by Alex Brent
Vron ruminates on local histories and anecdotes, and how they link the land in which she grew up to greater forces that have shaped the politics of the country and its peoples
For England, the land can be both a powerful symbol of national identity, and a reminder of the violence wrought through dispossession, exploitation, and exclusion. A new work seeks to unpick this fraught history, reflecting on the land and our relationship to it: Return of the Native by Vron Ware.
We see the author make a series of journeys between the place of her upbringing in rural Hampshire, to the metropolitan hub of London. In doing so, Vron ruminates on local histories and anecdotes, and how they link the land in which she grew up to greater forces that have shaped the politics of the country and its peoples, from the ecological and economic to the colonial, political, and personal.
Vron started working on the book in the late ‘90s, but difficulty finding a publisher, and changing priorities due to the War on Terror, prevented its release. Returning to the book twenty years later, in a context beset by the crises of economic recession, Brexit, and now a pandemic, enabled Vron to review the questions of land and identity that had animated her original writings.
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‘I knew I did not want to write the history of a village,’ Vron says. ‘That, to me, wasn't interesting anymore. I decided to start somewhere else - at a crossroads that pointed to eight different places. It allowed me to look around in all directions, as well as down and up.’
The directions Vron looks to are indeed numerous, exploring a past and present of the Hampshire countryside that threads nineteenth-century labour struggles, the development of industrial food production, farming and fertiliser, land and property ownership, the evolving roles and responsibilities of women living and working in the countryside, protest movements, and even the emergence of popular and counter cultural music and art.
A recent fire in an Ocado warehouse is linked to a greater examination of mechanised food production, which in turn is linked to the story of figures like Anthony Fisher, whose illegal importation of chicken embryos would help establish factory farming in the United Kingdom. Fisher would go on to found the thinktank Institute of Economic Affairs, which would influence future prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s embracing of neoliberal politics.
Vron hopes that the book fits into ‘a contemporary genre of writing about the land, in an active, political, and engaged way.’ This way of writing about the land may not be for everyone. Despite its title, the book does not prescribe lessons nor advocate solutions, both of which are left to the reader to determine.
The result then, is an exploration of a land broad in scope, but vivid in detail. A work as complex and layered as its subject matter, Return of a Native calls on its readers to re-think land and, in their own ways, ‘return’ with greater understanding and appreciation for how we are all bound up in its life, past, present, and future. This commitment is an admirable reminder that perhaps, when looking for answers, we would do well to look beneath our feet.
To find out more about this and other titles, check out Repeater Books' website here