Sunday, June 12, 2016

Review: The King's England (Dorset) by Arthur Mee

The King's England: Dorset is a quaint book that offers an exhaustive survey of the towns and accompanying landmarks of Dorset as they stood in 1939. The author, Arthur Mee, wrote a series of these books, covering all the counties in England, and this one, published just over a decade after Hardy's death, is written through a filter of identifying landmarks that might appeal specifically to admirers of TH's work.

As one might expect, there is a LOT in here about the churches that serve as the anchor for most, if not all, of these towns but geography and history are given a fair amount of consideration as well. Mee focuses a lot of his description on delineating the layers of pre-Roman, Roman, Saxon, Norman and British influence on the architecture that really drives home how long these lands have been occupied.

There is a somber tone that underpins this book as one is regularly reminded of the trouble brewing in Europe as it is being written and published and it's hard not to read a "We better document this while it exists" subtext into it. This proved to be true, though not as apocalyptically as Mee might have feared, as later editions of the London volume had to be extensively re-written and broken into multiple volumes to accommodate the rebuilding after the bombing of the Second World War.

Judging solely from the Dorset edition, I enjoyed reading Mee's writing. He's not afraid to take an opinion or pass a judgment on an historical event or person and it feels like something written by a person and not a tourism board. His writing is, on occasion, lyrical and always thorough. The survey as a whole is undermined by the alphabetical listing of the towns, which makes the continuity of geographic proximity tougher to parse than it should be.

There are plenty of nods to Hardy and the many roles Dorset plays in his work to satisfy those who might consider this volume as a reference to their own interest in the West Country's favorite son.


  1. Thanks for expanding my horizons with this survey of Dorset. The depth of the history of this area of Britain is fascinating.

  2. Happy to be of service, James! It was a very interesting read and, as I said, my enjoyment was only diminished by the alphabetical listing of the towns, which had us jumping around from North to South Dorset without warning! Mee's writing is quite engaging though.