Oh whistle, and I'll read to you
Sunday 15 December 1996
Aldeburgh, of course, is famous for its association with Benjamin Britten, a connection which brought E M Forster to the town to work on the libretto for Billy Budd. Susan Hill is another novelist drawn there by Britten's influence; she rented a cottage on the seafront each winter during the 1970s. Aldeburgh's martello tower was the setting for a key scene in Pat Barker's Regeneration; Thomas Hardy stayed in Strafford House, Wilkie Collins used the town as background for his novel No Name, and Virginia Woolf snobbishly described it as "that miserable, dull sea village".
In her introduction, Elspeth Barker describes the book, with its cast of "radicals, dissenters, monks, mystics, farmers, fascists, free-lovers, poets and novelists", as "an impossibly perfect millennial party". Barker lives in Norfolk, in the house she once shared with the poet George Barker and their children. Elsewhere in Norfolk lived Elizabeth Smart, author of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, mother of another four Barkers and creator of a much-admired garden. Writers are especially attracted to the remains of Dunwich, the medieval town swept into the sea in 1328. Visitors included Edward Fitzgerald, Swinburne, Henry James, Edward Thomas and P D James, who, in Unnatural Causes, dispatched her detective Adam Dagliesh to investigate, appropriately enough, a murderous writer's colony on Dunwich Heath. The book is copiously illustrated (painters, too, found solace in the area) and sprinkled liberally with quotations. Above: Orford Ness, where in war poet Alun Lewis's "Dawn on the East Coast", "the living come back slowly from the dead".
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