Nick Groom – ‘Let’s discuss over country supper soon’ – Rural Realities and Rustic Representations

Nick Groom is Professor of English Literature at the University of Exeter and author of, most notably, The Union Jack, a cultural history of the British flag. November this year will see the publication of his research into representations of the English environment and calendar, The Seasons: an Elegy for the Passing of the Year. He is currently working on a follow-up volume that explores the difficulties of sustainability, The Lie of the Land. He lives on Dartmoor with his wife and two daughters, and keeps a flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep.


On 14 June 2012, the Leveson Inquiry learnt of a text message sent on 7 October 2009 by Rebekah Brooks, recently appointed Chief Executive Officer of News International (having previously edited The Sun), to David Cameron, on the eve of his speech as leader to the Conservative Party Conference. The Sun had just endorsed Mr Cameron as a future Tory Prime Minister.

“But seriously I do understand the issue with the Times. Let’s discuss over country supper soon. On the party it was because I had asked a number of NI [News International] people to Manchester post endorsement and they were disappointed not to see you.

But as always Sam was wonderful (and I thought it was OE’s [Old Etonians] were charm personified!) I am so rooting for you tomorrow not just as a proud friend but because professionally we’re definitely in this together! Speech of your life? Yes he Cam”

It was that phrase ‘country supper’ that galvanized commentators in the press. Everyone already knew that the Conservatives were figuratively in bed with News International, and here Brooks implies that she’ll address some negative story that had appeared in The Times, another News International publication. Just four months before she sent this message, Rebekah Kemp had married Charlie Brooks, an Old Etonian – like Cameron – and a friend of Cameron’s brother Alex. Both David and Alex attended the Brooks’s wedding. And Mr & Mrs Brooks then settled in Chipping Norton – part of the same Cotswold country set as the Cameron couple David and Sam. The imbecilic pun signing off the text was also to be expected from a former editor of The Sun. But the intimacy of the phrase ‘country supper’ shifted this cosy relationship into a new realm.

As Jonathan Freedland commented the next day in The Guardian, ‘The phrase is delicious, concisely capturing the entire culture and chumminess of the Chipping Norton set, its elite habits and its remoteness from the way most people are living in austerity Britain’.[1] On the same day, Hugo Rifkind wrote in The Times, ‘Country supper. What’s that, then?’ Rifkind reminded his readers of Francis Maude’s revelation that the Camerons’ have an appetite for ‘kitchen suppers’ at Number 10 with Conservative Party donors:

That didn’t make sense either, because for the vast majority of British families, who struggle by without a dining room, a ‘kitchen supper’ sounds a lot like ‘supper’. In this context, supper is probably best defined by what it is not. It’s what you have if you could be having dinner, but aren’t…. Then as far as it can be said, a country supper is a kitchen supper you have in the country, which you can have only if you possess a dining room you are choosing not to eat in, and another home in town which you are not at.  For ease, you should probably just call it an Aga supper.  Unless you’ve got a Rayburn, in which case things get complicated.[2]

            A discussion board at the TES revealed that ‘country supper’ was not a familiar term.[3] An anonymous pundit writing in The Tatler subsequently attempted to define the ‘Great British Country Supper’ by comparing it with dinner etiquette: ‘there isn’t a placement and the conversation is spoken across the table (rather than to left or right)…. [and] With any luck, the occasion will be interrupted by a mild calamity – a power cut, a bird flying down the chimney, someone forgetting a child – that can quickly be solved with lots of squawking and self-congratulation’.[4] ‘Country supper’ on these terms was power politics as omni-shambles: ‘the fight is now on to show how easygoing, even shambolic, entertaining can be’ – although The Tatler might not include the arrest and likely imprisonment of the hostess as part of the fun. But the anonymous writer did note that ‘The country supper is a rural practice adopted by successful Londoners who want to form discreet coalitions’. Doubtless because of The Sun’s reputation for salaciousness, The Tatler suggests that there are two types of ‘country supper’: after coffee, the ‘Sloane Ranger country supper will move into strip poker, then into dancing on chairs and tables, … [and later] they’ll all go upstairs for a light orgy’, whereas at ‘the powerhouse country supper, there will be only light inebriation (sometimes faked) and no spontaneous sex at all’. Michael White in The Guardian also suggested a more carnal meaning: ‘Rebekah’s “country suppers”, evoking Shakespeare’s “country matters”, suggest a brazen ambiguity that can take people far’.[5] (The reference is to Hamlet’s bawdy innuendo with Ophelia when he imagines lying between a maid’s legs. In this context, one might say, I can’t resist mentioning the ‘Uxbridge English Dictionary’ round in the long-running Radio 4 series I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, in which old words are given new definitions. On one occasion another tabloid newspaper editor was mentioned in the definition ‘countryside’: ‘killing Piers Morgan’.)

