Jim Crace

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Harvest Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jim Crace's Harvest. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jim Crace

Jim Crace was born in Hertforshire, in southern England, and grew up in London. He graduated from the University of London in 1968, after which he joined Britain’s Voluntary Services Overseas and worked as an educational television assistant in Khartoum, Sudan. Upon his return home he worked for the BBC and then spent twenty years as a freelance journalist, in which profession he learned that “neither the absence of 'the Muse' nor the presence of 'the block' should be allowed to hinder the orderly progress of a book,” according to the British Council. Crace published Continent, a series of interconnected stories, in 1986, followed by several novels, of which Harvest is one of the most recent. His novel Being Dead won the National Book Critics Circle Award, two of his books (Quarantine and Harvest) have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Crace won the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize in 2014. He lives in Birmingham, England, with his wife and two children.
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Historical Context of Harvest

Taking place from the 16th to the 18th century, enclosure was an agricultural and political movement in which small parcels of arable land were combined into large farms or estates. Since the feudal period, most land had been owned by aristocrats but farmed communally by small villages. Under enclosure, land was controlled exclusively by its owners, and communal use was prohibited. Enclosure facilitated the British Agricultural Revolution, a period of unusually high agricultural productivity, by shifting land use from subsistence farming towards larger and more efficient farms that often focused on a single product (in the case of Harvest, sheep). By driving newly landless peasants into larger cities, enclosure also created the surplus of cheap factory labor necessary for Britain’s Industrial Revolution. By the 19th century, enclosure had helped England become one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, because it dispossessed large groups of people, helped concentrate profit and power in the hands of the elite, and disrupted a centuries-old way of life, enclosure remains a highly controversial moment in British history.

Other Books Related to Harvest

Harvest is deeply rooted in the historical drama of early modern England, but it’s also an examination of universally relevant themes like dispossession and community. In this way, it’s similar to other novels that seek to illuminate contemporary issues by historical exploration, such as Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders, which is set in the same era, during a plague outbreak in rural England; Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, which takes place during the Salem Witch Trials; and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which addresses power and politics during the reign of Henry VIII. In its vehement opposition to the enclosure movement, Harvest also has much in common with British literature in the centuries after enclosure became prevalent. Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth and Keats, are often interpreted as criticizing enclosure by championing wilderness and open spaces. Some scholars have even argued that Jane Austen’s Emma implicitly addresses enclosure and its pernicious effects on a bucolic English community.
Key Facts about Harvest
  • Full Title: Harvest
  • When Written: 2013
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 2013
  • Literary Period: contemporary
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Setting: a remote English hamlet in the 17th or 18th century
  • Climax: From a window in the manor house attic, Walter watches Mistress Beldam and her husband destroy the pillory and set fire to the village cottages, before then finding Mr. Quill’s dead body stuffed in a trunk.
  • Antagonist: Edmund Jordan
  • Point of View: first person limited

Extra Credit for Harvest

History Buff. Many of Crace’s novels take place during historical moments of unprecedented change. His novel The Gift of Stones explores the transition between the Neolithic Age and the Bronze Age, while Quarantine takes place during Jesus Christ’s forty days in the desert.

Family Man. While Crace loves writing, he doesn’t romanticize his craft, saying he’s most motivated by “good, old-fashioned work guilt” and that writing is “less important to me than family or politics.”