. Weatherland is a celebration of English air and a life story of those who have lived in it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780500518113
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Publication date: 02/15/2016
Pages: 432
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Alexandra Harris is a cultural historian and writer. She is the recipient of the Guardian First Book Award and a Somerset Maugham Award for Romantic Moderns. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She lives in Oxford and Liverpool.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Mirror in the Sky 7

Tesserae 18


The Winter-Wise 26

Forms of Mastery 35

Imported Elements 40

Weathervane 46


'Whan that Aprill…' 51

Month by Month 60

Secrets and Signs 72

A Holly Branch 78

'Why fares the world thus?' 81


Splendour and Artifice 87

Shakespeare: Inside-Out 101


Two Anatomists 117

Sky and Bones 123

Milton's Temperature 139

A Pause: On Freezeland Street 146


Method and Measurement 161

Reasoning with Mud 175

A Language for the Breeze 182

Dr Johnson Withstands the Weather 196

Day by Day 204


Coleridge and the Storm 219

Wordsworth: Weather's Friend 228

A Flight: In Cloudland 234


Shelley on Air 249

The Stillness of Keats 255

Clare's Calendar 265

Turner and the Sun 268


Companions of the Sky 279

'Drip, drip, drip' 291

Varieties of Gloom 302

Ruskin in the Age of Umber 315

Rain on a Grave 321


Bright New World 329

Greyscale 350

Too Much Weather 372

Flood 390

Sources of Epigraphs and Notes 394

Select Bibliography 419

Acknowledgments 424

Sources of Illustrations 426

Index 428

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