For all this speculation, Ben Fenton in the Financial Times revealed that ‘country supper’ is ‘well known in the US, denoting a meal enjoyed in a farmyard to the accompaniment of “country” music’.[6] Sadly this is not the case here. But Fenton offers the sharpest analysis of the phrase, pointing out that it ‘resonates with connotations of elitism, political influence and cloying familiarity’ and instantly ‘chimed with the UK’s mood of distaste for its ruling classes, … revealed daily by the phone hacking tribunal’:

The words crystallised an imagery of the private lives of the rich and powerful. It summoned up a scene of big business and high politics tête-à-tête in one of those settings as familiar to readers of Joanna Trollope: a carefully casual meal eaten on an expensive distressed oak table just within reach of a kitchen the size of a small parish.

All this is so much journalistic pepper. But Fenton concludes with a broader point about the country and city:

Real ‘country set’ people – such as Mr Cameron, a gentry man raised in Berkshire – would never use a term that differentiated rural from urban life. The differentiation is assumed. To make such a distinction betrays a reliance placed upon the meal as an opportunity to exert influence, to exploit familiarity and to enjoy the privacy of the crème de la crème….

‘Country supper’, in other words, is a phrase that sentimentalizes rural life through food in order to politicize it – it aestheticizes power by consumption and the rituals that surround it.

Brooks dropped the definite article ‘a’: she did not write ‘Let’s discuss over a country supper soon’, but ‘Let’s discuss over country supper soon’. ‘Supper’ is of course of Anglo-Norman rather than Anglo-Saxon derivation, and so already has connotations of both oppression and continental sophistication (the distinction between Anglo-Saxon sheep and Norman mutton, the acculturated dish, displays similar associations). And it also has Christian overtones of the ‘Last Supper’. ‘Supper’ does not (yet) appear with the article ‘country’ in the OED (though it can hardly be long before it does). It is often the second element of compounds that refer either to content such as meat supper, oyster supper, sandwich supper, and so forth; to time or to place in nursery supper or Sunday supper; or to social events such as buffet supper, Dutch supper, fork supper, picnic supper, and tray supper. There is also familiar folklore surrounding supper, as there is with other examples of dining and sharing food: to go to supper with the devil is defined as ‘to go to hell; to do something that has disastrous consequences’.[7] ‘Country’ is a word quite complicated enough without having to quote Raymond Williams, but for present purposes the Dictionary definition identifies the country as:

Of or pertaining to the rural districts; living in, situated in, belonging to or characteristic of the country (often as contrasted with the town); rural, rustic: as in country bank, country boy, country breeding, country bumpkin, country carpenter, country carrier, country church, country clergyman, country cottage, country fellow, country gentry, country girl, country labourer, country manners, country parish, country pleasures, country reader, country school, country sport, country squire, country tailor, country trader, country village, country wake, country wench, country work, etc.

Not ‘country supper’ – but then I am arguing that ‘country supper’ does not pertain to rural districts, as contrasted with the town. The ‘country’ of ‘country supper’ is the opposite: it is a metropolitan appropriation, an urban fantasy of country life.

