In this book I set out to tell different stories about the English countryside.
Using my lifelong connection to a small village in northwest Hampshire I reveal how the term rural constitutes a vital source of knowledge that connects England not just to its urban counterparts, but to the rest of the world.
The first version of the book, which I began thinking about in 1998, centred on the village itself, but I gradually realised that this was a distraction.
I had always been fascinated by an area of heathland a mile or two up the road and this turned out to be a much more productive spot to think from.
Standing a crossroads in a lonely place, I discovered that by paying attention to the ground underfoot it was possible learn a great deal about the history of industrial capitalism.
But it's not all about the past - however important it is to understand how we got to this point. The pandemic, a local murder, Black Lives Matter, the Ocado fire, planning beef and archaeological finds - all these and more took place as the book progressed.
I am not trying to claim that this particular area is unique or even unusual. This is not to say that everywhere is the same. I was interested in showing how it was connected to other places that are geographically far away, not randomly, but in a pattern that helps to make sense of history as well as current politics and culture.
Thinking from the border between parishes as well as between counties, I wanted this book to make a strong case for transnational solidarity and collective action in the face of the global climate emergency. Dismantling the conceptual barriers between urban and rural is a vital step in this direction.
"Return of a Native is a spirited, hugely enlightening, thought-provoking and often funny challenge to the boundaries between rural and urban, remote and near. It shows us that by engaging with where we are (no matter where we come from) and looking outwards, we can better understand our responsibilities to the planet, and how we all belong."
"The countryside is not a peaceful refuge from urban life, writes Vron Ware in Return of a Native, but a place haunted by the violent upheavals that have shaped the modern world."
"Mature, expansive, yet engagingly personal, ‘Return Of A Native’ then is a compelling outline of the state of England’s rural landscape in the 21st Century and how it got there, for better or for worse."
"For those who prefer a rural spot away from the sand and the sea Return of a Native is an insightful read of how the particularities of the English countryside have become key to constructing Englishness."
“A brilliant, beautiful and chilling portrait of England’s fateful present.”
— Les Back, author of The Art of Listening
“A riveting environmental, historical and personal account, Return of a Native transforms our understanding of the local as Vron Ware reveals the complex connections of the land, its food and animal production and human and nonhuman inhabitants to global networks of agriculture, commerce and politics. Ware dispels popular mythologies of rural isolation while asking difficult but urgent questions about sustainability, gentrification, racism and our planetary future. The book is rich with characters living in hamlet, village and town: as domestic and agricultural labourers, those who farm as small proprietors or owners of large estates, those who are displaced as refugees, and asylum seekers. “Locals,” it turns out, often come from elsewhere with intimate ties to Britain’s colonial history. Weaving through this tapestry of multiple lives, times and meanings of Englishness is the narrator’s own journeying to and from London and the village in which she was born and grew up. This beautifully written, engaging and passionate book closes with the narrator standing at the crossroads of past, present and future, uncertain and ambivalent about the meaning of home, of displacement, of the possibility of return.”
— Hazel V. Carby, author of Imperial Intimacies: A Tale of Two Islands
“The countryside, traditionally considered the heart of England, is subjected in this carefully crafted book to some delicate open surgery. In deceptively light prose, and digging deep into the soil that apparently roots English identity, Vron Ware takes us into landscapes where only the view remains common: what we encounter is always seeded by local governance and planetary forces, and violently harvested by capital and property. Proposing an alternative and richer politics of the deeper, often more jagged, rhythms of time and place, the author captures in fine detail the harrowing archives of the production of poverty – both human and natural – and the brutal plundering of life and death. This incisive work beautifully excavates the troubled, ultimately colonial, inheritance that haunts the making of modern British rural life."
— Iain Chambers, author of Postcolonial Interruptions, Unauthorised Modernities
”Return of a Native begins at a crossroads; personal, familiar, and local. But as the signposts of its lyrical prose reveal, we are all stuck at a similar junction. The hedges of rural England have grown divisive, obscuring colonial links, capitalist abuses, agricultural failings, environmental damage, property inequities, and enduring exploitation. As Ware notes, the signs were there for anyone paying attention. Her subtle and fascinating research steers us round rural twist after rural turn towards what we can only hope will be a more equitable future."
— Ollie Douglas, Museum of English Rural Life
“Ware gives us a moving and often funny personal story which offers a fresh look at urgent questions relating to environmentalism, colonial legacies, class, culture and nationalism.”
— Adam Elliott-Cooper, author of Black Resistance to British Policing
“A sly, luminous, brutal, and funny excavation of rural place through time, Return of a Native brings to mind not only Hardy but also Saramago. The churn of consciousness haunts every page. Ware raises from the ground an English village’s interdependence with otherwises and elsewheres of imperial modernity.”
— Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author, organiser and geography professor
“A thorough, enthralling and spirited reconstruction of what it took to be modern, Return of a Native is a gold mine.”
— Achille Mbembe, author of Necropolitics
“Much of the earth beneath our feet is exhausted” writes Vron Ware in this marvellous book. A story that begins by looking closely at the land, the soil as such – reading it like a book - in the tiny hamlet in which she was born, ripples outwards to encompass deep time, colonial histories and global capitalism. Writing against the endless emphasis on finding heritage possibilities in what was once called the countryside, Ware argues that we should be turning our focus firmly to the future of the ground and the life forms contained in its soil. In doing so, she makes a profoundly affecting and fierce case for re-finding the commons that once traversed and transcended the ownership mantras that have ousted and poisoned so much of the living world. Robotic milk technologies, solar-powered floating farms, chickenisation, animal-free meat and agrivoltaics are all read for a better knowledge of terrain and a rethinking of our food systems before they kill us collectively, human and non-human alike. Ware brings the world to bear on a hamlet, the smallest form of human settlement, and the hamlet, a piece of ground, to bear on the world and the planet.”
— Sarah Nuttall, Director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg
“Returning to the crossroads that mark the boundary of her childhood home in rural Hampshire, Vron Ware’s assiduous research and forensic gathering of facts, reveals the countryside as anything but ‘sleepy’. In Return of a Native: Learning from the Land, Ware navigates readers through the chaos of history proving that we must be attentive to the land and the lessons buried within it. From questions over the environmental impact of industrial farming, to fears that automation will increase inequality, Ware challenges readers to see the countryside not as an idealised, calcified site of tradition but a field of battle in conversation with the city and global. In the wake of the pandemic and as the borders between the rural and urban grow ever more porous, this illuminating anatomy of the English countryside is a timely read.”
— Lola Okolosie, teacher and writer
“Return of a Native bears the compelling message that if you want to understand the world around you, look to the ground beneath your feet. Vron Ware excavates stories - about violence and resistance, growth and destruction - that shed new light on our own age, and should prompt us to rethink the way we relate to the land, to our histories and to one another.”
— Daniel Trilling, author of Lights in the Distance
“The perfect book for anyone who has had enough of mournful elegies to England.”
— Patrick Wright, author of The Village that Died for England: Tyneham and the Legend of Churchill’s Pledge