Romantic Moderns English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper

Alexandra Harris

Description

In the 1930s and 1940s, while the battles for modern art and modern society were being fought in Paris and Spain, it seemed to some a betrayal that John Betjeman and John Piper were in love with a provincial world of old churches and tea shops.

Alexandra Harris tells a different story: eclectically, passionately, wittily, urgently, English artists were exploring what it meant to be alive at that moment and in England. They showed that “the modern” need not be at war with the past: constructivists and conservatives could work together, and even the Bauhaus émigré László Moholy-Nagy was beguiled into taking photos for Betjeman’s nostalgic An Oxford University Chest.

A rich network of personal and cultural encounters was the backdrop for a modern English renaissance. This great imaginative project was shared by writers, painters, gardeners, architects, critics, and composers. Piper abandoned purist abstracts to make collages on the blustery coast; Virginia Woolf wrote in her last novel about a village pageant on a showery summer day. Evelyn Waugh, Elizabeth Bowen, and the Sitwells are also part of the story, along with Bill Brandt and Graham Sutherland, Eric Ravilious and Cecil Beaton.

Reviews

A brilliant piece of work that manages to be both comprehensive and coherent as it tells a compelling story about 20th century English art… a significant contribution to the history of English culture.

— Adam Foulds, author of The Quickening Maze

Contributors

Alexandra Harris

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.