Consequently, ‘country supper’ is an aspect of the contemporary pastoral. As I argue in my forthcoming book The Lie of the Land, we live in a culture that idolizes the pastoral – not the classical pastoral of Virgil, or the Renaissance pastoral of Edmund Spenser, or the scientific pastoral of James Thomson. Rather, today’s pastoral is seen in newsagents and on the small screen. There are dozens of glossy magazines on country living, books on escaping from the city, and television programmes on the countryside – anything from wildlife documentaries to situation comedies and murder mysteries. ‘Country supper’ is, however, the most telling example of the patronizing attitude of contemporary chic pastoral: it also reduces the entire English rural economy to the contents of a Le Creuset casserole dish cooking slowly in an Aga. It has been estimated that one new person moves to the country every five minutes. What do they find there? National Trust members outnumber farm workers by seven to one. In 1995 Britain imported 26 per cent of its food; despite an increasing world food shortage it now imports 40 per cent. On average, three dairy farmers quit farming, and four pubs now close every day.

This ‘country supper’ population migration, comparable to the seismic shifts of the Industrial Revolution, is bringing with it a new form of extinction: the eradication of the local and its replacement by mega-retailers and superstores. Country towns, villages, and farming are being colonized by urban economies that create clone towns and clone countryside. The high streets of market towns are homogenized, and rural England disappears under out-of-town developments and industrialized agri-business. The most salient characteristic of today’s England is the erosion of identity (and, indeed, reality) in totalitarian shopping complexes – what the journalist and activist Paul Kingsnorth calls the ‘Bluewatering of England’.[8] We are witnessing the wholesale destruction of heritage and character and traditional meeting places by chain stores and supermarkets: nothing less than the annihilation of our communities through what could equally be called Tescofication. The migration to the country, mostly by the newly wealthy who can afford to maintain a second home in rural surroundings, is eroding any distinction between country and city – indeed, the distinctions that once appeared to give the pastoral meaning perhaps no longer really exist at all as the English countryside now becomes the conservatory of the urban.[9] And still the land is sentimentalized: how many weekenders, those vampires sucking the life out of small village communities, will complain about dung in the road, church bells ringing, sheep in their gardens, or pubs serving local real ales rather than fashionable lagers? How many poets, writers, artists, and film-makers of today’s countryside will mention single farm payment, subsidies, set-aside, movement orders, DEFRA, ear-tagging, castration rings, veterinary bills, milk yields, rights of way, stock fencing, feed supplements, Azulox, silage and haylage, and purple spray, rather than the pastoral clichés that have tyrannized the land for decades, centuries even?[10] There is already a vanguard for a new poetics of England in works such as the harrowing Silence at Ramscliffe, a study of the foot and mouth outbreak in Devon in 2001 by the photographer Chris Chapman and the poet James Crowden, and the Dark Mountain Project, a network of writers, artists, and thinkers challenging conventional approaches to identity, nature, and place. But will this be enough?[11] We need to start rethinking what we understand by the English countryside, and we need to be doing it now.

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The pastoral emerged through the influence of Petrarch and other Italian poets on English writing to produce a genre that was then politicized by Spenser, Shakespeare, and Michael Drayton – Shakespeare’s As You Like It being the most sophisticated examination of not only the penetration of metropolitan culture and politics into the countryside, but the maintenance of a rural region precisely for such a purpose. The harsh realities of peasant life were seldom revealed, and there was little sense in much English pastoral poetry of the discontent of the peasantry or of rebellions inspired by the shift from feudal to early capitalist economies.[12] Nevertheless, Shakespeare makes it quite clear that hard work for the many meant leisure for the few.

