Letters from Bishopsbourne is a collective biography of three of the most distinguished stylists writing in the English language, who lived and died in the small village of Bishopsbourne just south of Canterbury in Kent: Richard Hooker (1554–1600), the theologian whose major work. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, provided the philosophical underpinning of the Elizabethan Anglican settlement; the celebrated author Joseph Conrad (1857–1924) who wrote his last novels there; and Jocelyn Brooke (1908–1966), the Proustian author of the ‘orchid’ trilogy which shot him to fame in the late 1940s.
The book recounts their life of action before coming to the village in search of rural peace, and the challenges they faced after settling there. All three died in the village relatively young, frustrated by life and literature: Hooker because the last three books of his great work were politically controversial and his friends would not allow him to publish; Conrad because he was completely written out and struggled to produce even sub-standard work; and Brooke, after his short-lived success, because the publishing world had turned against him, refusing to handle his final works. The book provides a completely novel topographical context for each of the writers.
Other celebrated inhabitants appear upon the scene, including the film director, Michael Powell, born nearby, the writer Alec Waugh, a cricket and golf enthusiast, and the eccentric cricketing patron, Sir Horace Mann, who for 25 years of the 18th century turned the village’s great house into the fulcrum of English cricket.
The book should appeal not only to those who are interested in the work of Hooker, Conrad and Brooke, but to those who know and love Bishopsbourne as well for it is also a wonderful account of other people who lived in Bishopsbourne. It brings to life the village at various times in its history and does the same for Canterbury during the time of Conrad.
This is an immensely readable book which should be on the shelves of all who have an interest in Kent and its literary heritage.
Good to Know
He loves the place about which he writes: this is a celebration of the Kentish countryside as much as of its distinguished inhabitants. It reminds us of the continuity of village life over the centuries, and that is something good to know.
... offers much information as well as pictures of life in this village at different points in time. It offers also some amusing glimpses of the different directions that the creative impulse might take. The evident pleasure in connection and association extends to the generous number of illustrations Many readers will respond to Scoble's delight in this place and his search for a creative connection between a writer and his material surroundings- the sense of what he calls 'mysterious possibilities, the excitement of names and locations on maps'