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This article is taken from PN Review 55, Volume 13 Number 5, May - June 1987.

Another Country: the Village as Childhood Paul Carter

Dr Johnson's remark - 'Few books disappoint their readers more than the narrations of travellers' - has come to apply better to autobiographies. For all their attention to detail, they rarely add much to the sum of personal knowledge. First, there are the birth signs. Born with a caul, the writer treats us to a history of superstition. Summoned into the world by thunder, he cannot help recalling Chateaubriand, another stormy writer drawn to autobiography. And, after the myths of origins, come the childhoods of hearsay. Going to school when he was three - his mother says four - he remembers a teacher, a red flag, the squeaking handle of a milk pail. His earliest experiences, he candidly admits, are beyond recall. He was fascinated by a print of Monarch of the Glen (his sister says): the picture has gone, the room where it hung, even the house, but no doubt it was the source of his romantic temperament (and his aversion to hunting). The village where he was brought up has changed out of all recognition . . .

In this inventory of lost particulars, the village has a central place. Here is preserved an environment drenched with associations so individual they could never be reproduced, so trivial no adult history would notice them. The village breeds themes proof against the camera's eye. 'A rural childhood': it is almost a tautology. Where is one more truly a child than in the country? The valley brings us ...


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