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The Idea of North

By: Peter Davidson

256 pages, 15 illus

Reaktion Books

Paperback | Jan 2005 | #152365 | ISBN: 1861892306
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £16.95 $21/€20 approx

About this book

Cultural history of the idea of North.

From the publisher's announcement:

`[A] delightful work . . . beautifully written' - The Herald (Glasgow)

`[A] gifted prose writer' - Scotland on Sunday

'A truly stunning assessment of the concept of "north" in literature, legend, history and the psyche of "Northern" people . . . Davidson writes with an incredible sense of place'
- Aberdeen Evening Express

'Mesmerising cultural history . . . Davidson's style achieves a lyric expression of phrase. In several passages of personal recollection . . . he achieves a marvel of descriptiveness that is moving as well as expressive' -The Scotsman



As with the compass needle, so people have always been most powerfully attracted northwards; everyone carries within them their own concept of north. The Idea of North is a study, ranging widely in time and place, of some of the ways in which these ideas have found expression.

Peter Davidson explores the topography of north as represented in images and literature,
taking in Netherlandic winter paintings of the Renaissance, German Romantic landscapes, Scandinavian Biedermeyer and twentieth-century topographical painting and printmaking. He examines a bewildering diversity of mythologies and imaginings of north, including The Snow Queen; Scandinavian Sagas; ghost-stories; Moomintrolls, Arctic exploration; the fictitious snowy kingdoms of Zembla and Naboland; Nabokov's nostalgias; Baltic midsummer; rooms in winter light; compasses and star-stones; hoar-frost; ice and glass.

The book also traces a northward journey, describing northern rural England, industrial sites, and the long emptiness of the borders, Scotland and the Highlands. He looks at the region far north of Scotland, then moves to the Northern Netherlands and Scandinavia to explore their identifiable northernness. The last visited place is Iceland, identified by W. H. Auden and Louis McNeice in 1936 as `furthest, most remote, most distant, most northerly'.

An engaging meditation on solitude, absence and stillness, The Idea of North shows north to be a goal rather than a destination, a place of revelation that is always somewhere ultimate
and austere.



Peter Davidson is Professor of English at the University of Aberdeen. His books include Poetry and Revolution (1998) and, with Jane Stevenson, Early Modern Women Poets (2001). He lives on the 57th parallel north, has travelled widely in northern places and has read and translated accounts of north and northernness in many languages.

the north is roamed in fascinating, suggestive fashion ... Davidson is as interesting writing about snow sculptures and 17th-century paintings of the Arctic as he is about Auden, and his reading of the imaginary land of Zembla in Nabokov's Pale Fire as an eternal, symbolic north is highly evocative ... a lovely book The Guardian From the Old Norse sagas to the fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen, from the films of Bergman to the paintings of Eric Ravilious, from Nabakov's Zembla to Simon Armitage's Yorkshire, [Davidson] finds that the north is a breeding ground for ghosts, a place of exile and punishment, the antithesis of the human. Yet its bleak landscapes have inspired poetry of great beauty: ice, crystal, diamond and glass all blur in recurring images ... Davidson never lets his learning cloud his enthusiasm for this wide and protean subject and his writing shares the awe of the poets who preceded him on this journey. The Observer Beside being a discriminating critic, Davidson has an arrestingly personal voice ... The Idea of North is one of those books that have you making a long list of references you want to follow The Independent a delightful work ... beautifully written ... an esoteric but important gem; original treasure from the north The Herald (Glasgow) A gifted prose writer Scotland on Sunday There are indeed a lot of norths to cover, and the charm of the book is it exhaustiveness, zooming into a variety of touchstones to show how they've influenced global culture in sly, often surprising ways ... Davidson's north is an enormous, challenging land: humbling, shifting, austere, empty, fragile, desolate, desolating, marginal, authentic a place, as Davidson perfectly puts it, forever suffused with absolute, difficult beauty. Ruminator Review (USA) An interesting meditation TLS A truly stunning assessment of the concept of "north" in literature, legend, history and the psyche of "Northern" people ... Davidson writes with an incredible sense of place Aberdeen Evening Express Mesmerising cultural history ... Davidson's style achieves a lyric expression of phrase. In several passages of personal recollection ... he achieves a marvel of descriptiveness that is moving as well as expressive The Scotsman


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Biography

Peter Davidson is Professor of English at the University of Aberdeen. His books include Poetry and Revolution (1998) and Early Modern Women Poets (2001, with Jane Stevenson). He lives on the 57th parallel north, has travelled widely in northern places and has read and translated accounts of north and northernness in many languages.

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