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Literary Somerset: A Reader's Guide Paperback – 1 Dec 2009
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Literary Somerset explores the literary highways and byways of Somerset, including the cities of Bath and Bristol. In so doing, writer and poet James Crowden has produced an intellectual road map of Somerset from Anglo-Saxon times up to the present day. Here you will find more than 350 writers: early chroniclers and opium addicted Romantic poets, philosophers, pirates and playwrights, eccentric clergymen, diarists and herbalists, novelists and historians, travellers, chefs and scientists - from Gildas to John Cleese, Fay Weldon and Terry Pratchett. Many of these literary connections are well known: TS Eliot and East Coker, Wordsworth and Coleridge in the Quantocks; but did you know that Thomas Hardy once lived in Yeovil; or that Virginia Woolf had her honeymoon in Holford; or that John Steinbeck lived near Bruton to research the Arthurian legends; or that the weird electrical experiments of Andrew Crosse at Fyne Court inspired Frankenstein... or that the vicar of Isle Brewers was once sold for 25/- and then walked naked across Afghanistan; or that JRR Tolkein had his honeymoon in Clevedon and that Cheddar Gorge inspired Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings ? Many of the First World War poets, such as Rupert Brooke and Edward Thomas came to Somerset; Isaac Rosenberg was born in Bristol; Siegfried Sassoon is buried in Mells. There is even the story of Breaker Morant, the Bridgwater-born Bush poet who was executed by firing squad during the Boer war. Speke of the Nile is buried in Dowlish Wake. Then there are the Waughs and the Powys clan. Aubrey Herbert even turned down the throne of Albania twice in favour of Dulverton and Yeovil. This unique resource explores Somerset's extraordinarily rich and varied literary heritage just waiting to be re-discovered and re-visited.
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16 January 2011
This is an excellent book, nicely produced, a joy to browse and useful for reference, the fruit of considerable research. There are biographical details on literary figures connected with Somerset. The arrangement is partly chronological, party geographic and partly thematic, so the indexes of people and places are very welcome. Every writer you might expect is included: Wordsworth and Coleridge, the Waugh family, Arthur C Clarke etc etc plus a host of minor figures. Some writers are dragged in screaming, however. Does the fact that Dr Johnson 'visited Bath ... in the summer of 1776' really qualify him as literary Somerset? Robert Louis Stevenson is also claimed for the county by virtue of Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island boarding the Hispaniola in Bristol, the Admiral Benbow Inn being based on the Llandoger Trow, which was surely never in Somerset as it is north of the river. But that's a quibble. A minor criticism is that cricket gets short shrift. R C Robertson-Glasgow is there, but where are David Foot and Peter Roebuck? If Paddy Ashdown's autobiography counts as literature (I admit I haven't read it), then why not Sammy Woods, Bill Andrews and Bill Alley? But then you could argue all day about who merits inclusion. A few more details about where people lived or stayed might be interesting, e.g. we are told that Laurence Housman 'lived in Street' but not that he lived in Burleigh Lane. But we do get a wonderful 'To Visit' tip on Thomas Hardy, which I followed up recently. The site of Hardy's home at 7 Peter St, Yeovil is now a car park. 'The only blue plaque, however, says "Primark Private Parking."' Perhaps now that Primark is moving into the former Woolworths store, there will be an opportunity for a more suitable memorial.
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