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Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper Hardcover – 27 Sep 2010

21 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; First Edition edition (27 Sept. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500251711
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500251713
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 127,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alexandra Harris was born in Sussex in 1981. She studied at the University of Oxford and at the Courtauld Institute in London and now teaches English literature at the University of Liverpool. Romantic Moderns won the Guardian First Book Award and a Somerset Maugham Award in 2011. For news, events, and extracts visit www.alexandraharris.co.uk.

Product Description

Review

"Alexandra Harris looks back at the early 20th century through a different lens in Romantic Moderns, a study of how English writers, painters, gardeners, architects, critics and composers imbued the artistic revolutions coming across the channel with a nostalgic sense of place."
--Longlisted for 2010 Guardian First Book Award.

`Brilliant ... it would be impossible to over-emphasise what a clever book Romantic Moderns is. ...not just an important book but a deeply pleasurable one, too' --The Guardian

`Thought-provoking, has shafts of originality, and ought to stimulate further research into a neglected period that is now on the edges of living memory' --The Spectator

`Harris's book teems with fascinating detail ... Well researched, wide-ranging and generously illustrated, the book contains many delights and surprises'
--The Daily Telegraph

'Alexandra Harris's brilliant, delightfully readable book is a revaluing and rescuing of much of the British art, writing and music of the 1930s' --The Financial Times

'The originality of Romantic Moderns is the extraordinary breadth of its focus ... it is this eclectic approach to cultural history ... that makes Romantic Moderns so convincing and a joy to read'
--The Sunday Times

'A spectacular debut by a gifted and versatile cultural historian ... A beautiful book; also, with its bucolic endpapers and its cornucopian illustrations, a beautiful piece of book' --Peter Conrad, The Observer

'Highly readable ... bears special resonance today' --Country Life

'A hugely enjoyable reassessment of a sadly neglected period' --RA Magazine

'A beautiful edition' --History Today

'Wonderfully well-written ... Alexandra Harris has caught brilliantly the legacy of the interwar years, and this glorious book marks an impressive debut which deserves all our congratulations'
--Birmingham Post

Thames & Hudson is delighted to announce that Romantic Moderns by Alexandra Harris has WON the GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2010!
-- Winner of 2010 Guardian First Book Award

'Wonderfully eloquent and illuminating ... [written] in language often as sinuous, graceful and colourful as the work of its subjects' --The Independent

'The only disappointing thing about Romantic Moderns is that it comes to an end' --The Times Higher Education Supplement

'I hugely admired [this book] ... beautifully written' --Charles Saumarez Smith, The Daily Telegraph

'Exceptionally well-written and deeply illuminating' --Andrew Motion, The Guardian

'Elegant in style and appearance ... satisfying and thoughtful ... and inspiring book'
--Art Quaterly

'I am mad for Romantic Moderns ... if, as I do, you like Eric Ravilious and Graham Sutherland, E. M. Forster and the Sitwells, this is the book for you.' --The New Statesman

'Highly eclectic and original... a book that makes you think freshly about the perennially puzzling question of what it means to be British.' --Martin Gayford, The Sunday Telegraph

'A brilliant piece of work that manages to be both comprehensive and coherent as it tells a compelling story about 20th-century English art' --Adam Foulds, The Guardian

'Alexandra Harris's groundbreaking book is a reminder of how important higher education is to literature' --Claire Armitstead, Literary Editor, The Guardian

'The joy of this book is its breadth, connecting areas as varied as the work of Beaton, Bauhaus emigres and garden design'
--Apollo

'Excellent ... makes one think again about what it is to be British' --The Chap

'Brilliantly researched and engrossing'
--Tribune

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Eleanor TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 15 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
In this book Harris focuses on a group of English artists and writers of the thirties and forties (John Piper, the Sitwells, Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, etc.), whose modernism was combined with an English romanticism to create a rich distinctive cultural and artistic movement; one removed from the asceticism which one might associate with modernism.

Harris covers a vast amount of ground, discussing several disciplines and figures in the course of each broadly thematic chapter (with enjoyable, stand-alone digressions on food and gardening). I always felt in safe hands, however, and she built up a convincing portrait of the people and the time, told in an elegant and very enjoyable way. The subject matter felt fresh and original, lending a new perspective to the period.

