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Landscapes/Cityscapes Situational Identity in British Literature and Visual Arts (20th-21st Centuries)
Mental landscapes

Jocelyn Brooke’s Country: ‘Topologies of the Self’

Du côté de chez Jocelyn Brooke : topologies de soi
Catherine Hoffmann


Cet article analyse la manière dont Jocelyn Brooke évoque les paysages du Kent et de l’Italie dans deux récits autobiographiques, The Military Orchid (1948) et The Dog at Clambercrown (1955) qui dessinent une géographie de soi et expriment la fertilisation réciproque d’un paysage intérieur et d’une topographie réelle. L’œuvre de Brooke s’enracine dans une région rurale de l’est du Kent, site dès l’enfance de l’expérience physique et imaginative d’un lieu privilégié. Ses paysages sont évoqués non comme objets de contemplation visuelle mais comme environnement vécu. À l’inverse, les paysages italiens découverts à l’âge adulte donnent d’abord lieu à des descriptions picturales. Cependant, au fil du temps, l’évocation des paysages du Kent et de l’Italie passe de l’euphorie du premier récit au mode dysphorique du second. Le rejet du pittoresque et l’accentuation des impressions négatives manifestent, plus qu’un état intérieur, le renoncement délibéré aux excès descriptifs des écrits adolescents de Brooke.

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1Jocelyn Brooke (1908-1966) is, as a writer, indissolubly associated with his native region of East Kent, especially with a small rural area in the Elham Valley where, as a child, he used to spend the summer and to which he later retired. The place is now part of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, described by the official site as ‘an enchanting landscape’. It certainly was enchanting to Brooke from the earliest and became, in his own words ‘the hidden source of all [his] private imagery’ (Brooke 1948, 25), ‘the place where, perhaps, [his] roots went deepest’ (Brooke 1955, 254). All his works—from his book on wild British orchids, to his poetry, fiction and autobiographical narratives—may be said to originate in this place and to have drawn much of their material from it throughout Brooke’s relatively short literary career. Most of these works, indeed, were published in the ten years after World War II, though, in youth, Brooke had been a compulsive writer, eager to become a Kentish equivalent of Thomas Hardy and to put the Elham Valley on the literary map:

In my more ambitious moments I envisaged the mise-en-scène of my stories as a semi-fictionalised map, like those maps of Wessex which appear upon the end-papers of Hardy’s novels; one day, I liked to think, a similar map would embellish the ‘Nailbourne Edition’ of my Collected Works. (Brooke 1955, 176)

  • 1 Since Mark Rawlinson has thoroughly and convincingly analysed the subversive effect of Brooke’s lit (...)
  • 2 This image is borrowed from Julien Gracq who used it in a 1954 radio broadcast, ‘Les yeux bien ouve (...)

