The Divide between City life and Pastoral life in “Apple Blossom in Brittany” by Ernest Dowson

© Copyright 2017 Brittany Guthrie, Ryerson University

An Introduction to “Apple Blossom In Brittany”

Aubrey Beardsley and Henry Harland. “The Yellow Book, An Illustrated Quarterly Volume 3.” Front cover artwork from The Yellow Book, vol. 3, 1894. The Yellow Nineties Online, Ryerson University, 2005. Public Domain.

Throughout “Apple Blossom in Brittany”, written by Ernest Dowson there is a clear contrast between the modern and industrial life in London and, the traditional pastoral life in Brittany. This short story appeared in the third volume of the yellow book and can be categorized under the genre of social realism. During the time of this short story the binary between city life and country life was noticeable as it was during the industrial revolution. Dowson uses the theme of romantic nature to successfully highlight this binary and draw attention to the divide the industrial revolution was causing during the 19th century. “Apple Blossom in Brittany” focuses on the love story between Campion, “A man of Letters” and Marie-Ursule a young women who is his ward. However, the tone in the story drastically changes when Campion is in Brittany compared to when he returns to London. One can see this drastic change in the way Dowson romanticizes the nature in Brittany compared to the cold and minimal discussion of the environment in London. This binary between industrial life and pastoral life is something that affected the culture of the 1890’s and was discussed throughout several historical pieces due to the industrial revolution. Although the industrial revolution was well underway during this time, the permanent effects on the countries and citizens involved were becoming more noticeable as they were experiencing what is known as the Second industrial Revolution. Similar to other authors and poets in The Yellow Book, Dowson uses the arts to address the widespread effects of the revolution through the genre of realism. Dowson finds the need to highlight and address the effects of this revolution in his short story mainly because he has a personal connection to the elements of the pastoral life in Brittany. By analyzing the romanticized natural setting in “Apple Blossom in Brittany”, the effects of the “Second Industrial Revolution” and Dowson’s personal connection to the pastoral life, one can see how Dowson celebrates romantic nature by highlighting the binary between urban London and traditional, bucolic Brittany. Dowson successfully does this in order to draw attention to the divide the industrial revolution caused during this time.

Industrial Revolution in the 1890’s

The industrial revolution was a dramatic change for many companies and countries as the world was moving towards a more industrial and technological lifestyle. In his book “The Industrial Revolution” Lee T. Wyatt says, “As the impact of the Industrial Revolution deepened, Europe, the Western world, and then selected portions of the globe underwent a distinct transition from an agrarian and handicraft society to one fueled by factories, machines, and more specialized labor” (Wyatt 2). Industries were looking for quicker more effective ways to encourage production, which meant less hand-made items and more factories. These changes were generally seen as a good thing, especially since the economic rate of the country was steadily increasing. “ By mid-century Great Britain was the world’s industrial giant and produced two thirds of the world’s coal, one half of the world’s iron and cotton textiles, and possessed a per capita income larger than countries on the continent. Britain’s dominance of the global marketplace was unquestioned, and no nation could compete with its economic strength”(Wyatt 119). The industrial revolution continued to be beneficial as it provided people with working and investment opportunities, and birthed several technological advancements. Throughout the century, these industrial changes were slowly beginning to have an affect on the rural areas. “The share of population urban rising from 25.9 percent in 1776 to 65.2 percent in 1871”( Williamson 257). The population growth in cities led to horrible living conditions as these cities were overcrowded, polluted and dirty.

Despite the visible effects these industries were having on these countries, the revolution continued into what is known as the Second Industrial Revolution. The Second Industrial Revolution is responsible for not only encouraging the growth of the industrial cities, but for distinguishing the divide between these industrial areas and the rural areas. “In stark contrast [to these industrial areas] was the mostly rural and agrarian region of southern Italy, the remainder of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Spain, Portugal, the Balkan areas, and Eastern Europe, a zone that supplied important foodstuffs and raw materials to the industrialized nations”(Wyatt133). These rural areas had the responsibility of providing these industrialized nations with such important raw materials, yet they were slowly losing citizens and workers. In the article “Migrant Selectivity, Urbanization, and Industrial Revolutions” Jeffrey G. Williamson conducts research that proves despite popular beliefs farmers were willing to move to the city for better job opportunities. Williamson says, “ Rural emigration rates rose while urban immigration rates fell may seem odd, but the arithmetic was almost inevitable…the comparison suggests that rural Englishmen were no more reluctant to leave agricultural parishes than are rural populations in the Third World”(Williamson 293). The lack of attention to these important rural countries was becoming more and more evident as the century continued.

