- W. J. Keith (Author)
The Rural Tradition: A Study of the Non-Fiction Prose Writers of the English Countryside. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by George Woodcock"RURAL writing is a curiously neglected topic," says W. J. Keith in the first sen- tence of The Rural Tradition. He is, of course, correct; critics have for the most part failed even to establish the kind of criteria one should apply in discussing the considerable body of non-fiction writing about the countryside that exists in Great Britain and, to a less extent, in the United States and Canada. It is doubtful if, with the single exception of Thoreau, any sig- nificant rural writer has received the attention he deserves. Yet the rural writ- ers have not only provided books that were widely read and that represented an important facet of the Anglo-Saxon sensibility. They have also influenced both fiction and poetry in their respective countries; the novels of D. H. Lawrence and the poetry of Thomas Hardy, Andrew Young, and Edwin Muir are examples of works that would hardly have taken the forms with which we are familiar if a considerable tradition of non-fiction rural writing has not been there to influence the perceptions of their creators. W. J. Keith did a great deal to break down this critical barrier with the study, Richard Jefferies, which he published in Toronto some years ago. Now he tackles the genre on a broader scale in his new book, The Rural Tradition, which will be welcomed by all aficionados of the English school of country writers; he takes eleven examples, from Isaak Walton and Gilbert White, through Cobbett and Borrow, through Jefferies and Hudson and Edward Thomas, down to relatively recent writers like Henry Williamson and H. J. Massingham. It is a long-needed task, well done, and one hopes Professor Keith will follow it with other studies comparable in length to his Richard jefferies, on some of the other writers on his list, notably Massingham and George Sturt, both of whom need closer critical study than they have received. One also hopes that the appearance in Canada of this excellent study of the English ruralists will lead to a similar work on Canadian writers who have dealt with man and nature in the wilder- ness and farmlands of our country. Writ- ers like Roderick Haig-Brown and Fred Bodsworth have been too long neglected as significant contributors to our literary tradition, and even Grove's country nar- ratives, so much more fully realized than any of his fiction, await effective critical discussion.
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MLA: Woodcock, George. The Ruralists. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 10 June 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #64 (Spring 1975), Ultramarine - Hail and Farewell. (pg. 124 - 124)
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