The Idea of North
Distributed for Reaktion Books
Tracing a northbound route from rural England—whose mild climate keeps it from being truly northern—to the wind-shorn highlands of Scotland, then through Scandinavia and into the desolate, icebound Arctic Circle, Davidson takes the reader on a journey from the heart of society to its most far-flung outposts. But we never fully leave civilization behind; rather, it is our companion on his alluring ramble through the north in art and story. Davidson presents a north that is haunted by Moomintrolls and the ghosts of long-lost Arctic explorers but at the same time, somehow, home to the fragile beauty of a Baltic midsummer evening. He sets the Icelandic Sagas, Nabokov's snowy fictional kingdom of Zembla, and Hans Christian Andersen's cryptic, forbidding Snow Queen alongside the works of such artists as Eric Ravilious, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Andy Goldsworthy, demonstrating how each illuminates a different facet of humanity's relationship to the earth's most dangerous and austere terrain.
Through the lens of Davidson's easy erudition and astonishing range of reference, we come to see that the north is more a goal than a place, receding always before us, just over the horizon, past the last town, off the edge of the map. True north may be unreachable, but The Idea of North brings intrepid readers closer than ever before.
"The charm of the book is its exhaustiveness, zooming into a variety of touchstones to show how they've influenced global culture in sly, often surprising ways. . . . The Idea of North is an exhausting book, but in the best sort of way. Davidson tackles so many different ideas about north-ness, both sympathetic and contradictory, that the writing accrues meaning and value as it goes along. . . . Davidson's north is an enormous challenging land: humbling, shifting, austere, empty, fragile, desolate, desolating, marginal, authentic--a place, as Davidson perfectly puts it, forever suffused with 'absolute, difficult beauty.'"
"Davidson is as interesting writing about snow sculptures and 17th-century paintings of the Arctic as he is about Auden, and his reading of the imaginary land of Zembla in Nabokov's Pale Fire as an enternal, symbolic north is highly evocative...a lovely book"
"The nearer he gets to the North of England and Scotland the more deeply felt his writing becomes. . . . Marvellously sensitive."
—Ideas of North from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century
—Treasures and Marvels of the North
II. Imaginations of North
—Ice and Glass
—The North in the 1930s: Auden and Ravilious
—Imagined Northern Territories
—Japan and China
Epilogue: Keeping the Twilight