What is it that makes England English? What are the quintessentially English qualities? This is what Linda Proud has sought to reveal and Valerie Petts to illustrate. They make no claim to have discovered the definitive answer, but suggest that, “like a golden thread that is only visible when the sun shines on it”, that which is most precious to the English is that which is commonly taken for granted. This book invites a reappraisal.
Linda Proud suggests that qualities that have been very dear to the English over the ages, even though they have been covered over from time to time, are freedom, justice and truth.
These qualities have found their expression in the development of the language, with it innate rhythms and simple structures, embodied in a literary tradition of extraordinary variety and richness. They are evident in thee tenets of the Common Law and the unwritten constitution of a free nation. They may be traced through a spiritual heritage distinct from dogma and sectarian bigotry.
With a little story, Linda Proud reminds us, with a typically English sense of humour, of the part man has played in shaping the beauty of the countryside, a landscape that reflects the English character.
“Between the departure of one vicar and the arrival of his replacement, a small parish church in England was left in the care of the villagers. An old man devoted himself to the overgrown vicarage garden and, by the time of the new vicar’s arrival, it had become a garden of great beauty. The vicar, exploring his new home, came across the old man weeding in the shrubbery. ‘Between you, my good man,’ he said, ‘you and God have made a great wonder here.’ Straightening up, the old man replied gruffly, ‘You should have seen it when he had it to himself.’”
Valerie Petts’ beautiful, specially commissioned paintings, illustrating various sites mentioned in the text, have a quintessentially English quality.
Linda Proud was born in the Home Counties to a family part Scots, part Northumbrian. Having failed to be inspired by the form of education on offer in the 60s, she left school as soon as she could, with big dreams and small prospects. The subsequent years of typing pools and shop floors came to an end when she stumbled upon the career of picture research, which not only steeped her in the art and history of all the world’s civilisations, but also allowed her to go freelance and so devote more time to writing. It was a career that was to send her to far-flung places and it was in Jerusalem that she understood for the first time that the peace which she enjoys at home in England is very special and should not be taken for granted. Since publishing this book Linda has written a number of novels. Her Amazon author page can be seen here.
Valerie Petts. It is rare these days for an artist to have trained in science but she qualified as a medical technologist and worked for some years in clinical research both in London and Sydney. It was on her return to Oxford in 1979 that she began painting and, through watercolour, rediscovered her love of the English landscape, first kindled in childhood on an Oxfordshire farm. As well as numerous exhibitions in England, there have been two in Tokyo (to celebrate the marriages of the Princes, both of whom were educated at Oxford). She has also painted in South Africa and a series of watercolours of Cape Town and environs have been made into prints. Her paintings in Oxford: Words and Watercolours were highly praised. As Lord Jenkins, Chancellor of Oxford University, wrote, “This is a most evocative and imaginatively chosen collection of watercolours.” Visit Valerie’s website here.
“Linda Proud has written a book, with many interesting and poignant quotations, that covers far more than simply the tourist areas. It is aimed at the English themselves, with the clear message that perhaps, before running themselves and their country into the ground, they ought to consider its rightful place not only in the world, but in their hearts and minds.”
“And what a good read it is, a deliciously written short course that pins the English character on a trinity of deep strengths: its law, language and religion.”
“This is a delightful book for all who love England and her traditions … Valerie Petts’ illustrations delightfully enhance the well turned prose of Linda Proud.”
“Exquisitely illustrated with watercolours that haunt the memory with their crisp and atmospheric accuracy.”