Drawing on Virgil, Spenser, and Drayton – if less on Shakespeare – James Thomson’s best-selling eighteenth-century poem The Seasons deliberately tied the landscape to national identity, which had been a political hot potato since the Act of Union between England and Wales, and Scotland, in 1707. Thomson, who was Scottish, deliberately wrote the poem as a celebration of the newly minted Britishness, and The Seasons was a key text in uniting Britain: it focused on instances of common endeavour: wealth, commerce, liberty, and law; liberty, freedom, patriotism, and prosperity; the Empire and the Navy; the register of British Worthies; the progress of recent political history; and the ancient (if fabricated) history of bards and Druidic groves. This pastoral patriotism was certainly recognized at the time: the writer and physician John Aikin argued in the 1790s that ‘a taste for nature is said to be equivalent to a love of liberty and truth’.[13] The Scot James Thomson, lest it be forgot, wrote not only the political poem Liberty (1735-6), but also the imperial anthem ‘Rule, Britannia’ (1740).

As a celebration of Britain and the British countryside, Thomson’s Seasons is hard to beat. It not only cultivated the ever-present eighteenth-century impulse to celebrate trade, colonial expansion, and the national interest, but also helped to inspire the sensibility of leisure: the tendency to treat the countryside as a huge park for middle-class outings. There was no sympathy with the plight of the rural labouring class here: they are as absent from Thomson’s poem as, by and large, is any reference to rustic culture, festive traditions, agricultural proverbs, weather lore, saints’ days, and the entire framework, which was then still robust, of the sacred year. For all the accumulation of empirical and perceptual detail, there is virtually nothing on the annual rustic cycle. The Seasons therefore presents a vision of England devoid of its agrarian workforce: it is a poem that removes rural people from the countryside. Why? Because The Seasons is an anthem to improvement and progress, a hymn to the agrarian revolution and entrepreneurship. Thomson’s vision was realized within two or three generations by a landslide of Enclosure Acts, which physically removed the unimproved common people from the homesteads and communities that had supported them for centuries. Agricultural labourers and their communities were made to disappear as England was reconfigured. And with them went a thousand years of folk culture.

from 'Orchards' by James Ravilious.
from ‘Orchards’ by James Ravilious.

The increasingly widespread practice of Enclosure in the eighteenth century not only revolutionized farming for a growing population and provided a mobile workforce for the industrial revolution, but also eroded common rights, destroyed centuries-old ways of life, and offered little recompense to the small farmers, cottagers and squatters who found themselves with nowhere to raise crops, graze livestock, or gather wild fruit and nuts and winter fuel. Of course the stated reason for Enclosure was to improve efficiency, and taken with the sort of Enlightenment farming innovations incorporated by Thomson into The Seasons – applying modern methods to raise livestock and crops – this eventually led to huge surpluses. But this too had a devastating impact on the poor as prices were kept artificially high to prevent these profitable new markets collapsing – hence the Corn Laws. Corn, milled into flour for bread, monopolized food markets and became the staple foodstuff, and the rich variety of native fruits, berries, and nuts, as well as small game, and the associated practices of gleaning, foraging, and trapping that had marked the seasons, were eventually forgotten. The culture of the seasons across the country became more and more fragile. Enclosure, market forces, the Industrial Revolution, and urbanization had profoundly changed the land, its shared use by rural communities, and its defining role in the imagination and the culture of the British people – many of whom were now starving to death.

To put it another way, enclosure and landscaping achieved an idealized pastoral encapsulation of a countryside unperturbed by the inconvenience of the rural classes, and undisturbed by the arduousness of their work, the celebration of their culture, or the expression of their needs. They were been painted out of this landscape, first by pastoral poetry, then by the politics of Enclosure. The future of England now lay in the morbid vanity of the picturesque: ‘The country blooms – a garden, and a grave’, as Oliver Goldsmith put it in his poem ‘The Deserted Village’.[14]

Intimately linked with the pastoral was the cult of the picturesque – the pastoral in pictures. Indeed, the critic and cultural historian Donna Landry argues that contemporary ‘urban disdain for modern farming, farmers and farm workers [is linked to] to an ignorance of practical husbandry and an enthusiasm for the picturesque’.[15]

