Rather than writing a conventional travelogue, Ronald Blythe reveals the layering of historical locale, religious inspiration, and literary endeavor that gives such depth to English cultural traditions. He begins with a description of the medieval practice of parish definition, showing how the clerical community profoundly affected the society at large.
The following chapters unfold the histories of early English Christianity and the brutality of Reformation and Counter-Reformation measures. Blythe then illustrates the interrelationships between landscape and literature, discussing William Langland’s THE VISION OF WILLIAM, CONCERNING PIERS THE PLOWMAN and John Bunyan’s THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, and continuing with a chapter devoted to the personality and vision of poet George Herbert. Veering away from the strictly literary, he sketches the lives of religious representatives of idealism and individuality--the wandering George Fox and the mystical Julian of Norwich. In the final chapter, Blythe discusses the position of the hymn in English tradition, making a strong case for the enduring legacy of this popular form.
This unclassifiable book is seasoned with liberal does of rich personal reflection. Blythe’s style is complex yet lyrical, his vision focused yet panoramic. Perhaps all that is missing is a reader’s map upon which to chart one’s own odyssey through the English countryside according to Blythe’s directions.