As one of the best things to come out of the 20th Century nears its 50th anniversary, it is a chance to look back at Laurie Lee’s incredible work of literature. Lee’s actual story what happened when to him upon setting out from his home and never looking back is itself nearly 90 years old, with the book account following many years later.
At only 19 years of age, Laurie Lee leaves the security of his small childhood home in the Cotswolds and yet still manages to have the ‘confident belief’ that comes with youth. His mum, not daring to plead or question her son’s decision to simultaneously find work and embark on a big adventure. However, she cannot help but give a ‘long, searching look’ as her son closes ‘that part of my life forever’. It’s a poignant moment, brilliantly and sweetly captured in the book’s opening chapter.
The initial excitement of setting out to make his fortune is soon replaced by the stark reality of leaving everything he knows behind him. Lee soon realises the hard truth that he’s on his own, a feeling we are all familiar with upon our exit from the family home. His prose captures the mood elegantly – the morning of his first day out on the road becomes ‘solitary’, the afternoon summer, ‘sulky’ and as he trudges alone ‘oppressed by the velvety emptiness of the world’ he becomes ‘affronted’ by this sudden freedom. Lee perfectly incorporates feelings we are all familiar with through his descriptions of landscape, ones that are still relevant to adults today.
When Lee writes that he is closing a chapter of his life forever, he means it, leaving his childhood behind with no other means of contacting his family except from the, now less commonly used, form of the letter. He walks along ‘hot empty roads’ with hardly any cars in sight around him… he is completely alone.
Reading Lee’s memoir of moving out and eventually finding his way to Spain is like delving into a portrait of the past. The world he describes is barely 80 years old and yet one that is utterly unrecognisable. With the world changing and evolving throughout the last decades, the world he beautifully portrays is one unfamiliar to the reader, especially to those born on the later end of the timeline. His novel can be seen as a nostalgic snapshot of Britain’s past as well as a memoir of Lee’s own life, for those interested in his work as a poet.
Lee himself draws upon the idea of time in his writing, admitting that to have left his home during that era was fortunate, as he was exploring a landscape not yet ‘bulldozed for speed’.
Nowadays, with the unprecedented growth of the 20th Century rapidly changing technology and industry, we are all now living in an ‘Age of Noise’, as aptly described by Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge. Phones constantly pinging, emails dropping, social media outlets vying for every scrap of attention; our world has become one of almost incessant distraction. In our age, it is, without a doubt, easy to feel disconnected from Lee’s world.
Not only is it difficult to imagine a 19 year old traveler going to Spain simply because he knows the Spanish for ‘can I have a glass of water please?’, it also reflects our own state of living and the dangers and rules that come alongside this. Although our world has gifted us with technology and other advances, we are no longer able to walk around or travel with the same spontaneity as Lee describes.
Perfectly capturing the beautiful landscape with subtle elegance, Lee creates an image of Spain that gives it an irresistible allure. An ideal read for anyone interested in exploring a historical snapshot of society through landscape, or for anyone who finds travel enjoyable and exciting, Lee’s novel remains a relevant and celebrated piece of literature 50 years on.
Image Credit: Pixabay, Larisa-K