The picturesque was another eighteenth-century vogue. It espoused the primacy of art, declaring that nature should aspire to the condition of a painting. If rather less subtle than the pastoral’s proposition that the countryside should be read in terms of a bucolic genre of literature, both the picturesque and the pastoral clearly imply that nature is somehow wanting. Every time you look at a sunset on holiday and remark that it is just like a postcard, or survey a hilltop view and mentally compare it with a landscape painting, you are revealing how indebted you, and indeed all of us, are to the eighteenth-century picturesque, and how far it can divorce us from reality. In other words, the picturesque and the pastoral share an ambition to replace the natural environment with a perception that promotes the economic interests of a particular group: in the eighteenth century it was landowners rather than labourers; today it might be supermarkets and chain stores rather than independent retailers and farm shops.

The whole ambition of the picturesque was therefore to rework the natural world into a ‘landscape’ – a word that came to England at the end of the sixteenth century from the German, via the Dutch.[16] Early English uses of ‘landskip’ are strongly cultural – the word is used to describe paintings, particularly the backgrounds of paintings, and thereby any view that could conceivably be painted. For the lexicographer Thomas Blount in 1656, the ‘landskip’ was a frame to the main subject of a painting: it was the

Parergon, Paisage or By-work, which is an expressing of the Land, by Hills, Woods, Castles, Valleys, Rivers, Cities, &c. as far as may be shewed in our Horizon. All that which in a Picture is not of the body or argument thereof is Landskip, Parergon, or by-work.[17]

The picturesque encouraged the critical appreciation of nature as a spectacle. Observers of a scene – the word ‘scene’ itself reveals the implicit theatricality of viewing – became an audience, by turns appreciative or critical. Hence natural landscapes became part of culture, and were understood, judged, and painted according to artistic conventions and aesthetic theories. For a growing proportion of the increasingly urban population, initial encounters with natural landscapes would be through the medium of art: representations delivered either by pastoral poetry or in picturesque images. So landscapes, both illustrations and real views, were treated as the visual equivalent of pastoral poems, and pastoral poems as the literary counterpart of landscapes – with all that that entailed when it came to perfecting the depiction. As the influential idealist and cleric Claude-François Fraguier put it,

Pastoral Poetry is like a Landskip, which is seldom drawn from a particular Place; but its Beauty results form the Union of several Pieces played in their true Light; in the same manner as beautiful Anticks have been generally copied, not from a particular Object, but from the Idea of the Artist, or from several beautiful Parts of different Bodies, reunited in one Subject.[18]

Reality was just a rough and raw material, necessarily subordinate to ‘the Idea of the Artist’.

Consistent with the pastoral, picturesque views did not include scenes of poverty, or, for that matter, of labour. They did not include working farms or agricultural fairs, and preferred little or no livestock. In Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (1786), for example, William Gilpin, the educationalist and leading popularizer of the movement, famously stipulated the ideal number of cows in a picturesque view:

Cattle are so large, that when they ornament a fore-ground, a few are sufficient. Two will hardly combine. Three make a good group – either united – or when one is a little removed from the other two. If you increase the group beyond three; one, or more, in proportion, must necessarily be a little detached. This detachment prevents heaviness, and adds variety. It is the same principle applied to cattle, which we before applied to mountains, and other objects.[19]

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Cattle and mountains were just so much rustic detail, and of course the ideal number of rural labourers in a picturesque scene was no labourers at all. Gilpin certainly knew that the countryside was full of people going about their business. He even encountered groups of labourers in Cumbria on one of the year’s rent days, and admits ‘we were not a little entertained by the simplicity, and variety of the several groups and figures we met’. But they had no place in picturesque art: ‘In grand scenes, even the peasant cannot be admitted, if he be employed in the low occupations of his profession: the spade, the scythe, and the rake are all excluded.’ What was allowed was pastoral idleness: ‘the lazy cowherd resting on his pole  . . .  the peasant lolling on a rock’, an angler rather than a fisherman, and gypsies, banditti, and the occasional individual soldier in antique armour.[20] The image of the countryside presented therefore looked very much in need of improvement – slack, inefficient, indigent, lawless, and archaic. Moreover, once ‘improved’ the landscape was likely to be as empty of agricultural labour as the picturesque depicted it since nearly all the peasantry would have been forced off the land.[21] The picturesque was then a way of thinking that encouraged human intervention in the land – it was an invitation to aesthetic and therefore economic improvement.