2His post-war production, despite initial success and reprints, occupies a marginal position in the history of twentieth-century English writing, as Mark Rawlinson observes in his essay ‘Wild Soldiers: Jocelyn Brooke and England’s Militarised Landscape’.1 This may, partly, be attributed to Brooke’s idiosyncratic way of recasting an English tradition of nature and regional writing, including his somewhat paradoxical treatment of the landscape with which he and his writings are so closely associated. In this essay, the analysis of Brooke’s evocation of landscape concentrates on two narrative works, representative of the autobiographical pole of his production, The Military Orchid (1948) and The Dog at Clambercrown (1955). The Military Orchid, Brooke’s first published prose work, which earned him enthusiastic reviews, exemplifies most convincingly his narrative method and the interconnection between self, place, and writing. In A Mine of Serpents (1949) and The Goose Cathedral (1950), with which it forms a loosely constructed trilogy, this gets somewhat diluted in narrative lines based on the narrator’s encounters and relationships with various characters. The Dog at Clambercrown, belonging to the author’s later production, returns, in a more ambitious manner, to the centrality of the topographical self. In both works, the autobiographical material is shaped thematically rather than chronologically, and the narratives hybridise with various genres: botanical writing, quest and travel narratives, Bildunsg- or Künstlerroman, literary criticism. Thus, The Military Orchid centres on the protagonist’s search for a rare orchid, while the later work alternates the narratives of two journeys, one undertaken by the mature Brooke to Enna in Sicily, the mythical place of Persephone’s abduction into the underworld, the other, made in adolescence, to a mysterious pub, The Dog, hidden in a no-less mysterious part of the Elham Valley. In common with Brooke’s other writings, the two works cover essentially the same topographical ground, evoke the same Kentish and Italian landscapes, and establish the prevalence of the geographical self over the historical subject. In Brooke’s case, Frédéric Regard’s concept of ‘Topologies of the Self’, with its central contention that ‘when it comes to self-writing, the question is not so much “who am I?” as “where am I?”’ (Regard 16) seems especially apposite. Topology, in the context of the two narratives, is used both in its topographical sense and in its obsolete sense of ‘the branch of botany that deals with the habitats of plants’ (New Shorter OED) since, for a keen amateur botanist like Brooke, selfhood is also defined ecologically in relation to the preferred habitat of the ‘human plant’.2 This suggests a shift from landscape, so tied up with the primacy of the visual in our culture, to environment and habitat in narratives which, although not entirely devoid of description, emphasise the protagonist’s intricate physical, phenomenological, and mental relation to landscape. While Brooke’s treatment of Italian landscapes, at least in The Military Orchid, remains overtly pictorial, his evocations of the Kentish Downs, delineating a personal territory, lived-in as well as imagined, eschew picturesque or sentimental description in a reflexive gesture of self-critical diffidence towards purple prose and the clichés of ‘regional writing’. In spite of the relative obscurity in which Brooke’s works survive, they provide interesting case-studies for investigating the question of landscape representation in literature, in particular the need to free the term ‘representation’ from its mimetic and visual associations, since, as observed by Lawrence Buell, ‘[l]anguage never replicates extratextual landscapes, but it can be bent toward or away from them’ (Buell 33).

Geographies of the Self, Countries of the Mind, and Forbidden Kingdoms

3The Kentish territories of the author’s childhood, accurately mapped in his autobiographical writings, are circumscribed to the Sandgate/Folkestone area where his family lived and to a small area around Bishopsbourne, the village in the Elham Valley in which Brooke’s ‘genuine passion for the countryside’ (Brooke 1955, 173) originated. This vindicates Raymond Williams’s observation that ‘often an idea of the country is an idea of childhood […]: of delighted absorption in our own world’ (Williams 427). In Brooke’s case, though nostalgia crept in early, this delighted absorption persisted in later life, investing his autobiographical writings with their distinctive flavour. The charting of Brooke’s country is, at the most obvious level, operated in the narratives by the mention of real place-names, one notable exception being Bishopsbourne which is always referred to as ‘the village’. Lifted, by this anonymity, from the ordnance map to the protagonist/narrator’s mental map, it becomes the archetype of a place of happiness and migrates from the actual topography of East Kent to what Brooke calls the ‘country of the mind’. The rural microcosm, as experienced by the child, is soon transformed into a private myth and later into literature. The writer’s mature work registers this circulation of creative energy between the actual place and young Brooke’s imagination, while adopting a humorous critical attitude to his adolescent regional novels and their ‘rhapsodical descriptions of spring in the Kentish woods’ (Brooke 1948, 71).

