Monday, 20 August 2012

British places

I have finally seen this amazing exhibition.

I don't know what expectations I had, except that I have the absolutely wrong, outdated association of "library exhibition" = boring. The whole concept of museums and exhibitions has changed so radically in the past twenty years, and any exhibition is nowadays a total experience, with words, images, lighting, colours, sounds, touch - but not smell, thank you (this exhibition would smell horrid). I enjoyed listening to poets reading their poetry (when did you last listen to T S Eliot?). I very much enjoyed the way it was arranged spatially. I spent an hour and a half in this quite limited space, and I know I could have stayed longer and learned more.

For someone who does not know much about Britain and British literature, it's a great introduction. For someone who knows a lot, it's a wonderful reminder. It just so happens that I have recently re-read a vast number of British classics, from George Eliot and Thomas Hardy to John Galsworthy and D H Lawrence. Meeting their books and manuscripts, and maps of their real and fictional places was like going to a school reunion.

I missed some good friends, though. Wouldn't The Secret Garden fit nicely together with Wuthering Heights? But The Wind in the Willows was there, and Water Babies, and Susan Cooper and Alan Garner. And even Enid Blyton (but no Arthur Ransome among Lake District poets).

Afterwards I talked with my companion about whether there is indeed something special with landscape and British literature. In the short video at the exhibition, all famous people said that British literature's obsession with landscape was unique. My companion who is writing her PhD on landscape and identity in Canadian children's literature was not convinced, Neither am I. Swedish literature is obsessed with landscape. Russian literature is obsessed with landscape. American literature is obsessed with landscape. All literature is obsessed with landscape, because this is where humans exist. What makes British literary landscape unique is that it is British. That's enough for me.

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