The effect of all this was that the countryside and the seasons, the agricultural year and the necessities of farming, the annual cycle of rural labour and leisure – all were distilled into a single picturesque moment that refused to acknowledge any standards save the crass sentimentalization of landscape and the ensuing obliteration of all rural history and tradition. Attention was focused on how to paint a leaf rather than how to act for the disenfranchised, subjugated, and pauperized rural workforce. The cult of the picturesque was a national disgrace: the movement exemplifies how politics can define ‘natural’ beauty in order to dehumanize elements of the population.

Moreover, just as pastoral poetry and the cult of the picturesque painting drained history, tradition, and folklore from the seasons and replaced it with a disengaged sentimentality, so English landscape gardening performed the same operation at ground level, and with the same result. Richard Payne Knight’s poem The Landscape (1794), for instance, a response to William Mason’s influential verse The English Garden (1772-82), prompted the landscape gardener Humphry Repton to observe with unconcealed contempt that,

The enthusiasm for picturesque effect, seems to have so completely bewildered the author of the poem already mentioned [Payne Knight’s The Landscape], that he not only mistakes the essential difference between the landscape painter and the landscape gardener; but appears even to forget that a dwelling-house is an object of comfort and convenience, for the purposes of habitation; and not merely the frame to a landscape, or the foreground of a rural picture.[22]

Repton recognized the dangers in sentimentalizing tumbledown country cottages as picturesque: such tendencies only encouraged the belief that the rural population were somehow undeserving of solid, and safe, new housing or of gardens they could tend properly themselves, growing their own vegetables and thereby affording themselves some dignity. Payne Knight had even attacked cottagers who presumed to mow their own patches of turf, as this compromised the picturesque qualities of a scene:

Break their fell scythes, that would these beauties shave,

And sink their iron rollers in the wave![23]

            The nonsense of Mason and Payne Knight may sound like picturesque extremism, but it came at the end of a century that had scrupulously gentrified the land. Years earlier, Daniel Defoe, describing the Vale of St Albans, had noted with sardonic amusement that the town,

and all the Spaces between, and further beyond it, look like a Garden. The inclosed Corn-fields make one grand Parterre: the thick-planted Hedge-rows seem like a Wilderness or Labyrinth; the Villages interspers’d, look like so many several noble Seats of Gentlemen at a Distance. In a Word, it is all Nature, and yet looks like Art.[24]

Others, however, were flattered by this environmental conceit as it became more and more widespread. Wordsworth later fell for these dangerous seductions, even criticizing the colours that houses were painted in the Lake District and calling for restrictions against bad taste as it was measured by the tenets of the picturesque.[25] He effectively succeeded in his campaign. Graded listings for houses, conservation areas, and planning requirements in National Parks are all consequences of the baleful effects of the picturesque on landscape gardening. Moreover, much domestic garden design today is a kind of folk memory of the picturesque. Flower gardening, once full of seasonal significance and tied to the festive calendar, became merely a sentimentalization of the soil, far removed from the subsistence gardening of raising vegetables and domestic livestock and celebrating the agricultural year.

Indeed, the failure of radical politics among the English proletariat has been put down to over-eager gardening – workers were too busy digging their spuds to become seriously politicized.[26] This overstates the case, but if the pastoral, the picturesque, and landscaping had not so meticulously removed politics from the garden, things in England could have been quite different. Yet the English domestic garden has been the very agent by which the pastoral and the picturesque have become naturalized, and the flourishing English gardening scene is a testament to the seductive power of those stubborn trends driven by gardening programmes, gardening books, and garden centres.

