Customer Reviews


19 Reviews
5 star:
 (10)
4 star:
 (3)
3 star:
 (2)
2 star:
 (3)
1 star:
 (1)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, beautiful, and stimulating.
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...
Published on 15 Oct 2010 by Eleanor

versus
44 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Blessing
First and foremost, this is a beautiful book. Exquisitely designed, it seduces you into wanting to read it. The type-setting, the choice of illustration, the feel is top notch.

The book is ambitious in what it is trying to achieve. Bringing together many so many creative arts is a daunting challenge. The languages of art, architecture, sculpture,...
Published on 14 Oct 2010 by Simon Tavener


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, beautiful, and stimulating., 15 Oct 2010
By 
Eleanor (Oxford, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read hard for rich rewards, 2 Nov 2011
By 
Graeme Withers (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (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. I agree with one comment: you have to read hard, to assimilate the broad thrust of the thesis, as well as take in the inter-disciplinary connections within, and manifestations of, the development of English Romanticism in what seem like near-to-modern times for those of us over 50.

I also hated: There are two flaws: first it is wrong to start in the 1930s. The sheer presumption of this is breath-taking. An author may "start" a dissertation wherever he or she likes. And no flow of development of ideas starts anywhere in particular, except perhaps in the case of the Vorticists - and look what happened to them.

I'd put the key word for this book down as: insight. The author's realization that her own fascination with the shifting history of English intellectual life, after the shock of Toller Fratrum, could best be rendered by a various and [I use the word again] intricate narrative. One which encompasses the arts on a multi-disciplinary canvas, personal histories, meetings and interactions between key [and less than key] players. Where elements of the texture of ordinary English life - posters, gardens, food, travel and village life - normally seen as ancillary, maybe, do have a contribution to make in filling out the picture. So, a second word: texture. A beautiful, finely woven artefact, and emphatically not a "maelstrom", full of wit [the comment on the Cerne Abbas giant print], and discernment and acuity. I've been a Vaughan Williams freak since my teens, but the photo of Ralph conducting Forster's masque at Abinger was a real shock.

Onwards - I'll have to re-read the Osbert Sitwell memoirs, buy the monographs [Piper, Ravilious - especially - and Nash] that will make Amazon a happy corporation. And rejoice in the fact that we now have what is in effect a new genre for communicating insight into the cultural history of those things that should concern us.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent survey of an interesting and rewarding period in British art, 22 Aug 2011
By 
Hywel James "Hywel James" (Devon, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (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.

I would be delighted if Alexandra Harris turned her attention to British book illustration for children next because the period from 1945 to 1970 in book illustration reflects so much of what had been taking place in the visual arts in the earlier two decades covered in this book:the imagery and idiom are very close, and indeed the generation of postwar illustrators in Britain had in many cases been taught at art school by members of that older generation of artists.

Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly important, and readable, work!!!, 23 Feb 2013
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 4 Feb 2011
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Hardcover)
I really enjoyed this book, and was sorry when I came to the end. The author writes from a wide experience of art, literature and cultural history in the first half of the 20th century, and she ties these all together showing how they are connected in unexpected ways. She writes very well, and expects a good deal of knowledge from her reader; but just when you think, am I following this? she joins up the different themes, and writer and reader together land happily in a known and familiar place. I haven't enjoyed a book so much for a long time, and have been buying it for friends, and widely recommending it. The period is one most of us know a bit about, but not enough, and not in this well connected way (I'm trying to avoid joined-up here), she paints a clear picture of the whole cultural movement. She is also good at showing how much and how often these themes changed - how John Piper's work, for instance, altered substantially. I'd love t hear her lecture on this -the topic would be excellent for Literary Festivals.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


44 of 56 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Mixed Blessing, 14 Oct 2010
By 
Simon Tavener - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Hardcover)
First and foremost, this is a beautiful book. Exquisitely designed, it seduces you into wanting to read it. The type-setting, the choice of illustration, the feel is top notch.

The book is ambitious in what it is trying to achieve. Bringing together many so many creative arts is a daunting challenge. The languages of art, architecture, sculpture, literature, poetry, film and music are very varied and not easy for non-specialists to immediately grasp.

It is the scope of what she is trying to achieve is what, in the end, leads to the failure of the book to ultimately satisfy. There is no doubting her passion for the subject or the quality of her research. However there is a lack of organisation in the material that makes it hard to follow her thesis. There is almost a scatter-gun approach with many artists, writers and other creative types being considered on every page. There are a few key figures but their stories and contributions are almost lost amidst a maelstrom of other personalities.

I wanted to love this book. It is a subject that I want to know more about. However there is too much going on to make it an approachable read.

