The Rising Down: Lives in a Sussex Landscape

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The book asks how a particular landscape has been perceived by many people over time. To do so it deploys a wealth of local historical resources of a kind that have not previously been used in investigations of landscape writing, painting, and perception. Through narratives of individuals and groups, it traces shifts in understanding of 'the local', including the rising call for local histories and the emergence of local subjects as fit subjects for poetry. As it moves through time (from the seventeenth to the twentieth century) it seeks to be alert in each moment to the historiography of the place (what different people knew or thought about its past, and from what sources), and alert to points of contact between local communities and national / international developments in the arts. It demonstrates a method of situating the work of major cultural figures among the imaginative expressions of many other kinds of people who know and respond to their environments. It argues for new dialogues between historians of the arts and those working with expertise in local history and regional archives.

Extensive original research underpins each distinct study. In many cases this meant establishing a biographical outline (from wills, inventories, court and tax records, subscription notices) before working towards nuanced understanding of the cultural world of the subject or subjects, continually moving between scattered documentary evidence for a specific life in a specific place and wider historical contexts of many kinds: literary, art historical, political, theological, agricultural. These discrete research findings are brought together in the attempt at something larger: a creative whole that suggests - in its rhythms of cross-connection and reappearing images, as one generation remembers, reads, revises the next - a continual relationship between individual insight and the common life of a place made collectively by thousands of people.

"When Alexandra Harris returned to her childhood home of West Sussex, she realised that she barely knew the place at all. As she probed beneath the surface, excavating layers of archival records and everyday objects, bringing a lifetime's reading to bear on the place where she started, hundreds of unexpected stories and hypnotic voices emerged from the area's past. Who has stood here, she asks; what did they see?

From the painter John Constable and the modernist writer Ford Madox Ford to the lost local women who left little trace, these electrifying encounters - spanning the Downs, Poland, Australia, Canada - inspired her to imagine lives that seemed distant, yet were deeply connected through their shared landscape.

By focusing on one small patch of England, Harris finds 'a World in a Grain of Sand' and opens vast new horizons, becoming our intimate companion as we travel on visionary journeys through space and time. The result is a masterpiece of 'scholarship at its life-enhancing best' (Independent) which reveals that nowhere is simply one place : and gives us all new bearings."
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherFaber & Faber
Number of pages416
ISBN (Electronic)9780571350544, 9780571392032 (Audio)
ISBN (Print)9780571350520
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2024


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