‘The nationalist nostalgia so evident in today’s discourse has deep roots. As [Susan Owens] notes, gothic revival churches, mock-Tudor suburban houses, Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, William Morris’s craft fabrics, and the Blitz spirit are all expressions of the pervasive allure of an imagined history and have built the idea of English exceptionalism.’ New Statesman
In Imagining England’s Past Susan Owens explores the country’s invented histories, from the glamorous to the disturbing, from the eighth century to the present day.
England has long built its sense of self on visions of its past. What does it mean for medieval writers to summon King Arthur from the post-Roman fog; for William Morris to resurrect the skills of the medieval workshop and Julia Margaret Cameron to portray the Arthurian court with her Victorian camera; or for Yinka Shonibare in the final years of the twentieth century to visualize a Black Victorian dandy? By exploring the imaginations of successive generations, Susan Owens reveals how diverse notions of the past have inspired literature, art, music, architecture and fashion.
Susan Owens shines a light on subjects from myths to mock-Tudor houses, Stonehenge to steampunk, and asks how – and why – the past continues so powerfully to shape the present. Not a history of England, but a history of those who have written, painted and dreamed it into being, Imagining England’s Past offers a lively, erudite account of the making and manipulation of the days of old.