Book Reviews

England is a village by C. Henry Warren

A book review of C Henry Warren's wartime classic 'England is a village'

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Alternative cover of England is a village

‘England’s might is still in her fields and villages, and though the whole weight of mechanised armies rolls over to crush them, in the end they will triumph’

Clarence Henry Warren has lapsed into a strange and undeserved obscurity. His books, written in the ‘rural tradition’, full of rich natural description and an uncanny perceptivity of the people he meets, have included subjects such as his upbringing in the hop county of Kent, naturalist writings farther afield such as in ‘Cotswold Days’ or thoughts on village life such as this book ‘England is a Village’.

His substantial literary output has him standing well at ease amongst his more popular contemporaries and predecessors and when compared to the ‘new naturalist’ writing, flourishing once more in the 21st century, his writing retains a knowledge, immediacy and sincerity that makes it an indispensable read. With an uncomplicated easy to read writing style, blend of modernity and honest pastoralism, his writing is captivating and thought provoking yet never slips into lazy nostalgia or pessimism even when there was much to pessimistic about. His thoughts on conservation and the importance of a healthy agricultural economy for the future of the countryside remain prescient and fascinatingly astute which the passage of time has only enhanced.

One can read his books on many levels but it is his descriptions of character that illustrate his craft at it’s best, for while the countryside he describes is still to be found, the men and women who make up his village of England are no more and with them has gone the country skills, vernacular, crafts and ways of living that remain such an interesting place in today’s modernised and busy world.

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England is a village

It is a fascinating prospect to read this book and eavesdrop on the conversations he had all those years ago. At times it feels as if you really are in the same dusty parlour room with him, sipping on warm brown beer or standing happily indolent under a shaded elm at the close of day, chewing the cud with a passing labourer.

For it is here that his obvious ease with his subjects shines through the pages. Whether lord or labourer his ability to converse with the wide range of people he meets means they jump from the page free of prejudice and his perceptive, living descriptions are the equal of any I have read. Always able to solicit their unspoken acceptance of him with ease, he is the natural observer, he makes his acquaintance, offers a few words by way of encouragement and soon even the most taciturn of individuals is spilling forth their thoughts and fancies on the world for capture into print, and we should be very glad that he took the time to do so.

Looking back on writing, such as this, it can be all too easy to think this a normal subject for a book but it is a testament to Warren’s forethought and his profound interest in the natural landscape and the people therein that he undertook the effort to record, as it was, what was then a quickly disappearing way of life. Add to that the dark cloud of war and the black threat of the Nazi machine inked all over Europe it is no stretch of the imagination to see how real the threat of destruction must of been felt to this knowledgeable writer. To see it through these eyes, the book takes on an added profundity and seriousness that only adds to its appeal.

And there lies the secret to this book’s longevity and interest. Reading now, nearly eighty years later, it becomes a social history, a window into the lives of those gone before us and a deeply enjoyable chronicle of his patch of Essex and of course that very English love affair; the quiet country village.

 

Notes on Edition:

First published in 1940 by Eyre & Spottiswoode illustrated by Denys Watkins-Pitchford otherwise known as ‘BB’

Subsequent editions include:

Reprinted August 1941

Reset to economy standard 1944

Reprinted 1945

Reprinted 1947

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England is a village by C Henry Warren, illustrated by Denys Watkins-Pitchford (BB)

 

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