Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > Clare Leighton’s Wood Engravings of English Country Life between the Wars
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Clare Leighton's wood engravings of interwar English country life portray a rural culture barely touched by modernity, a domesticated landscape in which robust farm workers maintain a close relationship with the soil and its associated values of simplicity, stability, and diligence. Void of references to the hardships of rural life during a period of sustained agricultural depression and unprecedented rural commodification, the prints speak to a sense of order, permanence, peace, and purpose. At once imaginative and scrupulously accurate depictions of rural labor and craft, they nourish nostalgia and the preservationist impulse to record dying traditions. This study seeks to contextualize the images in their original purpose as book illustrations. A close reading of the books for which Leighton created the engravings shows that the text serves to idealize country life while also speaking to the disorders and anxieties of the turbulent 30s. The Farmer's Year (1933), Four Hedges (1935), and Country Matters (1937), mediate her various publishers' senses of the market and differing viewpoints with her personal and wider concerns. All voice a deep sense of loss for traditional modes of living that fulfill a range of criteria for the country life genre, yet each addresses distinct concerns relevant to changing cultural interests and anxieties in a period of uneasy peace between the world wars. The landscape becomes a stage against which can be expressed deep-seated communal and personal reaction to the destructive elements of mechanization as well as for advocating her strong humanitarian beliefs and modernist interests. Moving past debates about national identity, tradition and modernism, she sets out a basic doctrine for a peaceful, communal existence that rises above issues of race, class, and national interest: renewing an organic, symbiotic connection with nature and tending to the land, a creatively singular vision enabled by a sustained engagement with modernist formal means.