4Another spatial metaphor used by Brooke, the Forbidden Kingdom, also expresses the interconnection between the inner regions of the self and the topography of East Kent. In the narratives, the name refers to the dangerous territories—hardly less exotic than the faraway places of children’s literature—lying beyond limits which the child identified as impassable borders separating his familiar microcosm from mysterious and enticing areas. This perception was, in part, based on certain physical features of the landscape, such as, for instance, the hills behind Folkestone: ‘Beyond them lay The Country, a country which, in fact, I knew, but which cut off by that high, forbidden barrier, seemed immensely romantic and mysterious’ (Brooke 1948, 34). Often, territorial limits determine moral boundaries: while remaining unexplored during family walks and excursions, the places beyond those limits provided endless opportunities for the roaming of the child’s imagination and ‘libidinous day-dreams’ (Brooke 1955, 181). For, onto the geographical ‘Forbidden Kingdoms’, could be projected the least admissible homo-erotic and masochistic fantasies which, though as yet unrecognised for what they were, induced feelings of guilt in young Brooke. One place, in particular, The Dog at Clambercrown, exercised, while still unvisited, a strong fascination. The name evoked in the child’s mind ‘an open space among dense, impenetrable woods’ (Brooke 1955, 59) and the place took on from the start a mythical character and soon became for young Brooke the ‘natural habitat of those heroes whom [he] so secretly and so guiltily loved’ (Brooke 1955, 182):

Inaccessible from Sandgate […], the Dog seemed no less remote from that distant yet familiar outpost in the Elham Valley. It would remain, I supposed, for ever unvisited: a country of the mind existing, perhaps, only in my imagination; a myth which, for all I knew to the contrary, had like other myths (Mother Ceres and Proserpina, for instance […]) long ceased to have any objective validity Yet for myself, at any rate, the myth remained valid: the vague, inchoate conception of a remote countryside, […] the site of a public-house frequented by such heroic figures as Jim the gardener, with his corduroy trousers and brawny, naked chest. (Brooke 1955, 60)

5With his exposed muscular chest and his corduroy trousers, a badge of rural ‘working-classness’ and a membrane connecting the body to the earth it toils, the gardener—a complete antithesis to young Brooke—literally incarnates the characteristics of rough physicality and emphatic masculinity apt to arouse erotic attraction in the child.

6Alert to the narrative potential of Clambercrown as a terra incognita, lying simultaneously beyond the boundaries of his rural microcosm and deep within the inner recess of his psyche, Brooke soon fictionalised it in oral story-telling before placing it firmly on the literary map of his post-war narratives, especially in The Dog at Clambercrown where, in Part VI, Brooke traces his walk, in adolescence, to the Forbidden Kingdom of Clambercrown, and the sexual epiphany he experienced there. The title of this part, ‘Journey to the Interior’, further emphasises the porosity and dynamic relation between the inner self and the physical world at the heart of Brooke’s writing. In turn, this implies that landscape, whether familiar or imagined, appears in his literary works as a textual site where the perceptive merges with the affective. In his essay, Vivre de paysage, François Jullien considers this to be one of the conditions for the existence of landscape:

Il y a paysage quand je ressens en même temps que je perçois; ou disons que je perçois alors du dedans comme du dehors de moi-même – l’étanchéité qui me fait tenir en sujet indépendant s’estompe ou, pour le dire en termes plus catégoriels […] il y a paysage quand le perceptif se révèle en même temps affectif. (Jullien 89-90)

Pictorial Landscape and Lived-in Environment

  • 3 See for instance Omhovère 87, or Buell 142.

7While it is clear that for Brooke as protagonist and author landscape emerges out of the interplay of the two categories, this does not necessarily entail an unproblematic reception. As readers, we are, of course, aware that such porosity lies at the heart of much lyric poetry. When it comes to narrative, however, we tend—unless we are reflexively pondering the question—to equate the representation of landscape with its description in predominantly visual terms, whatever the function of the description might be. The same term ‘landscape’, it has often been observed,3 is used in many European languages to refer both to an expanse of scenery and to its representation in art, a semantic ambivalence which ‘implies that art has a fundamental role to play in the Western understanding of landscape’ (Omhovère 87). Our readerly expectations are, therefore, likely to be determined, in part at least, by the store of landscape paintings and pictorial descriptions archived in our cultural memory.

  • 4 Kent itself is often labelled ‘the Garden of England’, a name that does more than merely refer to t (...)