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.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


39 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What is the idea?, 28 Dec 2010
By 
G. M. Thomas (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Hardcover)
I cannot fault the effort or research but in the end I was left grasping for the idea behind it. There are two flaws: first it is wrong to start in the 1930s; the romantic movement flourished from the end of the First World War (and had it roots in the late 19th century) and embraced a far more diverse (and indeed intersting group of people) than has been chosen here. (And, in truth, the interconnections between them all were strong.) What about the short-story writers such as Coppard and Bates? And the rise of the private press? All were heavily influential in this romantic movement. The ommission of someone like Clare Leighton is astonishing. The rise and influence of wood engraving as an art form (and Harris muddles engraving and wood cuts) was important in bringing a new medium to capture the countryside and its dwindling population.
However, the second flaw is more critical: there is scant answer to the question why did this movement come about and what was it trying to achieve? In fact it wasn't one single movement as there were two strands (even if they were interwoven). The first, as personified by Eric Gill (also barely mentioned), was a reaction against mass production and its detrimental effect on the quality of people's lives. Embedded within this was a leaning to the left politcally - and a reaction to the failure of the ruling classes in the First World War. Mass production and industrialisation were viewed as new ways that the working class were being subjugated. The values of the countryside and an older way of life were seen as being counter-balances to this. The other strand was that represented by the likes of Betjemin: here was a middle-class approach that didn't want the workers coming back to the countryside at all; they wanted to create something untainted and that could be preserved in some Elysian aspic.
I so much wanted to enjoy this book but have been left disappointed.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


24 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and inspiring, 27 Oct 2010
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Hardcover)
This book brings together a load of the writers and artists I've always been drawn to - from seeing Rex Whistler's smoking urn in Mottisfont Abbey, to hearing Betjeman's 'Summoned By Bells', to watching Hitchcock's 'Rebecca'. Throw in some Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden and I was sold. They are not things I had thought of as particularly united; just some stuff washed up from being alive in the 20th century, and I collected it. But this book seemed a perfect fit.

The approach is brilliantly refreshing - a bit like finding a secondhand bookshop packed with so much interesting stuff you can't wait to dive in. It's also intelligent and insightful, and explores a particularly evocative thread of the 20th century that has in recent years come to be appreciated, understood and valued. Romanticism assumes a certain amount of instinctive feeling from the individual in the first place, and is defined in so many ways, and that is why I think the approach here works so well - you are constantly dipping into new perspectives and reinventions. Nowhere are you tied to some dull pigeon-holed framework, but free to see the unity emerge yourself. And the book is exceptionally designed and produced.

And if anyone is accusing these artists of snobbery, I can only think they are staggeringly unfamiliar with John Betjeman's work for a start (the small child's reality-check of 'I wonder where Julia found that strange, rather common little boy?', or his championing of Coronation Street and unfashionable architecture - things which so many modern egalitarians dismiss as the material of 'dull suburban lives').
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars superb!, 27 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Hardcover)
A book that I could read in one-sitting (if time were permitting!)
Don't look for images, this is a reading book.
Enough is written in each chapter about these great English artists to whet the appetite to read further definitive works.
Engaging and easy in style, a fascinating read. You know these artists, so buy this book to understand them!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Serendipitous Overload, 26 Dec 2011
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Hardcover)
I was troubled by the dilettantish nature of this book which seems to lack a clear aim. For the most part, the text flits about like a butterfly, drawn randomly from one alluring flower to the next.

The best aspect is the full colour photographs of 1930s paintings, in particular John Piper's striking collages of British landscapes. I enjoyed Chapter 1 on artists like John Piper's flirtation with abstract art, until his fascination with landscape won out . As his French contemporary Hélion observed, abstract art was proving to be a system "cracking at the seams....life budding mysteriously though it". This would have made an informative chapter in, say, an analysis of abstract art in British painting, but the next chapter changes tack to the early use of concrete in apartment blocks. It soon sets the book's pattern of being too superficial and lacking in context, for instance, there is no reference to important influences like Le Corbusier, nor to the future wave of brutalist concrete architecture of the 1960s-80s. Instead, Chapter 2 degenerates into scrappy sections on completely different topics, like Victorian pubs, so they are hard to read since they lack a coherent theme.

Thereafter, each chapter stands alone, covering some aspect of English life , mainly from the viewpoint of artists and writers in the 1930s. The wide-ranging topics include views on Victoriana, food, the state of English art in the broadest sense, the weather, village life, landscapes, or the influence of houses on artists, but all covered in a very rambling and disjointed fashion. If you are largely unfamiliar with the references, you are likely to feel overloaded and rather bored. If you have some prior knowledge you may well feel you would like to concentrate more on fewer topics. There is little regard to the social and economic context of this period of dramatic change. The focus is very much on the middle and upper classes living in the countryside or prosperous urban areas.

The chapters cannot even be called essays because they are often broken into shorter sections, further obviating the need for the author to develop a theme properly . For instance, Chapter 10 could have been an intriguing study of the landscape of 1930s Britain as captured by artists for the Shell-Mex advertisements intended to encourage new car-owners to use more petrol. In fact, this aspect is lost in a mass of verbiage with some kind of oblique connection to writing about, sculpting with regard to or drawing landscapes.

I found this book was only readable if I dipped into the odd section of interest. I was left enjoying the illustrations, but very irritated by the unfocused text. I agree with other reviewers who have regretted the lack of an objective and clear-sighted editor.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Only search this product's reviews