Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands is a new exhibition at the British Library. Inherently geographical, this presentation exhibits 150 literary works to reveal how writers have represented, transformed and created the landscape of the British Isles. Not only does this focus on the way that writers have been influenced by the world around them, but also how their representations have influenced the wider geographical imagination.
This exhibition links with First Year lectures on cultural geography and offers a range of examples to illustrate cultural landscapes and representations. Included in the display is Wordworth’s poem: On the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway. Exhibition Curator Jamie Andrews situates the writing of this poem at a time when railways symbolised an advance of modernity into more inaccessible rural areas. Protesting the building of a rail line to Windermere, Wordsworth sought to preserve the physical landscape of the Lakes, which he feared would be destroyed. He was further concerned that a railway would disrupt the way he perceived the Lakes through the arrival of tourists and working-class people who would not see the Lakes as the sublime creation that he did.
Other works include Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, du Maurier’s Rebecca, and an often overlooked chapter from The Wind in the Willows. Bringing these literary representations closer to (Keble) home: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is featured ‘in memory of a summer day’ on the Thames at Oxford; and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie depicts a portrait of village life and the passing of old ways in 1920s’ Cotswolds.
Alongside works that evoke the countryside, this exhibition includes writers who have drawn inspiration from the city, suburbs and streets, thus giving a diversity to the sense of British landscapes.
The Times Higher Education has a useful review on the exhibition, including further details of other literary works on display. Do you agree with the selection? What do you feel has been excluded? The exhibition runs until 25 September.