Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Albion: The Origins of The English Imagination by Peter Ackroyd


'Albion' by Peter Ackroyd, is one of my favourite books.  It is utterly fascinating and when I read it a few years ago, I remember enjoying it and taking my time, slowing down my reading pace to deeply take everything in more fully, to absorb the bountiful prose relating to the miscellaneous subjects contained within.   This is a handsome book which successfully sets out to take the reader on a journey through the cultural history of England, beginning with the Anglo-Saxons and continuing through time, though not in an orderly, chronological manner, but in the manner of a delightful miscellany of topics and times.  This is a book in which one time-travels over the centuries and dips into a vast range of topics; including language, literature, religion, painting, theatre and music hall, music, architecture, philosophy, etc...

Bede, Beowulf, King Arthur, Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Lewis Carroll, Dickens, Hogarth, Turner, Purcell, Vaughan Williams, poetry, Romantics, Old English, London, Victoriana, Gothic style, trees, stone, cathedrals, ruins, gardens...the list goes on and on in the massive range of this book.  Open the pages anywhere and you will find interesting facts, fused with Peter Ackroyd's great talent for compiling and elaborating on history.  He never writes a dull, dry history book, his volumes are filled with fascination and imagination,  history is brought to life due to his method of going below the surface to reveal the facts and facets of everyday life in an entrancing way.

I found this section, in in the chapter, 'Among The Ruins,' to be illuminating:
"It is no paradox, therefore, that the culture of nineteenth-century England, which witnessed the development of an entirely new metropolitan civilisation, should itself have been similarly preoccupied with 'ancient times.'  It is none the less curious that the Victorian age of innovation should also be the age of restoration, that a fervent belief in progress should be accompanied by a deep need for revival, and that a period of unprecedented industrial and commercial expansion should also be a period of unremitting nostalgia...The close association with medievalism also provided an image of organic unity, of a civilisation established upon firm religious and cultural principles, in a period when every aspect of society was being called into doubt."
I can identify with this very much so, for as things in the world generally get more insane, aggressive, shallow, godless, high-tech, ugly, unnatural, etc..., I retreat into old books, art, good music, faith; the real and beautiful things that make one feel comforted, enlightened and inspired.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the cultural history of past times.


  1. Good title! Thanks for the tip!

  2. This looks like an absolute must-read for me. I love Peter Ackroyd's writing - his novels and non-fiction - and your wonderful description of 'Albion' just makes me want to drop all my reading, and head for its pages straight away (those reading plans going awry again!) :-)

    I know exactly what you mean about the entrancing effect of how he brings history to life. I have 'Foundation,' Volume One of his 'History of England,' which I've dipped into - and it's spellbinding!


    1. I'm glad to know Foundation, Volume One is spellbinding as it's one I've wanted to get. Yes, you would probably like Albion very much.