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Innocent thieves

Graham Swift boldly reworks the country house novel by making the maid’s romantic adventures the centre of the action, says Frances Wilson

Mothering Sunday

by Graham Swift (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

Misselthwaite Manor, Howards End, Blandings, Brideshead, Bly—no homes are more revisited than those we find in books. From Ben Jonson’s poem “To Penshurst” (1616), his celebration of the Sidney family’s ancestral pile, to Alan Hollinghurst’s “Two Acres,” the seat of the Sawles in his novel The Stranger’s Child (2011), the country house forms the bricks and mortar of the English canon.

A house in the country is not the same thing as a country house. A house is composed of a roof, windows and walls but the country house in literature is an idea, a state of consciousness, a system of values, an arrangement of space. In his story of the same name, Henry James called it “The Great Good Place” but, he said, “we may really call it, for that matter, anything in the world we like—the thing for instance we love it most for being.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s May issue: Simon Taylor and Bronwen Maddox on why Hinkley Point C is an expensive gamble that might not pay off. Philip Collins examines Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Lionel Shriver reveals why she stopped fighting being female. Alan Rusbridger responds to last month’s piece on the Guardian by Stephen Glover. Also in this issue: Nicholas Soames says there’s no such thing as "Project Fear” and Howard Davies reviews Melvyn King’s new book and suggests that we are vulnerable to another financial crisis. Plus Ruth Dudley Edwards examines the fading myths of the Easter Rising and Owen Hatherley suggests it’s time to look for a Plan B to solve London’s housing issues.
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