She associates this integral, harmonious society in which everyone knows everyone else with her youth — but then, people always do. Raymond Williams begins the bravura second chapter of his great book The Country and the City (1973) by noting that a “few years ago” — perhaps not long after Christie published A Murder Is Announced — he had read a book that made a strong claim: “A way of life that has come down to us from the days of Virgil has suddenly ended.” Suddenly! But then Williams remembered another book that had made almost the same claim — in the early 1930s: the ruin had come with, or soon after, the Great War. But (Williams discovered) people writing around the turn of the twentieth century believed that it had all fallen apart a few decades earlier. And so back we go: the “organic community of Old England” is always just out of sight, just on the other side of that hill. Williams walks the familiar line of argument all the way back to the Middle Ages. It seems almost universal for us to associate stability with our childhood, or a period preceding it, as though the world did not change until we ourselves did, perhaps in adolescence. What the great seventeenth-century mystic Thomas Traherne said of his child’s-eye view of the fields surrounding his home — “The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting” — may be a commonplace experience.
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