Now then, lad, we’ll ‘ave none of that cosmopolitanism ‘ere
On Monday I trotted off (to my own campus) to present as part of ‘The View From Above: Cosmopolitan Culture and Its Critics’.
A literary conference, this was my first opportunity to step out of my fieldwork wellies. Or, not quite – I was exploring the fields and fells of what I’ve taken to calling ‘Yorkshire lit’.
‘Yorkshire lit’ works a particular – and particularly rural – formula of place, people and past. It’s a formula that has gathered a popular audience. And, it’s the terrain of one of my favourite topics: rural representations.
Representations come with reasons, talking to as much as they talk about. So, the question I took up in my paper was: why read rural Yorkshire?
My answer, to put it simply, is that it’s comforting. There’s something reassuring, I think, in reading about a half-remembered, half-imagined rural past in a contemporary British context. And this is why an anthropologist was talking about James Herriot in a conference on cosmopolitan culture: the parochial strikes back (and it comes in a paperback with a hill and a drystone wall on the cover).