THIS ENCHANTED ISLE: The Neo-Romantic Vision from William Blake to the New Visionaries
By Peter Woodcock, published by Gothic Image at £18.95. 192pp. ISBN: 0-906362-45-8
Every so often a book arrives at Dragon Manor which is significantly out of the ordinary. This is one of those books.
Long-standing readers may recall that at Imbolc 2000, WD published an article on English composers of classical music of the early 20th century, such as Elgar, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Bax and Bantock who had drawn their inspiration from the landscape, mysticism and mythology of Britain. This book follows much the same idea but concentrates on writers and artists who have belonged to this well-established British visionary and mystical tradition. It presents short chapters outlining the life of some 30 artists and writers and discussing the influences in their work, illustrated in the case of artists by examples of the work they produced and in the case of writers quoting extensively from their writings.
The most famous of these, and needing no further introduction to readers, is the writer and artist William Blake, whose magnificent and evocative paintings and engravings will almost certainly be known the reader, along with his equally well-known poems The Tyger and Jerusalem. Others will surely be known to at least some readers, including the novelist John Cowper Powys, whose novels are set in a partly imaginary but partly mythologised Glastonbury landscape; Arthur Machen, best known for the short story The Great God Pan, who set most of his novels and short stories in a similarly imaginary and mythologised London and the Monmouthshire of his childhood, and of whom Woodcock comments: His writings …. evoke the spirit of place, the sense of hidden domains, dark forces which constantly resurface ….." ; and Peter Ackroyd, author of Hawksmoor and a biography of London itself. But these are just a few names from the dozen or more included in this collection who have drawn upon this most British of traditions.
Amongst the artists I was delighted to be introduced to the work of Samuel Palmer, an early 19th century artist who, we are told, was "a sensitive child" and " … grew up believing in another world, a world inhabited by goblins and witches. Moonlight and shadows fascinated him as did Gothic architecture." Similarly John Minton and Michael Ayrton, both artists of the mid-20th century, produced landscapes of great power and sensitivity, and, in the case of Ayrton, elemental bronze sculptures whose subjects drew upon mythology.
Added to this are several sections on the visionary tradition within the British film industry, eg David Lean's Great Expectations, and in sculpture and you have in total a visual treat and one full of ideas and inspiration.
This is an excellent book, one about which I could rabbit on for ages, because it makes the reader aware of just how rich the tradition of mysticism in Britain is if we care to look for it. And, dare I say it, seeing the quality of work which has been produced in this tradition over the past couple of centuries, it makes the current wave of "pagan art" seem bland, uninspired and frankly mundane by comparison.If you have any interest in the visual and written arts at all, this book is well worth a long look.