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The Origins of the English Imagination

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With his characteristic enthusiasm and erudition, Peter Ackroyd follows his acclaimed London: A Biography with an inspired look into the heart and the history of the English imagination. To tell the story of its evolution, Ackroyd ranges across literature and painting, philosophy and science, architecture and music, from Anglo-Saxon times to the twentieth-century. Considering what is most English about artists as diverse as Chaucer, William Hogarth, Benjamin Britten and Viriginia Woolf, Ackroyd identifies a host of sometimes contradictory elements: pragmatism and whimsy, blood and gore, a passion for the past, a delight in eccentricity, and much more. A brilliant, engaging and often surprising narrative, Albion reveals the manifold nature of English genius.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Publishers Weekly Review

Aug 11, 2003 – Even a writer as popular, prolific and inventive as Ackroyd can concoct a bore. Nevertheless, Albion is likely to succeed on his considerable reputation and the success of his bestselling London: The Biography.Here Ackroyd seeks to define and describe what he sees as distinctive qualities of the English imagination as they have developed since the country's beginnings. Quoting the 17th-century Richard Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, he claims a cultural continuity—"we weave the same web still, twist the same rope again and again." But the Englishman, as Daniel Defoe remarked, and Ackroyd concedes, remained infinitely adaptable, having already assimilated waves of invasion and conquest—and become "Roman-Saxon-Danish-Norman-English." Explaining that "mungrell" mingling in 53 thematic chapters, Ackroyd appropriates nearly every quality in literature and the arts for England (largely ignoring Ireland and downplaying Scotland). He cites love of gardens, worship of trees, cultivation of dream-visionaries, affection for eccentricity, affinity for morbid sensationalism, attraction to understatement, pleasure in alliteration, fondness for cross-dressing, passion for antiquarianism, ease with an empirical temper, relish for detective and ghost stories, penchant for portrait miniatures, creative adaptation of folksong. It is a sentimental stretch. Where London was animated by a brilliant exploitation of anecdote, Albionlacks its verve. Rather, it is armed with a goodly—and defensive—helping of "It has often been said," "it might even be said," "It is no surprise, either, that," and often bogs down in bland thesis and empty persuasion. Yet vastly learned and frequently engaging, it may prove good bedtime reading—a veritable night school. B&w and color illus. not seen by PW. (On sale Oct. 21)

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  • $15.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Europe
  • Published: Oct 21, 2003
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Random House, LLC
  • Print Length: 560 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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