The Rising Down

Alexandra Harris


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Faber & Faber
21 March 2024
ISBN: 9780571350520
416 pages

From the publisher

A luminous feat of time travel chronicling lives in a Sussex landscape from the prize-winning author of Romantic Moderns and Weatherland.

An ancient church sheltering a medieval anchorite who chose to be buried alive.
The country estate parading a menagerie of exotic animals.
The cottage where William Blake received the poetic spirit of Milton.
A safe house harbouring secret agents from wartime French resistance networks.

When the celebrated critic and cultural historian Alexandra Harris returned to her childhood home of West Sussex, she realised that she barely knew the place at all. As she probed beneath the surface, excavating layers of archival records and everyday objects, bringing a lifetime’s reading to bear on the place where she started, hundreds of unexpected stories and hypnotic voices emerged from the area’s past. Who has stood here, she asks; what did they see?

From the painter John Constable and the modernist writer Ford Madox Ford to the lost local women who left little trace, these electrifying encounters – spanning the Downs, Poland, Australia, Canada – inspired her to imagine lives that seemed distant, yet were deeply connected through their shared landscape.

By focusing on one small patch of England, Harris finds ‘a World in a Grain of Sand’ and opens vast new horizons, becoming our intimate companion as we travel on visionary journeys through space and time. The result is a masterpiece of ‘scholarship at its life-enhancing best’ (Independent) which reveals that nowhere is simply one place : and gives us all new bearings.