England’s urban and rural heartlands have provided inspiration for generations of its fiction writers.
Many authors and the characters they created have lived in and loved England, evoking streetscapes, landscapes and buildings throughout their work.
Here are six of our fictional favourites:
NW – Zadie Smith
‘The window logs Kilburn’s skyline. Ungentrified, ungentrifiable. Boom and bust never come here. Here bust is permanent. Empty State Empire, empty Odeon, graffiti-streaked sidings rising and falling like a rickety roller coaster. Higgledy-piggledy rooftops and chimneys, some high, some low, packed tightly, shaken fags in a box. Behind the opposite window, retreating Willesden’.
This novel follows the lives of four Londoners who grew up together on the same fictional council estate in the eponymous north west London. Set in private houses, high-rise flats, the Inns of Court and public parks; ‘their city is brutal, beautiful and complicated’.
2. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
‘The eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills’
The story of Mrs Bennet’s attempt to marry off her five daughters is one of our great classics. It’s believed that Chatsworth, a grand country house occupied by the Duke of Devonshire, was the inspiration for Mr Darcey’s home, Pemberley. The site was used as a location in the 2005 film.
3. Jamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier
‘It doesn’t do to be curious at Jamaica Inn, and I’ll have you remember that’
The Grade II listed Jamaica Inn stands in the middle of Bodmin Moor, an eerie setting for Du Maurier’s tale of murderous ship-wreckers. It was built in 1750 as a coaching inn and had associations with smuggling. Du Maurier wrote her novel in 1930 after becoming lost in thick fog on the moors and seeking refuge at the inn. Whilst sheltering, the local rector is said to have entertained her with ghost stories and tales of smuggling, inspiring her to write the gothic novel.
4. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
‘The English landscape at its finest—such as I saw this morning—possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term ‘greatness.’
In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that takes him deep into the English countryside and into his past. Stevens feels that the English landscape is beautiful because of its restraint, calm and lack of spectacle—the same qualities he presents in his own life as a butler.
5. The Lonely Londoners – Samuel Selvon
‘When he get to Waterloo…he had a feeling of homesickness that he never felt in the nine-ten years he in this country. For the old Waterloo is a place of arrival and departure, is a place where you see people crying goodbye and kissing welcome, and he hardly have time to sit down on a bench before this feeling of nostalgia hit him and he was surprise.’
Sam Selvon’s seminal work tells the story of post-war immigration through the lens of a group of young Caribbean men living in west London. Ready to start afresh in 1950s London, it documents the challenges they face: racism, unemployment, loneliness, hunger and the cold.
6. And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie
‘It’s over a mile to the coast and there were heavy seas and big breakers inshore. And there were a lot of people, boy scouts and others on the cliffs looking out towards the island and watching.’
Christie’s mystery is about ten strangers, each holding a dark secret, who are gathered together on an isolated island off the coast of Devon by a mysterious host. The desolate and inhospitable landscape creates a chilling backdrop to the disturbing events that unfold.