8In the case of the landscapes of the South of England, this further involves an accumulation of various images of idyllic rural scenes and scenery ranging from posters to children’s books, films, and television programmes.4 Now, as suggested in the introduction, Brooke’s evocation of the landscapes of East Kent seems to be something of a paradox. The word ‘landscape’ itself occurs frequently in the texts, as do ‘the country’ and ‘the countryside’, as if their mere mention were enough to conjure up a web of sensory perceptions, a phenomenon analysed early on in The Military Orchid about words associated with the rural landscape: ‘Certain basic, ordinary words such as “wood”, “stream”, “village”, in whatever context I may use them, will always, for me, evoke a particular wood, a particular stream, almost always in the immediate neighbourhood of our summer-cottage’ (Brooke 1948, 25). The power of ordinary words to conjure up a specific landscape in Brooke’s mind goes some way towards accounting for the near absence of fully-developed description of the area, as if, in the narrative, its landscape was best approached indirectly by emphasising its lasting effect on the author/protagonist. The absence of descriptive set-pieces of the Kentish landscape contrasts with the many pictorial descriptions of Italian landscapes especially in The Military Orchid where Brooke relates his first experience of Italy during World War Two, a kind of wartime Grand Tour, prefaced by mythological and literary reminiscences: ‘Empedocles on Etna, Proserpine at Enna, […] D.H. Lawrence and his peasants’ (Brooke 1948, 81). Sicily and the Abruzzi, where Brooke’s unit is later posted, are evoked through explicit analogies with the visual arts, the pictorial references ranging from illuminations in Books of Hours (Brooke 1948, 91) to Cézanne, de Chirico and Douanier Rousseau (Brooke 1948, 89). In the following passage, for instance, the description does not only borrow the perspectival principles of classical landscape painting, but also the discourse of art criticism so that commentary takes over and moves an actual landscape into the field of pictorial representations and their analysis:

Olive-orchards and fields stretched away towards the rising hills; here and there, farmhouses lay calmly, solidly, like natural features, an indispensable part of the picture’s composition. The whole landscape seemed immensely pictorial; yet its ‘picturesqueness’ was no mere superficies of prettiness, an effect of light or ephemeral vegetation or the viewpoint of the observer, as a ‘picturesque’ scene would have been in England; here the pictorial effect was achieved by the bare architecture of the landscape […].Compared with English landscapes, this first vision of Sicily was like a Cézanne compared with a fuzzy Victorian water-colour. (Brooke 1948, 83)

9The main reason for the fundamental difference in literary treatment of the Kentish and Italian landscapes is that the early childhood experience of the former was unmediated by artistic or literary associations whereas the adult protagonist came to Italy carrying mental pictures derived from his readings and familiarity with landscape painting.

10In one of its pictorial uses, now obsolete, the term ‘landscape’ referred to the scenery forming the background of a portrait. The Dog at Clambercrown contains an ekphrasis of such a landscape, the backdrop to a 1826-portrait of Aunt Cock, one of Jocelyn Brooke’s forebears. The ekphrasis does not constitute a set piece since it is interspersed with various biographical details, family stories, and Brooke’s reactions to the picture in childhood. The leisurely, meandering description is triggered by the crystallisation of a vague memory of landscape while Brooke is on the train in Italy. It then serves as a conceit to link the author’s recent journey to Sicily and the temporally distant expedition to Clambercrown. What is of interest here is not so much the rather contrived device as the way in which the ekphrasis foregrounds the conventional background of the picture. The interplay of the narrator’s aesthetic comments and the child’s point of view, especially in the mismatching between the pictorial references and the landscape in the picture, humorously emphasises the discrepancy between the artistic weakness of the backdrop and its powerful effect on young Brooke, who, presumably, would not, at the time, have been familiar with either Dali or Ernst:

[I]t wasn’t so much Aunt Cock herself as the landscape in which she moved that chiefly fascinated me. I was then—and I suppose, generally speaking, I am still—more interested in places than in people; and Aunt Cock, after all, was a lady very much like other ladies. […]. Her background, on the other hand, I found of perennial interest: the stock landscape of an inferior portrait-painter, it had for me the enthralling quality of some dream-vision by Dali or Max Ernst. Those overarching trees, that distant hill bathed in a golden sunset haze—they were familiar yet mysteriously unfamiliar, features in a landscape which I knew, but which, like the landscape of a dream, had undergone some subtle, indefinable transformation. (Brooke 1955, 42)

  • 5 Given the scene of sexual awakening which follows, it would be easy to read this passage as a psych (...)