It is in such a context that Paul Cloke argues that the countryside is now a simulation, detached from reality. Similarly for Jeremy Burchardt, ‘many aspects of rural recreation in the late twentieth century [have] become characterized by a radical commodification / in which images [bear] almost no coherent connection to any underlying reality’.[27] The English countryside is a landscape imagined and therefore to a degree constructed by urban media society, which since The Archers was first broadcast in 1950 has successively reinvented the countryside as ever-renewed versions of English pastoralism in which the English countryside is less significant in the national imagination as a means of production (that is, of farming) than it is as a place of leisure, ranging from an individual’s appreciation of natural landscapes to team sports and mass social gatherings.[28] The countryside is, in other words, something to be consumed.[29] And it is this consumption that is exemplified in the politics of ‘country supper’.

Such a version of the countryside has grown in significance as the recognition and acknowledgement of indigenous agriculture has diminished. It is not that the production of food has necessarily declined, but that the capital investment, proportion of the population working on the land, and national governance of farming has decreased. There is very little awareness these days of what farming and countryside management actually entails, although there is plenty of interference. To take an example: not far from where I live there is a 35-acre system of upland fields consisting of probably 45 small enclosures that was recently purchased by a group called Govindra-Smith. This is working land – or at least it should be. It was farmed by local people for generations. There could be horses or sheep there, it could be planted with an orchard or crops or simply trees to improve the habitat and arrest the spread of bracken. As it is, nothing had been done to the land and it is becoming derelict. It is the equivalent of buying up accommodation during a housing shortage and allowing it to collapse. Who do these vandals think they are?

Radio, telephone, television, and now computer-based forms of communication (the internet and world-wide-web, and mobile telephony and text-messaging) are now taking over from writing, painting, and gardening as the primary media for imposing urban values on the countryside and creating an homogenized culture.[30] They have proved to be highly efficient as instruments of oppression. As urban culture became more and more dominant in the 1950s and 1960s through television and radio, and as agricultural communities declined due to rural depopulation (arable farming for instance had mechanized during the Second World War and so required fewer workers): as Burchardt puts it, living in remote rural areas ‘no longer meant merely accepting a more limited rural culture in place of a more varied urban one, but accepting exclusion from national culture as a whole’.[31] We live in a country of two nations: the urban centre and the rural periphery, but it is the urban media that defines the countryside, through national newspapers, house prices, and private text messages.


[1] Jonathan Freedland, ‘That Rebekah Brooks Text Message to David Cameron – Decoded’, 14 June 2012; the text message was sent on 7 October 2009.

[2] Hugo Rifkind, ‘A country supper, what’s that?’, Times, 15 June 2012.

[3] TES, 17 June 2012.

[4] Tatler, 11 Sept 2012.

[5] Michael White, ‘Cameron’s “country suppers” leave nasty taste’, Guardian, 14 June 2012.

[6] Ben Fenton, ‘A Year in a Word’ [check title], FT 27 Dec 2012.

[7] OED.

[8] Paul Kingsnorth, Real England: The Battle against the Bland (London: Portobello, 2009), 7.

[9] See Carole Fabricant, Swift’s Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), 73

[10] Very little on this list of this even appears in The Archers, and as for Emmerdale. . . .

[11] Chris Chapman and James Crowden, Silence at Ramscliffe. Foot and Mouth in Devon (Oxford: Bardwell Press, 2005); Silence at Ramscliffe is, for example, frequently cited by John Law, Professor of Sociology: see ‘Care and Killing: Tensions in Veterinary Practice’, in Annemarie Mol, Ingunn Moser, and Jeannette Pols (eds), Care in Practice: On Tinkering in Clinics, Homes and Farms (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2010), 57-69; the Dark Mountain Project was established in 2009 – see the manifesto (Uncivilisation) and the journal Dark Mountain (; in a different way, see also the journal Archipelago (

[12] If they ever were, it would be might be as a background to a religious episode: for example, Pieter Brueghal the Elder’s ‘The Census at Jerusalem’ (1566) – but such depictions were not part of the English tradition; see Aston, 184-5.

