Sir Roy Strong is irrepressible. His latest venture is to ask: ‘What is Englishness?’ England is a nation in search of an identity. For centuries, Strong contends, Englishness was synonymous with what it meant to be British. He cites monarchy, democracy, imperialism, propriety and industry as defining totems of the national psyche.
Those parochial facets of British history are moribund and their legacy largely irrelevant. What remains is English culture in the sense of its artistic heritage. England’s rural and artistic traditions, with their aestheticism, simplicity and healthy distrust of authoritarian structures and creeds, have been resurrected out of the listlessness of post-imperial decline and economic uncertainty. The xenophobia, chauvinism and philistinism of shopkeepers no longer persist.
Strong analyses his favourite subjects through this analytical construct. Visions of England gives Shakespeare, Turner and Constable a patriotic gloss by a man who thinks, as Stanley Baldwin did, that England is the country and the country is England.