"The countryside may be beautiful but it should also be useful". Discuss in relation to She Stoops to Conquer, Brideshead Revisited and Blake's Songs.

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“The countryside may be beautiful but it should also be useful.” Consider the ways the countryside is presented in pastoral writing in the light of this comment.

Traditionally, the pastoral genre celebrates the beauty and aesthetics of the countryside which is often depicted as promoting prosperity and joy within its inhabitants. However, considering Brideshead Revisited, She Stoops to Conquer and Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience were all written during times of change and development in which the urban is presented to infringe upon the rural, contradictions to this traditional pastoral genre are highlighted.

In Brideshead Revisited Waugh uses the character of Charles Ryder to present the countryside as a useful means of escape, as Charles is ‘suspended’ above his mundane life and liberated in the beauty of the country ‘under a clump of elms’. Waugh contrasts Charles’ dysfunctional, constricting relationship at home with his father, with the freedom; exemplified through Charles, in rural Brideshead in order to present the pastoral as a constructive, liberating environment. Charles comments that ‘the dinner table was our battlefield’, through this metaphor Waugh highlight’s Charles’ uncomfortable familial situation, since the ‘dinner table’ is symbolic of family unity, however the metaphor of the ‘battlefield’ suggests there is something nefarious about their relationship and presents the two characters as distant, much like two sides of a battle. Furthermore, Waugh uses a collective pronoun ‘our’ to illustrate that both Charles and his father perceive their relationship as corrupt, augmenting the disparity within their family. Structurally, Waugh uses Sebastian’s letter to ‘dearest Charles’ to illustrate Charles’ freedom experienced through the country. Charles says to his father ‘I must go at once’, after receiving Sebastian’s letter. Waugh’s use of the modal verb ‘must’ shows Charles’ feeling of obligation towards his friend but also reflects Charles’ preference of the country over his constricting home environment. Through the setting of pastoral Brideshead, Waugh characterises Charles as uninhibited and care-free, ‘a pair of children’. Referencing Charles and Sebastian as ‘children’, illuminates the freedom and feelings of happiness synonymous with youth that the pastoral bestows onto characters; contrasting his time spent ‘forlorn’ at home. Furthermore, Waugh uses descriptive language to present the liberating environment of the ‘enchanted palace’ of Brideshead, which is a useful means of escapism from the hostility of Charles’ urban home. The vivid depiction of the ‘alpine strawberries’ and ‘warm figs’ ameliorates the presentation of Charles’ adoration of the rural idyll, since he is able to recount minute aspects of his experience despite narrating retrospectively, which illuminates Charles’ happiness at Brideshead and nostalgia to return to ‘the languor of youth’ spent in the pastoral, therefore Waugh presents the aesthetics of the pastoral as useful for escape from constricting environments.  

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Similarly, Waugh presents the country as a useful memento for reminiscence in later years. The character of Sebastian wishes ‘to bury a crock of gold’ in ‘every place (he’s) been happy’ on pastoral, ‘cropped knoll(s)’ in order to access more positive memories when he’s ‘old and miserable’. The attachment to the contentment found in the countryside through the burial of ‘crock(s) of gold’ also suggests that the country allows characters, to an extent, to control time, in the sense that when Sebastian is ‘old(er)’ the happiness endowed onto his character through the pastoral will remain and secure his happiness in ...

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