The Critical Claim within “Apple Blossom in


Due to the lack of attention these important rural communities were receiving several artists began incorporating themes of romantic nature in their pieces. Romantic nature involves emphasizing the beauty and the sublime within nature to demonstrate its importance, splendour and benefits. It is clear within “Apple Blossom in Brittany” Dowson romanticizes the natural elements within Brittany. He does this in order to draw attention to the clear divide the industrial revolution had caused during the 1890’s. Dowson does this because the rural area of Brittany is something that is personal important to him. Evidence of this can be found within Victor Plarr’s text titled “Ernest Dowson,1888-1897:Reminisences,unpublished letters and Marginalia”. Mr. Edgar Jepson, a fellow author, said in regards to Dowson’s relationship to Brittany “I think he was happiest in the remote Breton Villages, whither he now and again withdrew himself, from which he wrote his most delightful letters. They used to give me the impression that the world went well with him there – as well, at any rate, as it ever could go with him” (Plarr 106). Throughout the compilation of letters Dowson wrote in Brittany, one could see the happiness Jepson spoke of. It is clear that Dowson thought very highly of Brittany. Throughout his letters he describes Brittany as being filled with pleasant associations, fond memories and charming journeys. He even states his desire to leave London to live in Breton, and encourages others to “leave your fogs to bask in baking sunshine” (Plarr 115). Dowson’s personally feelings towards London and Brittany can be found within “Apple Blossom in Brittany”. These letters show that Dowson favours a simpler, more natural lifestyle like the one he portrays in his short story. Dowson proves his love for Brittany by romanticizing the natural elements of Brittany throughout his short story; he then contrasts his love for Brittany with the cold, industrial tone he uses to describe London. Dowson does this in order to highlight the difference between Brittany and London and shows readers the beauty and elegance that can be found within the overlooked rural lifestyle. These letters written by Dowson show that Brittany is filled with love, life and happiness.

A Critical Analysis of the Urban life and Rural life in “

Apple Blossom in Brittany”

Much like Dowson’s real life in Brittany, “ Apple Blossom in Brittany” showcases a life of love, as the main subject of the short story is the relationship between Campion and Marie-Ursule. Even though a romance story between the two main characters seems to be the predominant subject of the text, Dowson manages to draw attention to the divide caused by the industrial revolution through romanticizing the natural elements of Brittany. Dowson highlights and romanticizes nature successfully through the use of symbolism, and a strategic comparison between Brittany and London. The major symbol that Dowson uses in this story is the character of Mary-Ursule as she represents Brittany. One can see how Dowson uses Mary-Ursule to represent Brittany in the way she is described and the relationship she has with Campion. Dowson uses several words and elements to depict Marie-Ursule that one would typically associate with a pastoral setting. Marie-Ursule is described as having “devotional air”, the narrator says, “She was very young and slight—she might have been sixteen—and she had a singularly pretty face; her white dress was very simple, and her little straw hat, but both of these she wore with an air which at once set her apart from her companions…”(Dowson 94). By using words such as ”air” and “simple”, Dowson is showing how Marie-Urseule has the same lovable characteristics as common bucolic countries. Not only is Marie-Ursule depicted with these natural elements, these elements are romanticized through Champion’s attraction to her. Readers begin to receive evidence of this attraction when the narrator says, “In spite of her youth, her brightness, the expression of her face in repose was serious and thoughtful, full of unconscious wistfulness. This, together with her placid manner, the manner of a child who has lived chiefly with old people and quiet nuns, made her beauty to Campion a peculiarly touching thing” (Dowson 96). This passage shows that Campion’s affection towards Marie-Ursule is due to her natural, young and simple characteristics. These characteristics are the same characteristics Dowson loves about Brittany. In addition to Dowson using Marie-Ursule as a symbol of Brittany, we can see he contrasts London and Brittany in order to romanticize the natural elements in Brittany. We see this in the passage that states, “How peaceful it was! And his thought wandered to London: to its bustle and noise, its squalid streets, to his life there, to its literary coteries, its politics, its society; vulgar and trivial and sordid they all seemed from this point of vantage” (Dowson 109). This is the only detailed description we receive of Campion’s life in London, and there is a negative and cold tone used throughout this description, especially compared to how Brittany is depicted. When describing Brittany loving and fresh elements are used. Readers are told that the apple-orchards are “white with the promise of a bountiful harvest” and the blossoms as “snowy” and “its quietude in the serene sunshine” (Dowson 106). Throughout “Apple Blossom in Brittany” the romantic elements of nature are clearly emphasized in comparison to the minimal and dark discussion of London. Dowson successfully manages to show readers the beauty within rural life in a time where the industrial life was so heavily emphasized and praised.


Charles-Francois Daubigny. “Apple Blossoms.”1873. Creative Commons.Public Domain.

“An Apple Blossom in Brittany” highlighted the beauty and the simplicity that is found within the rural life that several citizens were leaving behind. The idea of favoring pastoral living was something that was not highly argued during this time, which is most likely why this short story was published in one of the most controversial magazines, The Yellow Book. Both the Industrial Revolution and the Second Industrial Revolution brought the country to great economic accomplishments and provided several citizens with opportunities they once only dreamed of. For these reasons, the focus quickly shifted from rural communities to industrial communities. These opportunities left rural communities with a lower population rate and less agricultural workers. However these rural communities still had the responsibility of producing food and raw materials. Dowson has a clear love and admiration for the simple and natural elements of Brittany. Due to his love for pastoral land, Dowson uses the literary device of romanticizing nature to stress the beauty and the importance of these rural communities. This device successfully allows him to showcase the beauty of Brittany during the 1890’s.


Works Cited

Dowson,Ernest. “Apple Blossom in Brittany.” The Yellow Book 3 (Oct. 1894):93-109. The Yellow

Nineties Online.Ed. Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Ryerson University, 2011.

Jevons, H. Stanley. “The Second Industrial Revolution.” The Economic Journal, vol. 41,

  1. 161, 1931, pp. 1–18.

Oerlemans, Onno. Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature. University of Toronto

Press, 2002. JSTOR.

Plarr, Victor, 1863-1929. Ernest Dowson, 1888-1897, Reminiscences, Unpublished

Letters and Marginalia. , United States, 1914.

Williamson, Jeffrey G. “Migrant Selectivity, Urbanization, and Industrial

Revolutions.” Population and Development Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 1988, pp. 287–314. JSTOR

Wyatt, Lee T.. Industrial Revolution, ABC-CLIO, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central.


Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.

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