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Frances Gibb on George Crabbe

9th February 2023

Our speaker, Frances Gibb, was a journalist with The Times. Born in Suffolk, she has long had a fascination with the poet George Crabbe (1754-1832). Frances has retired, taking the opportunity to study Crabbe’s life and work, to produce the book A Time and a Place: George Crabbe, Aldeburgh and Suffolk.

She spoke about how Benjamin Britten put Crabbe on the map in 1943 with his dramatisation of one of the poems in his opera Peter Grimes, the savage tale of an outcast fisherman shunned by the townsfolk of ‘The Borough’ (aka Aldeburgh). It is typical of Crabbe’s poetical approach, where a psychological state of mind is mirrored through descriptions of landscape and nature.

Crabbe had a love-hate relationship with Aldeburgh, the town where he was born in reduced circumstances at the picturesquely named Slaughden Quay. Eighteenth- century Aldeburgh was a very different place to the rather genteel town of today; with considerable poverty and squalor. After an initial local career as an apothecary-surgeon Crabbe moved away, eventually becoming a clergyman and marrying. He spent substantial parts of his life away from Aldeburgh, but remained drawn to it and his background informs many of his works. He was known in his day as ‘the poet of the poor’ and received support from worthies such as Edmund Burke, William Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott. Frances Gibb explained that Crabbe was stylistically out of synch with his time; producing narrative verse in rhyming couplets, whilst, more often, prose fiction was coming to the fore. His reputation later fell into abeyance, until rehabilitated by the critic F. R. Leavis in the 1930s.

This was a fascinating introduction to a rather neglected local literary luminary, complete with a presentation illustrated with some excellent images.

Janet Bayliss


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