Photo by lant_70 used under a Creative Commons license.
Daniel Hahn and Nicholas Robins, eds., The Oxford Guide to Literary Britain & Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2008).
In his review in the Financial Times, Mark Ford writes:
This wonderfully informative volume, published in 1977 and now fully updated to include references to recent books such as Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane , has entries on every town or district that has ever enjoyed even 15 minutes of literary fame, or played any part in the biography of a celebrated writer. Its photographs are fascinating too: Mrs Conrad serving Joseph tea in his study at Orlestone, Brendan Behan in his cups at the Fitzroy Tavern, PG Wodehouse proudly behind the wheel of his motor outside Hunstanton Hall in Norfolk.
The book is arranged in alphabetical order within geographical sections. It opens with Adlestrop. Edward Thomas’s 16-line poem named after the tiny town where his train stopped one late June afternoon captures much about our fascination with the connections between names and places. Steam hisses, there is not a soul on the bare platform: “What I saw / Was Adlestrop – only the name.” But as he recalls the moment, he remembers also that during the minute his train stopped there
A blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
The mixture of the banal and the mythical evoked in Adlestrop is in many ways akin to that experienced by today’s literary pilgrim: here we are in Max Gate, in Haworth Parsonage, in Dove Cottage, in search of some ineffable spirit of the writer, of the nation itself. And yet we’re surrounded by other tourists, listening to a guide who tells us Dorothy Wordsworth had wooden teeth, and half- wondering what postcards to buy.
You can read all of Ford’s review here. (One minor mistake in it: The co-author’s name is Nicholas Robins, not Rolin.) This is the third edition; the first edition was published three decades ago.
Here is Hahn’s bio. Here is the publisher’s description. Toby Barnard (Times (UK>) writes that conjurors of place through words are the business of this Guide. Patricia Craig (The Irish Times) is generally positive but notes that parts of Ireland come in for cursory treatment. Sam Jordison (The Guardian) says it’s a treasure trove of anecdotes, quotes obscure and reassuringly familiar, odd poetry and literary pub trivia. Boyd Tonkin (The Independent) says it delivers an addictive tour of the topography of the word. According to Roy Johnson, it’s packed with little gems.