A detective story, a historical adventure, a meditation on love and loss
Paperback, November 2019.
410 pages, 220+ illustrations, maps and colour photographs.
In July 1841, the poet John Clare escaped a lunatic asylum in Epping Forest and embarked on a four-day journey to find his adored wife and muse, Mary Joyce. Without money or provisions, and lamed by a broken shoe, he endured extreme hardship to be reunited with her. But Mary had died three years earlier, a spinster. Clare was toiling home to a truth he would struggle to acknowledge – that his cherished memory of their marriage was a delusion.
His brief account of the 85-mile trek to find her, known as ‘The Journey out of Essex’, has fascinated readers. By turns lucid and incoherent, prosaic and poetic, it invites interpretation and reinterpretation, argument and conjecture. Using it as a guide, the authors shed new light on Clare’s journey and the world in which it took place, seeking out the remains of that world in the twenty-first century.
A fascinating book, very thoroughly researched and illustrated with colour photographs of an unusually high quality, Love’s Cold Returning works on two levels: Bridget Somekh’s poems shadow Clare in his lonely obsession while she and Ellis Hall retrace his ‘Journey out of Essex’ in such detail that it becomes a social history of England. It moves from canals and aqueducts to gridlocked roads, from common land and open heath to land banks and intensive agriculture. Along the way we encounter many forgotten trades, from the lightermen on the canals to the women in the crape factory, and Clare comes to seem more and more representative, not so much a hopeless romantic as ‘the muse of the broken land’.
Twinned and interweaving voices lead us back, once more, to venture in the traces of one of the great English literary journeys. Here, mapped and illustrated, is a scrupulous and perhaps definitive reckoning with the specifics of the written road. A lively and sympathetic account that tests and refines all previous myths and theories. A labour of love.
Love’s Cold Returning