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Housman Country

The Financial Times, the Spectator, the Evening Standard and the Sunday Times Best Books of 2016


A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and Nominated for the 2017 PEN/Bograd Weld Prize for Biography


Why is it that for many people 'England' has always meant an unspoilt rural landscape rather than the ever-changing urban world in which most English people live? What was the 'England' for which people fought in two world wars? What is about the English that makes them constantly hanker for a vanished past, so that nostalgia has become a national characteristic?


In March 1896 a small volume of sixty-three poems was published by the small British firm of Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd in an edition of 500 copies, priced at half-a-crown each. The author was not a professional poet, but a thirty-seven-year-old professor of Latin at University College, London called Alfred Edward Housman who had been obliged to pay £30 towards the cost of publication. Although slow to sell at first, A Shropshire Lad went on to become one of the most popular books of poetry ever published and has never been out of print. As well as being a publishing phenomenon, the book has had an influence on English culture and notions of what 'England' means, both in England itself and abroad, out of all proportion to its apparent scope. 


Housman Country not only looks at how A Shropshire Lad came to be written and became a publishing and cultural phenomenon but uses the poems as a prism through which to examine England and Englishness.

The book includes the complete text of A Shropshire Lad.



UK Print – Little, Brown, 2016 

US Print - Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017

Praise for

Housman Country

"Parker's intricate and beautiful exploration of Housman's influence on everything from English music to the way our identity is shaped by our relationship with the weather, the land, the distant horizon, speaks with peculiar poignancy to our times" — Jane Shilling, Mail on Sunday

"Housman Country offers three books for the price of one: a lucid biographical portrait; a study of Housman's lasting influence on our culture; and, as an appendix, the whole of A Shropshire Lad - a volume that has never been out of print in 120 years. The poet who emerges is complex: cheery, grumpy, generous, begrudging, gentle and robust . . . as Parker shows in his fine study, the borders of Housmanland are uncontrolled and stretch as far as Russia and China" — Blake Morrison, Guardian

"In offering this rich blend of literary criticism and cultural history, Parker proves to be the perfect guide to what he calls 'Housman Country', measured and discreetly witty . . . his fine book reminds us why so many readers still have passages of A Shropshire Lad by heart" — Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Spectator

"Peter Parker's new book is much more than a biography, and having lured us into Housman's life with a magpie's eye for detail, he then sets out on a tour of Housman Country - not a geographical area but a landscape of the mind in which "literature, landscape, music and emotion" all contribute" — The Economist

"This is really three books for the price of one: a partial biography of Housman; the biography of his most famous book; and the whole of A Shropshire Lad itself, reprinted for ease of reference while you enjoy Parker's patient, clear-sighted analysis of the poems." — Sunday Times, Books of the Year

"Peter Parker's beautiful Housman Country tells you everything you want to know about the life and influence of England's most satirised but inimitable poets." — Evening Standard

"Magnificent... a triumph of cultural analysis mixed with literary biography." —

Catholic Herald, Books of the Year

"Dazzlingly comprehensive... brilliantly entertaining." — Oldie

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