One left the book with an insight of a particular time for a particular group of people. England and Englishness was felt to be under threat with the Second World War looming, and Harris excellently conveys the anxiety and uncertainty of the period, and how that influenced the art and literature which was produced in response.

The book is absolutely beautiful and aesthetically a joy to read. The pages consist of thick cream paper and the text is interspersed with high quality colour reproductions; these are much more pleasing and helpful than a collection of separate plates in the middle of the book.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Graeme Withers on 2 Nov. 2011
Format: Hardcover
I just hope that Alexandra Harris doesn't ever bother reading the reviews [even this one] on this site, but just gets on with another superb book.

I don't often write a review for fellow lay readers, and when I read the current crop [those in by November 2] I was tempted just to keep my pleasure to myself. However, in case some prospective readers are deterred by the negative comments by some, I have to say something in her defence.

"The failure of the book" is in "the lack of organization". Rot. The glory of the book is the sort of intricate organization she has attempted. It is not a matter of concentrating on a few "key figures" - plenty of books and monographs do that - but allowing those key figures to be seen as interacting with one another, creating, developing, changing, and just being themselves, as life surged on in the 30s and 40s. And, moreover, interacting with and learning from others in all sorts of obscure, unexpected ways, some I imagine largely unknown to many.

The two statements I most object to are:

A good editor should have focussed the writing on a few key individuals and made the central thrust much easier to follow. A real shame.

I feel that she attempts too broad a view at the expense of coherence. It's in desperate need of good editing.

These two statements, alas, shame their desperate authors. The coherence is there: imagination is a shifting, many faceted, faculty, and the shifts and facets, in the famous and the less famous, are explored here.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Hywel James TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 22 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Alexandra Harris' "Romantic Moderns" is an excellent book. It tackles a range of writers and artists whose work explored a particular approach to, especially, landscape painting in the inter war period. This approach is typified in the work of Paul Nash and Eric Ravilious, among others.

The research behind this book is formidable and the wide range of references to the visual arts, writing, book design and typography, music and architecture, and even garden design, means the reader is kept on his or her toes throughout. However there are many apt and beautiful illustrations which illuminate the text and help the reader along in that regard, and Alexandra Harries draws together all these references into a coherent and satisfying whole. Fittingly, the book itself is a fine production by Thames and Hudson and beautifully designed by Karolina Prymaka.

Given that Alexandra Harris is but 30 years old, I am in awe of the range of examples she has found to support her thesis that the work of British artists and writers in the 1930's and 1940's is fully compatible with notions of Modernism, including European Modernism, in the Twentieth century. She has personally visited many significant sites where figures such as Piper, Nash, Ravilious and Eliot found inspiration.

I did not know that Evelyn Waugh stayed at the Sitwell's home, Renishaw Hall, in Derbyshire, at the same time as Piper was painting there for Osbert, and perhaps drew from that encounter an element of the character of Charles Ryder for "Brideshead Revisited"; nor that Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, famed painter and photographer of the Bauhaus, took many photographs of Oxford to illustrate John Betjeman's book on that subject. This wonderful book is full of such surprising revelations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Christopher H TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover
This takes a fresh - even refreshing - approach to British art and culture from the late 1920s to the Second World War. If the author digs deeply into art, what she writes is not to be confused with narrative art history. You do not get a show-by-show account of who painted what when, and where it was exhibited. Nor does this, like most books tackling this period, present culture as being overshadowed by the heavy memory of the Great War.

Instead, Alexandra Harris has developed a fascinating and deeply informed meditation on a sequence of key themes or concerns that affected and influenced English artists, writers, designers, architects and musicians at the time (each chapter explores a key idea in this manner). The obvious styles are there - neo-Romanticism, for example, and Geometric Abstraction - although the author shows underpinning values that often straddle movements and media. She shows how a novel by Virginia Woolf shares beliefs or outlooks with certain musical compositions, or paintings, or a newly designed home, maybe even a garden.

This is fuel for subtle, sophisticated thinking about English modernist culture in the inter-war period. Harris is an accomplished writer, a talented thinker and a damn fine researcher. Her book genuinely is an important contribution to modernist art history, and fundamentally reshapes our perceptions of mid-twentieth century British culture. Do read it.
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