Laurie Lee

Village Christmas and Other Notes on the English Year

“To most of us, England is a green sweep of heraldic history marked here and there by the black thumb of coal. The bit I know best is local and enduring has little history and almost no official heroes.”

In the hands of essayist and poet Laurie Lee (1914 – 1997), England unfolds as rich and warm and tempting as it ever was.

The essays of Village Christmas are full of seasonal changes, cultural textures, avuncular characters, dotted with small towns, abundant rivers and snug valleys where one can spend a lifetime without longing. It is the England many of us seek and are delighted to find still exists.

Village church near Pulborough, Sussex.
Village church near Pulborough, Sussex. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Lee indulges themes like memory, home, longing, childhood and deep, deep loss. When he turned twenty, Lee left the Cotswolds and ventured abroad. While his writing matured, Lee nevertheless felt an increasing pull of things lost, like home, only to find he could never return.

But the conflicting emotion serves him beautifully. His essay “An English Spring” captures all that is sad about the new season, and how prone we are to expect more warmth and comfort from what that will never deliver.

Almost overnight comes gusty March and the first real rousing of spring – a time of blustering alarms and nudging elbows, of frantic and scrambling awakenings. It is a bare world still, but a world of preparation and display against the naked face of the countryside. The cold east wind puts an edge to activity.

Lee’s writing is not widely-known outside England but should be. Like Wodehouse, Wilde, and Dickens, he is an English writer who adores the English language: “Pushing the cold before me like a sheet of tin, I set off up the Christmas road.” I caught this collection on a ‘staff recommends’ table in my favorite bookshop. What a gift.

Field gate, Sussex
Field gate, Sussex. Photograph by Ellen Vrana.

Complement Lee’s lyrical nostalgia for the British countryside with Robert MacFarlane’s mediative examination of England’s aged paths and ways and inspired naturalistic poetry of A.E. Housman.