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Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  132 ratings  ·  21 reviews
In the 1930s and 1940s, while the battles for modern art and modern society were being fought in Paris and Spain, it seemed to some a betrayal that John Betjeman and John Piper were in love with a provincial world of old churches and tea shops.

Alexandra Harris tells a different story: eclectically, passionately,
wittily, urgently, English artists were exploring what it mean

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 1st 2010 by Thames Hudson
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4.09  · 
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 ·  132 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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May 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had had my eye on Alexandra Harris' Romantic Moderns for quite a while before picking it up, both as a generally interesting piece of writing, and an aid to my PhD thesis. Physically, it is a gorgeous tome, with heavy cream paper, and lavish colour illustrations throughout. In her book, Harris discusses the 'modern English renaissance' which occurred during the 1930s and 1940s in quite staggering detail. She unpicks the period, looking at art, architecture, the nature of possessions, literatur ...more
Tim Pendry
The 1930s and early 1940s were a critical period in the formation of British culture. The Second World War was to mark a decisive turning point, one that created a self-image for many Britons that, though now under pressure from the dominance of a multi-cultural globalist London, imbued them with a sense of their own 'difference' from Europe based on a nostalgia for aristocracy, country and rural community.

Alexandra Harris' solid contribution to cultural history provides a welcome summary of tha
Darran Mclaughlin
I can't join in the applause this book has been receiving. I think the argument of the book isn't very well made, and I suppose I have a slight aversion to the Little Englandism the artists, musicians, architects and writers covered in the book embody. This is supposed to be a revisionist cultural history of the 30's and 40's arguing that England was not in fact the backward, Modernism hating country people say it was, and that our thinkers and creatives produced a native, somewhat conservative ...more
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
In Romantic Moderns Alexandra Harris takes a new approach to Modernism in art and literature as it manifested itself in England. The movement here was not the one of clean lines, white space and daring experiments in novels, drama and poetry that we tend to think of in its continental guise. Those trends were all present in England, but, fertilised by attachments to the past, native landscapes, architecture and flora, and to the Church of England, the results were somewhat different. A softer, ' ...more
Patrick Cook
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I have to admit that I'm rather jealous of Alexandra Harris. Not many PhD theses are this readable (mine certainly isn't). Broadly covering British culture between the wars (a great over-simplification), her study is fantastically wide-ranging. Not only does she bridge the literary and visual arts with apparent ease, but she manages to take in music, cookery, and gardening as well. Despite this range, it's remarkably focused. That's in part of because of what it does leave out. This is not a boo ...more
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it
There is much in this book that I admired but it also felt like a romp through 30s and 40s Britain. At times it seemed to be a modernist stream of consciousness.
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
I really enjoyed this, although it begins to feel a little padded and directionless towards the end. Alexandra Harris excels at substantiating her broad general statements about visual and literary culture in the 1930s and 1940s with the pithy use of contemporary diaries, letters and fiction. She has me utterly convinced of her arguments about neo-romanticism vs modernism and the rise of place as an index of English identity. I felt, at times, that she was making this argument with half an eye t ...more
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent and well-researched work covering a lot of ground and drawing many interesting connections. The opening and closing paragraphs (respectively, John Piper's ecstatic encounter with the font at Toller Fratrum and the author's own trip to the Sitwells' Renishaw Hall) are wonderful, and my only regret is that a greater proportion of narrative excerpts such as these would have helped to leaven some of the more abstract and drier academic writing within. But if you have any interest in the in ...more
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is the sort of book that makes me feel inadequate. Just 30 years old and Alexandra Harris has managed to pull off a book that is immensely readable and enjoyable, yet serious and academic at the same time. She looks at arts and attitudes in the 1930s and 1940s and sets against Modernism (abstract, minimalist, functional) the more prevailing attitudes in England of wanting to have roots, to belong to the land and almost of nostalgia. She looks at poetry, novels, non-fiction writing, architec ...more
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: artbooks
Not sure I can give an unbiased review of this book as I was closely involved with the book from a publishing perspective. Let's just say I think Alex Harris is an incredibly talented writer, who makes persuasive arguments in this thoughtful look at why British arts of the first third of the 20th century mattered as much as what was happening on the continent at the same time. Combining art historical and literary criticism with an ease not very often seen, Harris is clearly an author to keep an ...more
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
Can the masterworks of T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf be discussed in the same pages as the perfectly delightful but infinitely less significant work of the photographer Cecil Beaton and the graphic artists Rex Whistler and Edward Bawden? I certainly did not believe this could be done well, until I read Alexandra Harris’s new book. There is no question that Romantic Moderns is calculated to please Anglophiles. But Harris, a young English art historian, does not coddle her core audience. my link ...more
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was really an interesting essay, which offers a vision of the years ranging from 1939 to 1940 through the figures of various artists, from writers to painters through architects and their works, reinterpreted in from a modernist/romantic point of view.

Veramente un saggio interessante, che propone una lettura degli anni che vanno dal 1939 al 1940 attraverso le figure di vari artisti, dagli scrittori ai pittori passando per gli architetti, e delle loro opere rilette in un'ottica modernista/r
Steven Pilling
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was ok

hmm this book looks way more interesting than it is.

Harris has an ability to write and has interesting things to say but and i appreciate that this is possibly just me it isnt interesting to me.

The sense of learning and enthusiasm could be infectious is you are of the mood but if you are not its almost a path to whocaresville.

It is the type of book you can dip into but i doubt you would ever swim in it, it can feel turgid but again i wonder if that is just me.
Jul 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: english-past
Interesting account of the modernist wave in England during the 1930s and its clashes and embraces with English romantic conservatism. Alexandra Harris doesn't stop at architecture, literature or painting, she also covers the landscape, the travel industry, food and even the English weather. The rather dry academic style of her book is rather unfortunate.
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
4 1/2 Very interesting study of English writers, artists and musicians drawing inspiration from the English landscape. Also beautifully done- color plates, etc.
Lesley Lougher
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Interesting to look at the debate between the Internationalist Modernist movement I 1930s Britain and the Romantic movement with a sense of place.
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Engagingly written survey of how modernism evolved through English literature, art, and even gardens and homes during the 1930s and 1940s.
Mar 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
sparkles with enthusiasm, really inspiring & insightful
May 06, 2011 rated it liked it
aagh. tiny font wrecked my weak eyes and dry academic style wrecked my weak brain.
Dominic Kearney
Feb 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. A fascinating account of artists' journey through the 20th Century. Clever, knowledgeable, a light touch. There's a real love of her subject here.
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
Charmingly illustrated tour around the parochial backwaters of early twentieth-century British art.
rated it it was amazing
Oct 30, 2017
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Aug 05, 2017
Shelley Whiting
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May 29, 2017
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Apr 08, 2019
Michael J. Benedict
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Jul 03, 2017
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Jul 08, 2011
Allison Anderson
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Jan 27, 2019
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Mar 31, 2011
Tony Partington
rated it it was ok
Nov 12, 2014
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