Rating 5 stars
Life in an English Village was an interlude, read in no more than a couple of hours, if that. It was one of my wedding anniversary presents. My husband knows me so well.
It is a curious book. The insert from the antiquarian bookseller from whom it was bought attributes it to the illustrator, Edward Bawden. LibraryThing has it catalogued under the author of the essay, Noel Carrington.
The bookseller is correct. The title page has it as “Sixteen Lithographs by Edward Bawden with an Introductory Essay by Noel Carrington”.
The plates are perfection, drawn by Bawden directly onto lithographic zinc plates. They’re not engravings made from drawings. They are original drawings in their own right. The colour palette reminded me of two of my favourite artists – Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash. I knew nothing of Bawden before I received this book, and was delighted to discover that he was taught at the Royal College of Art by Nash, alongside his contemporary Ravilious. The three would later work as illustrators for the Curwen Press. Like Nash in the First World War, Bawden and Ravilious worked as official war artists during the Second World War.
Life in an English Village is a picture of rural life four years on from the ending of that second conflict. Bawden depicts the private and communal spaces found in a typical village, from the vicarage to the schoolroom and the grocer’s shop to the pub.
Carrington writes a complementary essay about the development of village life from feudal days to the post-Enclosure village we all now recognise as quintessentially English. He makes the point that Enclosure wasn’t the best thing for the working class villagers, and subsequent attempts to preserve village life as some sort of chocolate box ideal for the townsfolk who like to visit has done village residents no favours either. It’s an interesting essay, with much to say about the architecture of villages, and it didn’t surprise me to read that the editor of the King Penguin series that this book is part of was one Nikolaus Pevsner, renowned architectural historian and author of The Buildings of England. Carrington himself was a book designer and editor at Penguin, and the man who came up with the Puffin Books imprint of children’s books.
It’s a gem of a book, and one I enjoyed reading very much.