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

LOST ORDER Naomi Mitchison, Beyond this Limit (Scottish Academic Press) £4.95

A certain kind of Englishness has been dying for more than a hundred years. The countryside tunes that Hardy knew and whistled were drowned out in his own boyhood by the arrival of the railway, bringing the songs and dances of the music hall. At the other end of the scale, Kipling canvassed the elusive mix of sadism and regret which characterizes a ruling class. And somewhere in between these two extremes, there was a vast yet intricate moral and physical landscape which Englishmen loved for its Englishness: fields and spires and university cities, gardens with parties, churches with fêtes and attitudes of restraint and understatement. It was a doomed landscape. The hubris of that dearly bought peace and studied calm found its nemesis in the First World War. From then on the decline accelerated. The façade cracked. Social attitudes became confused. The motorway destroyed the valley. The lower middle classes moved up; the upper middle classes moved across. The nightingale left Berkeley Square and in Evelyn Waugh's lovely phrase from A Handful of Dust, 'a whole Gothic world had come to grief'.

A world come to grief. The landscape of Larkin perhaps, but surely not of Naomi Mitchison. At first sight her work appears to be protected from the elegies which have infected so much otherwise good British writing. She is, after all, Scottish, feminist and Socialist. One can hardly imagine a combination less likely to breed nostalgia for a lost order. And yet that lost ...


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