I'd wanted a substitute for rural, which I felt was carrying too heavy a burden in what I was writing. However, all I could find were words which approximated its meaning but whose connotations were overly charming, such as rustic, pastoral, arcadian, bucolic (the last, sometimes twinned with bliss, really wouldn't do, for instance.)
As well as to preserve the stories whilst they're still in living memory, one of my purposes in writing about the stranger fringes of my family history was to rebut the thesis that people and the lives they live are necessarily better in the countryside, that they're axiomatically more healthy. Most recently I'd come across this romantic view of rural life in Peter J. Conradi's consciously Rousseauan recent work, which carried the subtitle 'Radnorshire Pastoral'. But it can be found in many times - as the charming adjectives above imply it was originally a classical idea - and many places - writers as seemingly diverse as Roger Scruton and Paul Kingsnorth spring to mind.
Earlier this year, I'd watched an interview with R Scruton (posted on his blog but no longer available) in which he'd remarked on the unusual wholesomeness of his fellow hunters, ascribing it to their organic and traditional relationships, with each other, with their animals and with their environment. I write as someone who opposed the hunting ban and has relations and friends who have hunted but I'm convinced that's a lot of sentimental tosh. Hunting does have some deep meanings - but it won't necessarily make you a better or more complete person, believe me.
But despite all evidence to the contrary - if you bother to look, there's plenty of it - the romantic and morally positive view of the countryside remains a remarkably persistent cultural trope and a lasting foundation for philosophical speculation. My guess is it has something to do with the sublimation of the heavenly ideal, brought back down to earth in our more secular age, combined with the perennial restlessness and dissatisfaction of humans, more familiarly expressed in the belief that the grass is greener on the other side.
Writers are unavoidably part of civilisation - a word, note, that flows from the idea of the city - and they're pretty much unavoidably part of an industrialised, modern economy (at least if they want to type on a laptop and get published in some form). If they're going to sustain what is a rather impossible idea - that of a real, if necessarily diluted, heaven on earth - they need their ideal to be located elsewhere, somewhere unfamiliar, somewhere that's handily mysterious to most of their readers. This place, if you're urbanised, civilised, industrialised and modern, is usually the countryside*. The grass there is both literally and figuratively greener.
And the more estranged the writers are from this agrestic world (ahem) and its people the easier it is for them to inscribe their fantasies on to it. To take the writers mentioned above, as far as I can discover none of Conradi, Scruton and Kingsnorth were raised on farms, or even in the countryside.
I don't want to be overly critical as this mentality has been productive of some wonderful art - writing, music and painting. However, it's something that it's worth keeping an eye on as it can lead to all sorts of unpleasant political ideas (viz. the French Revolution, the Khmer Rouge and many points in between).
Watteau's 'The Shepherds': rich people having fun pretending to be peasants.
* Rural romantics of the right tend to locate their Arcadia nearby but often in a former time whereas their leftist brethren locate theirs more distantly - so that it's mostly someone else's countryside (or jungle, etc.) that they end up hankering after - and also more contemporaneously. To do with patriotism versus internationalism, no doubt.