11By superimposing on the picture’s conventional backdrop the landscapes of Brooke’s ‘country’, so vividly experienced, the ekphrasis operates a shift from pictorial landscape to lived-in environment. Even in the case of Italian landscapes, the protagonist seldom remains in the position of the observer embracing a panoramic view. Like Julien Gracq (‘tout grand paysage est une invitation à le posséder par la marche’ [Gracq 2007, 14]), Brooke steps into the landscape, explores it, becomes part of it so that, in the text, descriptive passages soon give way to narrative. In the case of East Kent, landscape in its panoramic sense is, as a rule, strikingly absent. This is due in part to the lie of the land: ‘In this country of hills’, Brooke writes in A Mine of Serpents, ‘there was never what could properly be called a “view”: one reached the summit of one hill, only to be confronted by another’ (Brooke 1949, 159). It is also, and perhaps even more so, due to the protagonist’s physical closeness to his environment. The experience of botanising, in particular, taking place at ground level, is conveyed textually by focusing on the plants, named and often lovingly described, while the landscape is visually obliterated: ‘Against the hot blue sky, the terraced knoll loomed enormous, its summit lost in a shimmering heat-haze. […] On the banks at the hill’s foot, the cropped turf was gemmed with the small downland flowers, many of which I had never seen before: rockrose, milkwort, centaury’ (Brooke 1948, 34). Sometimes, as in his penetration into dense vegetation, the protagonist becomes, to borrow from Gracq again, ‘entortillé dans le paysage’ (Gracq 1995, 280), entangled in the landscape: ‘The pathway wound through dense hazel-thickets entangled with drooping festoons of old-man’s-beard; in some places the growth was so thick that I had to force my way, painfully, through masses of overgrown thorn and bramble’ (Brooke 1955, 190).5 To convey a sense of landscape as lived-in environment, Brooke registers a whole complex of sensory perceptions, often providing soundscapes and olfactory ‘landscapes’ rather than landscapes in the visual sense:

If it were April, the sudden stillness would be emphasised, rather than broken, by the calling of a cuckoo […]; and I would sniff, with an acute, never-failing delight, the unique and delicious country smell—composed (if this were a spring visit) of the scent of violets and the fainter, slightly vinous aroma of primroses, combined with the pervasive exhalations of wet earth and wood. (Brooke 1955, 110)

Pathetic Fallacy and Modal Variations

12While Brooke appears reticent about extensive visual description of landscape, he is impervious to Ruskin’s strictures on pathetic fallacy and freely resorts to it, as a specifically literary means of conveying the interplay and intermingling of the outer and inner worlds. In The Military Orchid, pathetic fallacy sometimes takes the form of attributing moral qualities to the landscape. Thus, the aesthetic contrasts between Italian and English landscapes are presented as manifestations of ethical polarities, as in the following comments about the Abruzzi in winter:

[E]ven in these weeks of almost unrelieved greyness and intermittent rain, the landscape never quite lost that lucid, sharp-edged quality peculiar to the South. […] These fields and woods declared themselves with too much frankness; they had none of that mysteriousness, that hint of the au-delà which lurks always in the English countryside, even in the Home Counties. (Brooke 1948, 91)

  • 6 I am grateful to Claire Omhovère for having drawn my attention to Robert Macfarlane and to this art (...)
  • 7 Among Jocelyn Brooke’s works, often generically ambiguous, two are undeniably novels: The Scapegoat(...)