[13] John Aikin, Letters from a Father to his Son, on Various Topics, relative to Literature and the Conduct of Life (London, 1793), 148-9.

[14] Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, 19 (l. 302 (p. 388) in Lonsdale edn).

[15] Landry, 21: see Howard Newby, Green and Pleasant Land? Social Change in Rural England, 2nd edn (Aldershot: Avebury, 1985), 15-24.

[16] Denis E. Cosgrove, ‘Landscape and Landschaft, German Historical Institute Bulletin 35 (2004), 57-71 (see also Denis E. Cosgrove, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape (London: Croom Helm, 1984), and Denis E. Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels (eds), The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design and Use of Past Environments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)); Neil Evernden, The Social Creation of Nature (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 72-87; John Brinckerhoff Jackson, Discovering Vernacular Landscape (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984), 3-8; and Marvin W. Mikesell, ‘Landscape’, English and Mayfield (eds), 9-15; Landschaft originally meant a jurisdiction or ‘a unit of human occupation’ (OED).

[17] Thomas Blount, Glossographia; or, A Dictionary interpreting All Such Hard Words, whether Hebrew, Greek or Latin . . . as are now used in our Refined English Tongue (London, 1656), Y8v; Blount’s definition seems influenced by the Italian term parerga, the frame for the pastoral: see Schama, 10.

[18] ‘An Extract of a Dissertation concerning Pastoral Poetry, written by the Abbot Fraguier’, in The Memoirs of Literature. Containing a Weekly Account of the State of Learning, both at Home and Abroad, 4 vols (London, 1712-14), i. 42 (22 May 1710).

[19] William Gilpin, Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, made in the Year 1772, on Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland, 2 vols (London, 1786), ii. 258-9.

[20] William Gilpin, Observations, . . . Cumberland, and Westmoreland (1786), ii. 43-8; shepherds tending their sheep were permitted (ii. 261).

[21] According to Malcolm Andrews, Gilpin was reluctant to ‘admit property boundaries, agricultural and industrial scenes, and neat modern buildings into a Picturesque landscape . . . an expression of that impulse to return to a pre-Industrial culture’ (Malcolm Andrews, ‘Introduction’, The Picturesque: Literary Sources and Documents, 3 vols (Mountfield: Helm, 1994), i. 22).

[22] Humphrey Repton, Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening (London, 1794), 59.

[23] Richard Payne Knight, The Landscape, A Didactic Poem (London, 1794), 32.

[24] Daniel Defoe, A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain, 3rd edn, 4 vols (London, 1742), ii. 158.

[25] Wordsworth objected, for example, to whitewashing exteriors, unless ‘the glare of whitewash has been subdued by time and enriched by weather-stains’ (Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes, 5th edn, ed. Ernest de Selincourt (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 84); see Gill, 247-9; see Stephen Hebron, The Romantics and the British Landscape (London: British Library, 2006), 135-69.

[26] See Thomas, Man and the Natural World, 240.

[27] Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change since 1800 (London and New York: Tauris, 2002), 185-6: see Paul Cloke, ‘The Countryside as Commodity: New Spaces for Rural Leisure, in Sue Glyptis (ed.), Leisure and the Environment: Essays in Honour of Professor J.A. Patmore (London, 1993), 53-67.

[28] Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change since 1800 (London and New York: Tauris, 2002), 2.

[29] Burchardt suggests that in the twentieth century ‘the countryside as an object of consumption rather than as a means of production … has more significantly affected English society’: Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change since 1800 (London and New York: Tauris, 2002), 2.

[30] Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change since 1800 (London and New York: Tauris, 2002), 204.

[31] Jeremy Burchardt, Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change since 1800 (London and New York: Tauris, 2002), 165.

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