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The Aldeburgh Literary Festival


Aldeburgh - photographed by Tricia Gilbey


On Friday, Yves and I took ourselves to Aldeburgh for the Literary Festival, which was begun in 2002 by John and Mary James of the Aldeburgh Bookshop. Each year the festival attracts large audiences and features talks on a wide range of subjects, from the local to the global, and includes politics, history and the arts. The 23rd Aldeburgh Literary Festival took place from Thursday 29th February to Sunday 3rd March 2024. We arrived to the packed Jubilee Hall to hear Dr Susan Owens talk about her book Imagining England's Past: Inspiration, Enchantment, Obsession. Below, Yves shares her thoughts, which capture the event:


It is cold. It is wet. An icy wind whips your face; it takes your breath away. This is Aldeburgh on an early March morning. We are here to attend event three of the Aldeburgh Literary Festival. 


Fortifying ourselves with coffee at a nearby cafe – only just ahead of the crowds spilling out of Jubilee Hall from event two – we are fortunate to find a seat. We face a near full auditorium but are very happy to take the two vacant seats very near the stage. Unsure of what to expect, neither of us being familiar with the work of Dr Owens, we are primed with anticipation. 


From the moment she takes to the podium and starts to speak we are captivated. Susan Owens knows how to enthral an audience. Introducing her book, Imagining England’s Past: Inspiration, Enchantment, Obsession (published by Thames and Hudson on 13th April 2023), she has wisely elected to concentrate on five aspects of her book to explore with us. 


This is a book about invented histories from the eighth century to the present day. It explores the imaginations of successive generations and ponders why and how our past continues to inform and shape our present. This is not the history of facts and figures; this is the history of dreams, imagination – enchantment. It is not a book of nostalgia but rather an exploration of what endures. 


Susan Owens is herself an enchanting storyteller. She brings vividly to life Brutus of Troy, the origins of Stonehenge, Thomas Chatterton, William Morris, to name but a few. Her passion for the subject is infectious and we remain totally engaged for the allotted time, which feels all too short. 


There follows a short question and answer session. Dr Owens answers well and thoughtfully, expressing regret that, as yet, she has found no interesting stories connected with Aldeburgh. The closest she can get is ‘The Wild Man of Orford’!


Stepping out of Jubilee Hall we were greeted with bright winter sunshine; grey Aldeburgh had transformed itself, matching our mood of exhilaration, having attended such an enjoyable event.


Yves Green and Dymphna Crowe

   


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