13The association of the verb ‘to lurk’ with the English countryside becomes a recurrent motif in The Dog at Clambercrown, used in particular in relation to some places in East Kent, such as the village of Acrise: ‘the lonely, tree-shrouded village seemed to exhale a curiously stale, lifeless atmosphere—a sense of some unseen and intangible evil lurking, like a bad smell, among the neglected gardens and the dripping trees’ (Brooke 1955, 48). The repeated suggestion of danger arising from dense thickets and impenetrable woods, together with the militarisation of the English landscape analysed by Mark Rawlinson, contribute to Brooke’s own way of ‘puncturing […] the pastoral’. The expression is borrowed from an article by Robert Macfarlane6 on ‘The Eeriness of the English Countryside’. Although Brooke’s autobiographical narratives do not literally include ghosts, Macfarlane’s remarks about the English landscape in MR James could apply to the impressions of East Kent conveyed in The Dog at Clambercrown and in Brooke’s fiction7:

Landscape […] is never a smooth surface or simple stage-set, there to offer picturesque consolations. Rather it is a realm that snags, bites and troubles. He [James] repeatedly invokes the pastoral—that green dream of natural tranquillity and social order—only to traumatise it. (Macfarlane n.p.)

14In the seven years which elapsed between the publication of The Military Orchid and The Dog at Clambercrown, a noticeable change took place in the tone and mode (in the musical sense) employed to evoke the same landscapes. The euphoria which infected Brooke upon his first visit to Italy and transformed the place into ‘an image of the Good Life, a paradis perdu’ (Brooke 1949, 118) cannot be resurrected upon his later journey to Sicily, when, apart from the always acute pleasure of finding rare orchids or other botanical specimens, the protagonist experiences a sense of profound disillusionment, of physical and mental discomfort in what is now a vanished locus amoenus:

As we drove farther inland, away from the fertile coastal belt, the countryside became more and more rugged and treeless, and I became aware of that heavy brooding oppression which […] seems a part of the Sicilian climate itself. One realises that one’s traditional conception of Sicily as a balmy, fertile and friendly country has been at fault […] it is a hard land […] a dour, unwelcoming land, whose occasional uproarious gaieties are counterbalanced by a profound pessimism and a spirit of splenetic vengeful gloom. (Brooke 1955, 87-88)

15This negative version of Sicily could hardly be further removed from Theocritus’s and Brooke seems, in his own way, to vindicate Simon Schama’s assertion that ‘[t]here have always been two kinds of arcadia: shaggy and smooth; dark and light; a place of bucolic leisure and a place of primitive panic’ (Schama 517). The choice, as destination of Brooke’s excursion, of Enna where, according to the myth, Persephone was abducted into Hades is, in this respect, revealing of the return of the dark arcadia.

16In The Dog at Clambercrown, the same dysphoric spirit contaminates the evocation of East Kent, that afternoon summer-world of childhood happiness. This is conveyed in the predominantly monochromatic palette, often reduced to shades of grey hardly relieved by a few green patches, when the evocation of place is not simply colourless. The dysphoric character attributed to the landscape by the older Brooke is manifested most obviously in the accumulation of negative terms and expressions, suggesting the lurking dangers mentioned earlier, as well as decay, corruption, hostility and claustrophobia, and conflating the physical characteristics of the environment with the impressions they produce on the protagonist, as in the following passage about a secluded place within walking distance of the family cottage:

The path […] would emerge suddenly into a field—but a field surrounded by woodland and sloping down to a valley beyond which rose further and more extensive woods. […] despite the illusion of openness one had the sense of being more enclosed, more inescapably confined than in the midst of the woods themselves. (Brooke 1955, 115)

  • 8 The term ‘picturesque’ when used by Brooke, for instance in the passage quoted earlier (Brooke 1948 (...)

17The modal variations reflecting the protagonist’s altered perception of the Kentish and Italian landscapes, together with Brooke’s recourse to pathetic fallacy, turn them simultaneously into a source and an index either of happiness, in the case of The Military Orchid, or of disillusionment in The Dog at Clambercrown, exemplifying Jean-Marc Besse’s view: ‘l’espace de vie de l’individu est […] un espace qualitatif et topologique, orienté et défini par des valeurs et des significations’ (Besse 196). The variations chart a personal and literary evolution in relation to those landscapes, implying a loss of vitality—except in the case of botanising—combined with a greater clarity of perception and a descriptive austerity which eschews both the pleasures of the picturesque8 and the splendid terrors of the sublime.

