There anchoring, Peter chose from Man to hide,
There hang his Head, and view the lazy Tide
In its hot slimy Channel slowly glide …
George Crabbe, eighteenth-century poet, clergyman and surgeon-apothecary, is best known for ‘Peter Grimes’, the tale of a sadistic fisherman that inspired Benjamin Britten’s opera of the same name. The brutal crimes and ‘tortur’d guilt’ of Grimes play out within the bleak, improbably beautiful setting of Aldeburgh. While Crabbe has fallen in and out of fashion, the Suffolk town and its landscape have continued to captivate writers and artists, including Britten, Ronald Blythe, Susan Hill and Maggi Hambling – all drawn to the stark coastline, eerie mudflats and open skies.
In A Time and a Place, Frances Gibb engages afresh with Crabbe’s writing – tracing, for the first time, the resonance of this place in his life and work. She delves into his creative struggles, religious faith, romantic loves and opium addiction. Above all, she explores the continual lure – for Crabbe and those who have followed – of the ‘little venal borough’, and the land and sea beyond.
About the Author
Frances Gibb is an award-winning journalist and former Legal Editor of The Times. She contributes to publications including The Times and Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, as well as to national radio. She read English at the University of East Anglia and has an honorary masters degree from the Open University. Her family has been connected with Aldeburgh and Suffolk for more than fifty years.
List of Illustrations
Introduction A Local Habitation and a Name
1. George Crabbe’s Aldeburgh
California: Crabbe recalled
Aldeburgh: A wild amphibious race
Crabbes in East Anglia: Too obscure to possess a history
Aldeburgh: That boy must be a fool
Wickhambrook and Woodbridge: La! Here’s our new ’prentice!
Aldeburgh: The Leech Pond
2. Growing to Manhood: Love, London and Literary Success
Parham: A young lady that would just suit you
London: I have parted with my money, sold my wardrobe
London: The hand that rescued him
Aldeburgh revisited: A prophet is not without honour …
3. Domesticity and Botanising: Crabbe’s Middle Years
Belvoir and Stathern: Th e very happiest years in his life
Parham and Glemham: A family walk through the green lanes
Rendham: The final Suffolk years
4. Religion and Politics
Crabbe and religion: Without a little Latin, we should have made nothing of you
Crabbe and opium: His long and generally healthy life
Crabbe and politics: We can do no good, or we would be among them
5. Character and Creation
Aldeburgh: I hear those voices that will not be drowned
Aldeburgh: Grimes on the beach
Aldeburgh: Untouched by pity, unstung by remorse
Crabbe and writing: What I thought I could best describe, that I have attempted
Leaving Suffolk: The seat of joy, the source of pain
6. Endings and Beginnings
Bath and London: I am something of a novelty
Crabbe and women: Oh! For some Made-on-purpose-Creature
Trowbridge: A few Sundays more
Endorsements and Reviews
It is fascinating to rediscover Crabbe – then and now. Beautifully researched, A Time and a Place takes us into the intimacy of Crabbe’s life as he lived it and re-establishes him into the everyday life of all of us who love, live and work here. A triumph!
Maggi Hambling, artist
An insightful account of the life and psyche of George Crabbe, whose poetry inspired Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and whose career was defined by a love-hate relationship with Aldeburgh. Anyone interested in the history of the town, or Suffolk generally, will find it fascinating.
Blake Morrison, poet, novelist and Professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths University
Frances Gibb has vividly rolled back the centuries in the Suffolk landscape, bringing George Crabbe to life in the same hard streets, mud banks and sea slime that so inspired England’s great pioneer poet of the poor.
Peter Stothard, author of Alexandria and former editor of the Times Literary Supplement
For at its heart A Time and a Place is an exercise in psychogeography, a study of Crabbe’s poems that not only tethers them to the place in which they were written but emphasises the centrality of the location to their achievement.
DJ Taylor, The Times, May 2022
A Time and a Place benefits greatly from Gibb’s knowledge of and feeling for Aldeburgh, to which her family first came in the 1960s…Gibb’s book evokes both the literal and psychological landscapes of the poet’s life and work, notably those places of ‘moral reckoning’ to which his characters are brought…Gibb recognises that Britten has ‘the bigger name, the louder voice’, but her book is a useful reminder that it was Crabbe who had first claim on Aldeburgh, and that his poems provide an unsettling and enduring portrait of a time and a place and its people.
Peter Parker, The Spectator, June 2022
Place is at the heart of the book, as it is central to Crabbe’s poetry, and the author offers a perceptive account of his relationship to a region that both attracted him and repelled him…One is left with the impression of a complex man: a canny and sometimes ruthless operator, but someone who was also courteous, engaging and popular…her lucid, sympathetic and well-orchestrated account of Crabbe’s life, which keeps looping back to Suffolk as his vital source of inspiration, will give her readers many reasons to seek him out for themselves.
Susan Owens, Literary Review, Issue 510, August 2022