How Period Dramas Fuel Our Obsession with Rural English Lifestyle

By Jennifer AJ

Picture this. Beautiful, carefree girls in tunic dresses, wicker basket in one hand and wildflowers in another. They’re running around in a green meadow, flower crowns adorning their heads and their silken hair blown in the wind. Meanwhile, in the distance, you can see a row of petite ivy-covered houses with their wispy chimneys and tiny wooden fences.

That illustration sure conjures a certain aesthetic. Something you probably saw in Little Women, Anne with an E and all the Jane Austen adaptations. That’s what Cottage-core is in a nutshell. In the last few years, it has become an aesthetic popular among the younger generation. Once a fixture in fairy tales (Cinderella, Snow White) and children’s books (Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden), the distinctive visual has now been embraced by adults. The trend encompasses so many aspects; from fashion to interior design to lifestyle, people are ditching their sweatshirts and minimalism for the romantic elegance of the old world that cottage-core represents.

But what defines Cottage-core?

The Durrells

Cottage-core is an aesthetic that harkens back to the rural English lifestyle of the olden days. Cottage-core places value in simplicity, but not minimalism. Rather, it embraces the old-fashioned way when things were handmade, using materials available in nature like cotton, flowers, or wood. It highly values analogue amenities and kitschy Laura Ashley-esque details that are so inherently British. It also romanticizes idyllic English villages often seen in fairytales or Jane Austen movies. The Cotswolds and its accompanying small towns in England famous for its storybook cottages, is the real-world template for this. Cottage-core also encompasses the kind of lifestyle that defines a bygone era: less emphasis on productivity and more on being in touch with nature. Thus, things like gardening, sewing, and exploring the outdoors become the go-to activities for Cottage-core enthusiasts.

So how did this quaint aesthetic become a worldwide phenomenon?

Long before the internet coined the term “Cottage-core”, people recognized the aesthetic in period dramas like Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice and Little Women. Contrary to the extravagance of dramas about nobilities, these are stories about peasants who live in humbler homes with simpler means. Jo March and her sisters wear hand-sewn frocks and decorate their hair with wildflowers. Anne Shirley trudges through sun-dappled woods in shift dresses, knits and straw hats. Lizzie Bennet lives in a rustic home that always feels like autumn. It’s so modest and down-to-earth, yet in that way it exudes warmth and nostalgia to simpler times.

Lark Rise to Candleford

Indeed, its surging popularity can perhaps be attributed to nostalgia. Series like Lark Rise to Candleford portray rural life as idyllic: the whole town is one big happy family and you only need so little to be content. Perhaps, you never grew up playing in the brooks or reading by the fire wrapped in a quilted blanket like the March Sisters, but such carefree imagery can easily remind one of the safety of childhood – it’s no surprise that tired millennials and Gen Z find that compelling. Cottage-core’s highly romanticized ideal of the simple life can offer a respite to those battered by the hustle and bustle of the city.

With how increasingly digital life has become, it’s also understandable that people long for more tactile connections. Cottage-core’s back-to-nature spirit is perfectly positioned to fulfil that yearning. In Cottage-core media, people frolic in the woods, dance under the moonlight, go barefoot in the sand. As we’re surrounded by cold screens and concrete buildings daily, it’s natural to yearn for something drastically different.

Period Dramas

If this article has enticed you to try Cottage-core media, it’s not hard to find! it’s literally everywhere: from books, series, movies, and even anime. Beside the aforementioned titles, shows like The Durrells, Call The Midwife and Backs to the Land are great options too. Same goes to films like Emma, Summerland, and Ghibli animated titles like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro. For the sake of your tired souls, indulge in some Cottage-core at the end of a long day.

Published on July 13th, 2023. Written by Jennifer Ariesta for Television Heaven.

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