Conclusion: Cultivating the Unpicturesque

18One could, of course, attribute the generally sober, though repetitive, descriptive economy of the texts to a flaw in the author’s competence. This, however, is belied in the rare extensive vivid descriptions, such as that of Kentish thunderstorms in The Dog at Clambercrown:

In those torrid afternoons of the dog-days, we would become insensibly aware of a gradual thickening in the atmosphere, an unnatural twilight like that of an eclipse; a sudden gust of wind would stir the garden, flapping the cloth upon tea-table and rustling the leaves of the plum-trees which, in the livid, crepuscular light, took on the ashen pallor of birch or white-beam; and, glancing at the sky, we would see, away to the south-west, the deep-purple, clotted tumour of the storm-cloud, proliferating, already, in long streamers and festoons of darkness across the upper reaches of the sky towards the zenith. Soon the first mutter of thunder would reach our ears and then, in the deepening twilight, there would be, as it were, a sudden ‘click’ of brightness, as though an electric light had been switched on and off, abruptly, in the day-time. (Brooke 1955, 126)

19This passage, the nearest we get to the sublime, is exceptional in many ways: it constitutes one of the few descriptive set-pieces, although, far from static and merely visual, it emphasises polysensory perception and movement; its diction and the wealth of its vocabulary contrast with the generally limited and repetitive linguistic range of passages evoking landscape in the same narrative; the use of the plural subject of perception departs from the prevailing self-centredness of the text. Brooke’s cultivation of the unpicturesque in his later work must, therefore, be understood as a deliberate artistic decision rather than the effect of stylistic limitation. This choice serves the author’s purpose of demythologising the Sicilian landscape and expressing the loss of ‘the transfiguring magic which, in memory, had invested it with so mythical and so timeless a loveliness’ (Brooke 1955, 156). As for Clambercrown, this epitome of the Forbidden Kingdoms of the child’s imagination, its actual discovery brutally empties it of its magic and its erotic associations: ‘A curious idea began to take shape in my mind, that this was what the world was really like: I was seeing it—the ‘real’ world—for the first time, stripped of all those subjective adventitious qualities with which I had previously invested it’ (Brooke 1955, 193). While Brooke’s approach to landscape in his post-war narratives registers this perceptive process, this growing out of childhood myth, it also reflects the stylistic decision to discard the purple prose characteristic of his youthful writings and, in his own words, their ‘verbose and juicy descriptions of rural scenery’ (Brooke 1955, 173). Thus, the autobiographical post-war narratives embody Brooke’s development as a writer, wary of his own stylistic facility and sentimentality in the evocation of a loved rural landscape and its inner resonance.

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Besse, Jean-Marc, Le goût du monde : exercices de paysage, Arles: Actes Sud/ENSP, 2009.

Brooke, Jocelyn, The Dog at Clambercrown (1955), London: Faber & Faber, 2010.

Brooke, Jocelyn, The Military Orchid (1948), The Military Orchid and Other Novels, London: Penguin, 2002.

Brooke, Jocelyn, A Mine of Serpents (1949), The Military Orchid and Other Novels, London: Penguin, 2002.

Buell, Lawrence, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

‘40 Special Places – Celebrating 40 years as an AONB’, last accessed at on January 9, 2018.

Gracq, Julien, En lisant, en écrivant, Paris: Corti, 2007.

Gracq, Julien, Lettrines 2, Chemins et rues, Œuvres complètes vol.2, Paris: Gallimard, 1995.

Jullien, François, Vivre de paysage ou l’impensé de la raison, Paris: Gallimard, 2014.

Macfarlane, Robert, ‘The Eeriness of the English Countryside’, The Guardian 10 April 2015, last accessed at on January 9, 2018.

