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Albion: The Origins of the English…

Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination

by Peter Ackroyd

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An excellent choice for the student of English literature, its referents and its development. ( )
  turtlesleap | Nov 6, 2016 |
The major failing of Albion is its falling between two structual stools. It's loosely chronological and loosely thematic, so that in the early Anglo-Saxon chapters we're frequently yo-yoed far into the future, following the breadcrumb trail of some governing English trait. This is fine, but the same referents then appear again later on, when the chronological narrative has caught up, and we're in turn catapulted back into the mists of the middle ages to check back in with Langland or Julian of Norwich. So everything shows up at least twice. I'm sure this was Ackroyd's design, and it certainly reinforces his thesis that English art and thought is cyclical and there's nothing new under the sun, but I found it pretty irritating.

Another irritant is the extent to which Ackroyd's past studies dominate the book. Chatterton, Blake and Dickens are lavishly treated, but there are only passing mentions for less famous but arguably more English writers like Clare, Crabbe and Cowper. There is a chapter on "English Music" which is really just about Vaughan-Williams - Purcell and Elgar are mentioned once or twice in passing. Of course it's inevitable that a subject of such massive scope will result in an uneven book, but one has the impression that much of Albion is cobbled together out of notes and clippings left over from Ackroyd's previous research efforts. See also London, which gets a very good chapter to itself but without any explanation of how the capital has influenced the national imagination, as opposed to expressing its own.

Some excellent mini-essays that could stand alone: ghosts and the gothic, the English Bible, Samuel Johnson.

Ackroyd identifies all the big themes, albeit none of them are new - melancholy, pragmatism, the pastoral, etc etc., and as a miscellany there will be something here for everyone - but as a unified thesis it doesn't hang together. Still a fun read, though. ( )
1 vote yarb | Jul 26, 2016 |
The only book by Peter Ackroyd that I have a) not enjoyed and b) not finished. There was some interesting material in it, but it just felt poorly organized and not well analyzed either. Mountains of quotations but little real engagement with their substance. Usually I really like his work, but I could not finish this and gave it away. ( )
1 vote sansmerci | Sep 3, 2013 |
Recommended by William C. 29.june.2011.

have ebook version
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
Albion traces ideas, images and patterns across the centuries to consider what it means to be English. Any Anglophile will enjoy the many and varied cultural references linked within Ackroyd's dense but fascinating text. Beginning and ending with Englishmen I admire (historian the Venerable Bede (d. 735) and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (d. 1958)), these two disparate personalities were brought together in one memorable statement: "The embrace of present and past time, in which English antiquarianism becomes a form of alchemy, engenders a strange timelessness. It is as if the little bird which flew through the Anglo-Saxon banqueting hall, in Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, gained the outer air and became the lark ascending in Vaughan Williams's orchestral setting. The unbroken chain is that of English music itself." To me, reading this book was like examining the contents of an ancient attic trunk, ruminating on the people, places, and things that made you who you are. When you come to the end of your literary pilgrimage, you're better for having experienced it. ( )
  ukforever | Apr 21, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
Ackroyd's argumentative method is ... circular, and he too relies on such eternal returns to hold together a series of short and unconsecutive chapters.
added by yarb | editThe Observer, UK, Peter Conrad (Oct 20, 2002)
What's modern about the Anglo-Saxons doesn't concern him; what's Anglo-Saxon about the moderns does.
As with so much of his recent output, one is continually charmed and instructed, while suspecting that the whole amounts to slightly less than the sum of its parts.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385497733, Paperback)

With his characteristic enthusiasm and erudition, Peter Ackroyd follows his acclaimed London: A Biography with an inspired look into the heart and the history of the English imagination. To tell the story of its evolution, Ackroyd ranges across literature and painting, philosophy and science, architecture and music, from Anglo-Saxon times to the twentieth-century. Considering what is most English about artists as diverse as Chaucer, William Hogarth, Benjamin Britten and Viriginia Woolf, Ackroyd identifies a host of sometimes contradictory elements: pragmatism and whimsy, blood and gore, a passion for the past, a delight in eccentricity, and much more. A brilliant, engaging and often surprising narrative, Albion reveals the manifold nature of English genius.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:05 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

This volume covers the whole of English cultural history from its roots in the Anglo-Saxon period, through the centuries, to numerous entertaining examples from our own times.

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