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 (taking up 100 or so unnumbered pages), the whole of A Shropshire Lad ... To demonstrate Housman’s enduring impact, Parker ranges far and wide: Morrissey and YouTube are here as well as EM Forster and the Ramblers’ Association ... as Parker shows in his fine study, the borders of Housmanland are uncontrolled and stretch as far as Russia and China.
Parker offers a sensitive, well-researched study of the poet and his time. He takes as his subject Housman’s readers as much as the writer—an extraordinarily broad mission, given the popularity of A Shropshire Lad. Mr. Parker is an unabashed enthusiast who makes a spirited case for the artistic merit of the work, all the more persuasive because he frankly concedes its limits ... Mr. Parker’s book is not a biography, though his comprehensive sketch of Housman’s life and publishing career, running to 135 pages, is a model of brief biography, detailed enough for most readers ... as Mr. Parker demonstrates in his skillful, judicious analysis of the work, Housman’s virtues as a poet are all too easily overlooked. There is, after all, a lot to be said for a perfect expression ... However, the pages devoted to Housman’s cultural influence sink under the weight of their comprehensive intention ... Mr. Parker’s labor of love is enriched by a remarkable breadth of research and is guided by keen intelligence, and only a foolhardy writer would have the hubris to undertake another book of its kind.
Parker is particularly interesting on the intersection of Housman’s mournful portrayal of Shropshire as 'the land of lost content' with the elegiac strain in myths of Englishness ... Housman Country presents a comprehensive survey of the effect of such poems on successive generations. It must be acknowledged that certain chapters—such as the one on musical adaptations of Housman, or the final one on his presence in contemporary culture—read rather too much like a catalog, or a series of encyclopedia entries, and the book overall would have benefited from a stronger narrative shape. But many of the responses, tributes, and recollections unearthed by Parker are both striking and moving.
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. He casts his net wide to encompass, among much else, the feelings of an increasingly urbanised population about the English countryside; the development of the Youth Hostels Association and the Ramblers’ Association; the publication of the Shell County Guides; the attitudes of other writers, including George Orwell, Rupert Brooke, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Ted Hughes towards Housman; and the part Housman played in the English musical renaissance.
...partly a brisk, sensible biography of Housman and partly a study in poetic reputation. It traces the way Housman’s singular vision seized hold of the English imagination ... Parker doesn’t entirely succeed in explaining the great mystery of Housman—why it’s these rueful, corpse-strewn poems and not, say, the heartier ones of John Masefield which continue to resonate within the English soul. But he leaves no doubt about Housman’s lingering attraction. You could conclude from his book that when many people pulled the lever to vote for Brexit they were imagining a return to Shropshire.
...in his fine exploration, Housman Country: Into the Heart of England, Peter Parker attributes the poet’s popularity to something broader: The 'country' of his title is not the Midlands county of Shropshire but England itself ... Housman once described his poems as a kind of 'morbid secretion,' so what is their special appeal to his countrymen? Parker offers an answer: 'At heart, Housman was a romantic — though a romantic of a peculiarly doom-laden and tight-lipped English variety: Because one is lapidary, it does not mean one has a heart of stone.' Indeed. A century after A Shropshire Lad, with the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the English finally learned to cry.
Writing with elegance and an informed knowledge of the subject both deep and broad, Parker contributes a cultural history that itself is as distinguished a work of literature as its focus, a book often considered the first great classic of modern literature in English.
The author first offers a lengthy, affectionate biography of Housman ... After a fascinating disquisition on the popular association of walking and poetry, Parker shows how extensively the poems influenced English music and how the book became an important companion for English soldiers ... Delightful, enchanting, and learned.
...[an] insightful but disappointingly dreary critical biography ... Regrettably, Parker’s long-winded study, delivered with a punishing level of detail, is not likely to drive newcomers to Housman to read A Shropshire Lad, despite the collection being reproduced in full in an appendix.