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Read Albion: The Origins Of The English Imagination (2004)

Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (2004)

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3.73 of 5 Votes: 5
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0385497733 (ISBN13: 9780385497732)

Albion: The Origins Of The English Imagination (2004) - Plot & Excerpts

Although I was initially unsure of whether I would enjoy reading this book or not, I think it was a very intriguing and thought-provoking read. I can see how some people may not like the text - I myself would not have picked this up if it hadn't been required for my British Studies minor - but I'd recommend this to anyone genuinely interested in English culture, including the literature, architecture, art, language, and history of the country.What I liked: Ackroyd identified numerous qualities of England and it's history that apply to various aspects of the country's culture, including: a sense of melancholy, a taste for blood and gore in drama and literature (as well as ghost stories), a mix of high and low culture, the durability of Catholicism, a sentimental attachment to the past, the role of geography and environment, and the art of assimilation, to name just a few. The author provides multiple examples, from the medieval ages to today. His descriptions of physical places (gardens, the ocean, crumbling ruins, forests, and foggy moors) are illustrated beautifully by his writing style and are especially memorable.What I didn't:Unfortunately, Ackroyd tends to mention more examples than are necessary, often distracting from the point he is intending to make in the chapter and giving readers the feel of an info-dump. If the reader is unfamiliar with some of the works or figures he is referencing, it can be frustrating and lead to a tendency to skim through some paragraphs. Another issue I noticed was that some aspects of his argument for the English Imagination are easier to see and understand (such as those listed above), but others are less understandable and are lacking in evidence (the use of alliteration, for instance). Overall, however, I did enjoy reading this book and will most likely reread it sometime in the future.

Irresponsible, scattershot cultural criticism. The book is vaguely chronological, and composed of discrete essays on a theme. This suits Ackroyd's discursive, wayward style; even when he wanders off on a tangent, he can only go as far as the end of the essay. The level of criticism varies from illuminating and insightful, to the equivalent of jumping up and down in front of a monument and pointing. Even then, he's usually pointing at something worthy of attention.Here's an example of him at his best. We compare translations of the opening verse of the Bible in Old English.Her aerest gesceop ece drihten,helm eallwihta, heofon and eorthan(Now first the everlasting lord, protector of all things, made heaven and earth)Then in Middle EnglishIn firme biginning of noghtwas hevene and erthe samen wroghtThen in the 14th centuryhow god, that beldes in endlese blyse,all only with hys word hath wroght,heuyn on heght for hym and hys,this erth and all the euer is oghtThen in a medieval playAt my bydding now made be light!Light is goode, I see in sighteThen TyndaleIn the beginnying God created heaven and erth.The erth was voyde and emptyeand darcknesse was upon the depe& the spirite of God moved upon the waterIt's a worthwhile comparison, and allows the language, and the people who spoke it, to grow and change before your imagination.

What do You think about Albion: The Origins Of The English Imagination (2004)?

A lot of research clearly went into this book, which aims to trace various subjects and motifs throughout 1000 years of British art, literature, and music. This intriguing premise, however, outstrips its end result, which is superficial and verges on circular logic. A fair summary of the book might be something like "Britons are influenced by the sea, and appreciate alliteration, and experience the other-wordly, and enjoy contrasts, and oh gardens are great too! Since always! Because it's England! Genius loci!" (Except overwritten and with no exclamation points whatsoever.) Maybe valuable as an anthology of name-checks, but not much else.

I finished it! After a good six or seven weeks of reading. Fascinating book that raises at least as many questions as it answers. Sometimes Ackroyd's assertions are a little hard to buy into, and I would have appreciated a little more contrast--when he talked about English preoccupation with the sea, I had to wonder how it was any different from, say, Melville's American preoccupation with the sea. Still, he brings up a lot of topics that are really interesting to think about and feed into future reading, and there's a certain satisfaction in having read anything that covered this much ground.
—Marjorie Hakala

I was going to rate this one three stars for its glaring lack of attention to the twentieth century, but it convinced me to start learning Old English. Begrudging fourth star, hmph.Ackroyd's goal is to trace the continuity of various key elements of "the English imagination". While the book presents plenty of fascinating ideas and opinions, and both its depth and its breadth satisfied me, I feel like Ackroyd pulled his punch, big time. The changes of the twentieth century offered plenty of challenges to the idea of Englishness and Britishness. Exploring the relationships and tensions between these changes and "the English imagination" would have both tested Ackroyd's assertion and made for a more interesting book. For example, how do diasporic communities within England and in its former colonies contribute to, challenge, or seek inspiration from the collective English imagination? How did pop music, or the punks, or any English people of color at all, or the art world, or anarchist squats, or the sensational fear of knife attacks relate to this shared imagination? This list is just a scattering of a few English phenomena that might be as culturally relevant as other topics Ackroyd addressed at length. Even if lacked the intense familiarity with these subjects that characterized much of the rest of his work, he could have said something.That said, I thought this book was engaging and really interesting. Despite other reviewers' reservations, this book is readable. You've just got to really want to see it through and get yourself excited about the details.

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