The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside – Alan Taylor (ed.) (2009)

“Diarists create by accumulation, putting into print what they see and hear and think daily.”

Alan Taylor, editor.

A day-by-day year-round anthology of diaries from writers whose lives revolve around the life of the British countryside (so not just England). This is a fascinating trip across fields and centuries from 1672 to the early 2000’s, and covers all social classes from rather poor (via literate curates) to stinking rich so the collection covers the gamut of life. With such a wide range of description of the appreciations of country life, it would be easy for the editor to choose the sort of bucolic “Cider with Rosie” descriptions, but he has included both the highs and the lows of everyday life.

Admittedly, this is a collection of (mostly) white males, but I would bet that that is due to the sample of available writing more than any bias of the editor. Female diarists include Beatrix Potter (who is truly hilarious in places), one Elizabeth M. Harland (who was first published in 1950 – not heard of her), Emily Smith (1817-1877, a contemporary of Thos. Hardy and not heard of her before) and one Alice Dudeney, all of whom were pretty prolific in their writings. I will definitely be searching for some of their work if I can track it down.

Reading about inclement weather when it’s been a really hot August in West Texas was a real treat, and I had quite forgotten how short British summers could be – and how wet! Day after day of rainy weather, chilly temperatures and cloudy skies – pretty much the opposite of here and fun to contrast the two… It also took me back to English childhood and adolescence, a time that seems so far away and yet also seems to have happened yesterday in some cases…

Two rather funny excerpts:

30 April 1830, Radnorshire.  Rev. Francis Kilvert.

“This evening being May Eve I ought to have put some birch and wittan [mountain ash] over the door to keep out the “old witch.” But I was too lazy to go out and get it. Let us hope the old witch will not come in during the night. Young witches are welcome.”

11 November 1799, Somerset. William Holland (rector).

“Rain last night too and the morning not very promising, tis surely dreadful weather. Briffet is here to kill the sow.  A horrible looking fellow, his very countenance is sufficient to kill anything, a large hulky fellow, a face absolutely furrowed with the small pox (a very uncommon things in these days of inoculations), two ferret eyes and little turned up nose with a mouth as wide as a barn door and lips as thick and projecting like two rollers of raw beef bolstered up to guard against, as it were, the approach to his ragged rotten teeth. However, he is a good pig killer.”

(Back-handed compliment, methinks. :-))

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One thought on “The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside – Alan Taylor (ed.) (2009)

  1. Pingback: Suggested Summer Reading…. (Part One) | Just One More Page…

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