What does enclosure feel like from the inside, as a lived experience, as a community is forced to abandon its “old ways” and adopt the new worldview of Progress and Profit? British author Jim Crace’s novel, Harvest, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, provides a beautiful, dark and tragic story of the first steps of the “modernization” of a preindustrial English village.
The story focuses on a hamlet that is suddenly upended when the kindly lord of the settlement, Master Kent, discovers that his benign feudal control of a remote patch of farmland and forest has been lost to his scheming, cold-hearted cousin, Edmund Jordan. Jordan is a proto-capitalist who has a secret plan to evict everyone and turn their fields into pastures for sheep. He plans to become rich producing wool for the flourishing export market. But Jordan can’t simply announce his planned dispossession of land lest it provoke resistance. He realizes that he must act with stealth and subterfuge to take possession of the land and eradicate the community, its values and its traditions.
The story is essentially a tale of what happens when a capitalist order seeks to supplant a stable and coherent community. But this states the narrative too crudely because the book is a gorgeously written, richly imagined account of the village, without even a hint of the ideological. Told through the eyes of a character who came to the village twelve years earlier, the story doesn’t once mention the words “enclosure,” “capital” or “Marx.” (Indeed, the Wall Street Journal’s reviewer praises the book for “brilliantly suggest[ing] the loamy, lyric glories of rustic English language and life.”)
Harvest depicts the sensuous experiences of a village community wresting its food from nature, but with relative peace and happiness. "Our great task each and every year is to defend ourselves against hunger and defeat with implements and tools. The clamour deafens us. But that is how we have to live our lives," the narrator tells us. The book also shows how easily this world is shattered by a brutal outsider who uses fear and social manipulation to rip apart a community in order to install a new regime of efficiency, progress and personal gain.