This affecting novel offers a glimpse into the life of a remote English village poised between the feudalism of the Middle Ages and the mercantilism of a more progressive era. Village life follows the familiar rhythm of the seasons; there is a time to sow and a time to reap, a time to labor and a time to rest. Under the benevolent eye of their lord, a mild-mannered widower, the villagers know a life that may not offer luxury, but does provide a comforting certainty of purpose. Until one day the wheel of progress begins to turn, and their ancient pastoral existence is plowed under in the face of an inevitable future.
The village is a collective entity, and much of the narration speaks through a collective voice. Gradually, though, one man begins to emerge from the background. Walter Thirsk, though once a town man, has found his place in this rural community, trading a life of privilege to labor on the land and experience his own share of sorrow and contentment. But when strangers appear in the village and a rival claim is made on the land, the villagers tighten their defenses – and Walter finds himself once again an outsider. Is his loyalty to his village? To his lord? Or to the land itself?
Harvest is a surpassingly beautiful paean to nature, agriculture, and a way of life now almost extinguished. It is at once a melancholic elegy for a lost age and a reaffirmation of everything that is good and right in living on the land. “The plowing’s done,” Walter Thirsk muses, in spite of all. “The weather is reminding me that, rain or shine, the earth abides, the land endures, the soil will persevere forever and a day. Its smell is pungent and high-seasoned. This is happiness.”