Green Unpleasant Land by Corinne Fowler

Corinne Fowler is doing some important work, with great sensitivity and care. She references Blake’s poem, ‘Jerusalem’ in her title, which I believe some people think it is about something entirely different to the poet’s intention. William Blake was very much opposed to slavery, as can be seen in his poem ‘A Little Black Boy’ from Songs of Experience. The innocent child believes that he is under a cloud because he is black, and only when he dies will he be loved by the white man, and the God he thinks is white. This heart-breaking poem (I have seen A level students cry over it), is exactly why Fowler is doing this vital work. The child believes the white privilege he can see around him means he is not loved by God, when of course he is! Fowler opens our eyes to the colonialism which devastated all the places we invaded to strip their assets and murder their people. In order to deal with our past, we need to learn from it. Slavery was an appalling thing. People were ripped away from their families, put with people who did not speak the same language, transported like cattle, in ship’s holds, beaten, sold individually, forced to work until they died on the job. They were property. The sad fact is, many of the landowners made their money through slavery. Some of these great houses and gardens are now held by the National Trust, of which I am a member. A good while ago, the NT started making visitors aware of the working class people, the servants and gardeners who worked for the great houses, and that was very welcome to people like me, since I am working class origin, and my own mother was a maid in a great house. The logical next step is to investigate the colonial past, so that we can understand and pay homage to the lives of the people who helped, albeit against their will, to build these places and create their parks and gardens. Fowler is doing brilliant work to bring this secret history to life, and it is not being done to ‘denigrate’ as some people think. It’s is historical truth. We should never have tried to ‘rule the waves’ or create an Empire. Every empire is created through violence.
Children are involved in this project, because they are the next generation. That is where education starts. I welcome this book. It is fresh and readable, and is enhancing my understanding of the past, which brings the present to life. The creativity of the responses helps the reader engage with the impact of the research in a more emotive and reader-friendly way. Children are well able to handle such topics, provided they are given the information in the most appropriate manner. Once the National Trust houses reopen, I look forward to seeing the exhibitions, and learning more about the places referred to in this book.


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