Omhovère, Claire, ‘Out of the Garrison and Beyond: The Rewriting of the Landscape Tradition in Contemporary Canadian Fiction’, Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries, ed. Pascale Guibert, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2011, 85-103.

Price, Uvedale, An Essay on the Picturesque (1794), The Genius of the Place: The English Landscape Garden 1620-1820, eds. John Dixon Hunt and Peter Willis, Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1988.

Rawlinson, Mark, ‘Wild Soldiers: Jocelyn Brooke and England’s Militarised Landscape’, The Fiction of the 1940s: Stories of Survival, eds. Rod Mengham and N.H. Reeve, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001.

Regard, Frédéric, ‘Topologies of the Self: Space and Life-Writing’, Mapping the Self: Space, Identity, Discourse in British Auto/Biography, ed. Frédéric Regard, Saint-Étienne: Publications de l’Université de Saint-Étienne, 2003.

Schama, Simon, Landscape and Memory (1995), London: Fontana, 1996.

William, Raymond, The Country and the City (1973), London: Vintage, 2016.

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1 Since Mark Rawlinson has thoroughly and convincingly analysed the subversive effect of Brooke’s literary treatment of the English countryside as ‘a truly militarised space’ (106) and the ways in which ‘Brooke’s vision of rural England modifies the relationship between the pastoral and war’ (115), the present essay has deliberately left out this aspect of landscape in Brooke’s works.

2 This image is borrowed from Julien Gracq who used it in a 1954 radio broadcast, ‘Les yeux bien ouverts’ and later in a 1960 lecture ‘Pourquoi la littérature respire mal’, in which he deplored the exclusion from French novels of the period of the union between man and the world he lives in.

3 See for instance Omhovère 87, or Buell 142.

4 Kent itself is often labelled ‘the Garden of England’, a name that does more than merely refer to the fertility and agricultural production of that county but also carries with it Edenic overtones.

5 Given the scene of sexual awakening which follows, it would be easy to read this passage as a psychoanalytical metaphor. I feel, however, that such a reading would weaken the literal meaning and deflect attention from the physical experience of landscape. Yet, there may be found here echoes of the Sleeping Beauty tale, with the adolescent Brooke playing Prince Charming to his dormant sexuality.

6 I am grateful to Claire Omhovère for having drawn my attention to Robert Macfarlane and to this article in particular.

7 Among Jocelyn Brooke’s works, often generically ambiguous, two are undeniably novels: The Scapegoat (1948) and The Image of a Drawn Sword (1950). They are both set in East Kent and accentuate, in very disturbing ways, both the eeriness of the countryside and the military presence in its midst.

8 The term ‘picturesque’ when used by Brooke, for instance in the passage quoted earlier (Brooke 1948, 83), refers to a landscape ‘possessing the elements or qualities of a picture’ and/or ‘fit to be the subject of a picture’ (New Shorter OED). Even if used in the more specialised sense elaborated by Uvedale Price in the late eighteenth century, it is striking that Brooke does not turn the ruggedness of Sicily or the intricacy of the Kentish woodlands into picturesque effects. On the contrary, he avoids all impression of the kind of variety which Price deemed necessary to ‘excite […] and nourish […]’ the viewer’s curiosity (Price 354).

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Catherine Hoffmann, « Jocelyn Brooke’s Country: ‘Topologies of the Self’ »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 55 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2018, consulté le 19 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Catherine Hoffmann

Catherine Hoffmann, formerly Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Le Havre, has published essays in France, Britain and the U.S.A. on twentieth-century and contemporary British and Irish literature, especially on authors such as Anthony Powell, William Gerhardie, or Dermot Healy, whose work is held in relative critical neglect. She has co-edited Representing Wars 1860 to the Present: Fields of Action, Fields of Vision, published by Brill-Rodopi (March 2018). Her research interests include narratology, intermediality, geo- and eco-poetics. She is a participant in the joint research project ‘Echoes of the Pastoral’ (Orléans-Poitiers).

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