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on 12 November 2011
I read this out of professional necessity, and found it extremely hard going. Jane Brown really cannot write with any kind of sparkle and the book gets bogged down in far too many unnecessary details far too often. There are isolated sections where the pace picks up, but they are all too few.

It is often said that biographers fall in love with their subjects sooner or later and this is certainly true with this author. Ms. Brown pours scorn on the theory that Mr. Brown was illegitimate, dismissing this completely out of hand because she so obviously and desperately wants it not to be the case. So she "sets out in search of Brown's mother" and doesn't find anything to prove Lancelot's legitimacy, yet obviously believes what she writes in her own desire to do so. The mystery over Lancelot's parentage is simply glossed over, although Ms. Brown believes that she has convinced her readers that Lancelot was of legitimate birth. The truth is that this will never be known one way or another. His legitimacy was and always will be questionable, but Ms. Brown refuses to consider other views.

She also tries desperately to discredit the origins of his widely known tag of "Capability", trying to persuade herself and us that this moniker was only applied to him after his death, when it is well known that Brown was referred to in Lord Cobham's diaries as "The very capable Mr. Brown" during his early years at Stowe (and Ms. Brown simply refuses to even discuss the idea that the man himself was wont to describe landscapes as having "capabilities", not that any further credence to this oft-repeated urban myth is needed anyway). The fact that Brown's two sons were nicknamed "Capey" by their Eton contemporaries is also brushed under the carpet dismissively as it does not fit her theories about when the epithet "Capability" was applied. There is an interesting point made about the name "Capability" being used in one of Garrick's satirical plays, so the nickname must have been common knowledge by then - why would a playwright make an allusion to a well-known personality if none of his audience understood the reference?

The text is often dreary beyond belief and often needlessly verbose, over-fanciful or even downright purple occasionally as Ms. Brown slobbers all over her subject: "At the end of his schooling, Lancelot had grown into an attractive youth, tall and long-boned... with amused blue eyes [elsewhere in the text they are green or grey] and thick wavy hair". As no portrait exists of him at this time, one wonders how Ms. Brown knows this, or whether it is just doe-eyed supposition, a desperate need to make her subject handsome and dashing a la Mr. Darcy.

Little or no explanation is given as to the developments in gardening which meant that Lancelot was in the right place at the right time. One could be forgiven for thinking that the natural landscape style simply appeared overnight out of nowhere. In order to fully understand Lancelot's genius, you need to know what he was up against and what he had to overcome, but this is never properly considered.

The book screams for photographs of his landscapes yet these are curiously almost entirely absent. Even Mr. Brown's portrait, which should be the first illustration in the book, is relegated to follow several pages of portraits of his clients..

Yes, its being described as "an important biography". But "important" does not necessarily mean that it is any good.
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on 31 May 2017
Brought for present
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on 11 June 2011
Jane Brown has added another book on gardeners and gardening on her curriculum. Her first books on Gertrude Jekyll and on English Garden Design in the 20th Century are in my view still her best. Why has Brown this time selected Lancelot "Capability" Brown? Jane states, in her Prologue, that Dorothy Stroud with her book on "Capability" Brown of 1950 (with revisions in 1975 and 1984) has resurrected Brown and none of the hundreds of thousands of words that have followed - including mine- could have been written without her. Comparing both books I come to the following conclusion: If you are interested in the life of Lancelot Brown, than Jane's book gives much more and detailed information, although presented in a less coherent manner. As an example, the family tree on the first pages presents a daughter of Lancelot out of wedlock, this is only explained in the last pages of the book. But if you want to know the importance and achievements of Brown as Landscape Architect and Gardener of the 18th Century, than Dorothy's book is by far still the best on this subject.
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on 10 March 2011
This is a most interesting and well-written account of Capability Brown's life, and highly recommended not only to those interested in landscape gardening, but also to those who enjoy good biographies.
The key of course is in the writing - the most fascinating life can be made unapproachable by turgid prose. This book takes us steadily and amusingly through Brown's extraordinarily successful progress, transforming the exhausted and ill-kept 'Versailles-style' gardens of the late 17thC into glorious new countryside vistas thanks to his early training in the vital skills of lake-making and landscaping.
In particular the book steadily demolishes the old complaint that Brown destroyed wonderful tree-scapes in the course of his work - no one can compute the millions of new trees planted on his instructions, and many of his great parks (Petworth,Stowe, Sledmere, Harewood, Chatsworth, Broadlands, Alnwick) are thriving today, and it also highlights his respect for fine earlier work - for example at Wrest Park where he refused to alter the existing unimprovable layout.
Like all good biographies, while ostensibly about his life's work, it is also very interesting on the politics of the time (which of course affected his clients' ability to engage in major works) and on his personal life, which turns out to have been more complicated than he might have wanted us to know.
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on 18 June 2013
sorry but this book for all its hype is just a bore!
the use of actual records is mundane
The author writes with no real insight into Brown's choice or reasons for designs

You would be much better reading - Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden (Shire Library) by Laura Mayer
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on 8 June 2013
Incredibly disappointing book. Loads of press hype and a good-looking production but the material just isn't there. It's all speculation and heresay. I got so irritated I didn't bother to finish it.
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on 18 October 2014
The author has written an impressive number of books on gardening in England, and she now turns to look at the country’s most renowned landscape visionary. Visit any of England’s large houses and there is a good chance that at some point they received advice and visits (often numerous) from Lancelot Brown; indeed the amount of work he did was prodigious, and Jane Brown narrates his peripatetic life on the road as goes from wealthy patron to wealthy patron, transforming the grounds of England’s largest houses. Starting from modest circumstances in the isolated north of the country, his reputation grew until he was courted by monarchs and nobility for his advice and the enjoyment of his congenial company. Lancelot did not leave a mass of documentary material, and so most of the book is devoted to the evidence as it exists on the ground - with his lakes, undulating lands and patterns of planting. He was at the forefront of the movement away from strict formalism in gardens, to the sweeping, romantic approach, with occasional Gothic decoration features, to landscape design. This is an impressively comprehensive and knowledgeable work on Lancelot Brown and ends with the surprising assessment that the devoted family man may also have fathered a child out of marriage.
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on 27 August 2016
This is a book to savour. I read it over period of months having been given a hardback copy. I kept dipping into it when I had a few quiet moments. I had no idea that Brown had covered so much ground (sorry about that - it just slipped out!) in pursuit of, and in support of, his clients. How he did so when cross country travelling must have been so arduous I tremble to think. I found the author's account of his professional and family life, as well as many insights into the social history of the time, quite fascinating and her research has clearly been very comprehensive. A fine piece of work.
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on 7 September 2012
Although I like visiting gardens in England (and I regularly do), this book was bought for two reasons: Gardens are a product of gardners but also as a coffee table book. Capability Brown was a famous gardner. This is a beautiful book with beautiful pictures. So a conversation piece by itself.
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on 30 October 2015
Too much detail on things not relevant to Brown. If you are looking for this then fine, if you are looking for biography then perhaps not the book for you
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