Friday, January 16, 2015

Jonathan Meades on how writers invent places not describe them

Jonathan Meades reviews Nairn's London for the Literary Review and in the course of doing so says something profound about topographical writing:
Do not feel tempted to go and see for yourself. He did his work at a desk, not when he was shuffling about, all eyes and raw antennae, in his slept-in suit. The description - a distillation of a specific perception - is invariably superior to the place which it evokes, which it invents
The compact is, or ought to be, between writer and reader, not between place and tourist. Only if we suffer a profoundly defective misunderstanding of places as subject or as catalysts of mood or as topographical correlatives do we hurry to the Teme Valley when we read Housman or to the Marshwood Vale when we read Household.
My own Shropshire is made up from scraps of Malcolm Saville and other writers, my own visits over 25 years, friendships and much else.

And I once heard one of Saville's sons way that when he wrote Seven White Gates, in some ways the most Shropshire of all his books, he had not visited the Stiperstones. He took all that books remarkable atmosphere from Mary Webb.

So, though I have dragged a surprising number of people up from Snailbeach to see Lords Hill Chapel, you cannot visit my Shropshire.

It is true that I photograph it for you, but the ones I use here are carefully selected. The one above shows the old engine house at White Grit with the unmistakable crest of Bromlow Callow behind it.

1 comment:

asquith said...

In a similar vein, am I not right in thinking that when A Shropshire Lad was written, Housman had in fact never visited the county once, and had only seen its "blue remembered hills" and been inspired by them?

Admittedly it's not quite the same given that the book isn't really about Shropshire, but even so.