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H. E. Bates was born in 1905 at Rushden in Northamptonshire and was educated at Kettering Grammar School. He worked as a journalist and clerk on a local newspaper before publishing his first book, The Two Sisters, when he was twenty. In the next fifteen years he acquired a distinguished reputation for his stories about English country life. During the Second World War he was a Squadron Leader in the R.A.F. and some of his stories of service life, The Greatest People in the World (1942), How Sleep the Brave (1943) and The Face of England (1953), were written under the pseudonym of 'Flying Officer X'. His subsequent novels of Burma, The Purple Plain and The Jacaranda Tree, and of India, The Scarlet Sword, stemmed directly or indirectly from his experience in the Eastern theatre of war. Perhaps one of his most famous works of fiction is the bestselling novel Fair Stood the Wind for France (1944).
In 1958 his writing took a new direction with the appearance of The Darling Buds of May, the first of the popular Larkin family novels, which was followed by A Breath of French Air (1959), When the Green Woods Laugh (1960), Oh! To Be in England (1963) and A Little of What You Fancy (1970). His autobiography appeared in three volumes, The Vanished World (1969), The Blossoming World (1971) and The World in Ripeness (1972). His last works included the novel, The Triple Echo (1971), and a collection of short stories, The Song of the Wren (1972). H. E. Bates also wrote miscellaneous works on gardening, essays on country life, several plays including The Day of Glory (1945), The Modern Short Story (1941) and a story for children, The White Admiral (1968). His works have been translated into sixteen languages. A posthumous collection of his stories, The Yellow Meads of Asphodel, appeared in 1976.
H. E. Bates was awarded the C.B.E. in 1973 and died in January 1974. He was married in 1931 and had four children.
Author photo © Mark Gerson
August 2010 Guest Editor Veronica Henry on The Darling Buds of May... The Larkins are a total contrast to the Corleones, but equally compelling. The characters and the setting are so wonderfully vivid – you can taste actually taste the strawberries and feel the sun on your back. And Ma Larkin is the ultimate domestic goddess –Bates’ descriptions of her legendary feasts leave your mouth watering.
The Beauty of the Dead (Jonathan Cape, 1940) featuring fifteen stories, was released to critical acclaim. Pamela Hansford Johnson wrote in John O'London's Weekly that "all have that delicate luminosity by which visions are seen more clearly than in the bright sunlight." 'Old' is a snapshot of an elderly man no longer appreciated or respected by his children and extended family during a Sunday tea. He finds a companion in his seven-year-old grand-niece, making animal shapes out of biscuits and eventually falling into a "mesmeric peace" as she brushes his hair. There is a glimpse of Bates's childhood experiences in 'Quartette', written through the eyes of a music director. The story accounts the attraction between two of the singers which the director worries is breaking up the group, yet on their last song he can feel "the passionate quality of their singing transcending the small hot room and the small bewildered minds". Bates had much personal knowledge of choirs and singing through his father, who was a choir director.'The Bridge' is narrated by a twenty-two-year-old woman while she and her older sister vie for the attention of the same man. The Spectator praised it as "a masterly short story...courageously conceived thick with symbolism, it is a triumphant display of control."For the first time, this collection features the comic bonus story 'Obadiah'. After a tough, poverty-stricken childhood, Obadiah's scheme to make his fortune begins with a pig. He wanted neither children nor romance, but a partner in business, so when he meets a widow with similar values, he wins her over in what becomes a comic sketch of a bickering couple a rare and brilliant piece of caricature in Bates's canon. Published in the New Clarion (1933), and not republished since.
The Flying Goat (Jonathan Cape, 1939) features sixteen diverse stories from slapstick sketches to portraits of marital tension; one Uncle Silas tale; and three that hark back to Bates's boyhood roots. 'A Funny Thing' is an escalating bragging match between Uncle Silas and Uncle Cosmos. Cosmos is modelled on Bates's paternal grandfather, Charles Lawrence, who was "known about Rushden as a dapper and dashing figure who spent his holidays in the south of France, where he reputedly had a number of mistresses". A television adaptation starring Albert Finney was aired in 2003.In a cautionary tale, ever-relevant today, 'Shot Actress Full Story' is an account of the death of a former actress, and of the damaging effect of rumours. In commenting on the public's obsession with scandal and journalism, the tale reflects Bates's early newspaper work at the Northamptonshire Chronicle as well as a wider social commentary.The Times Literary Supplement singled out 'The White Pony' and 'The Ox' as "faultless things, jewels as luminous and as finely cut as any Mr. Bates has turned out. In each of them the evocative strength of his countryside pictures is joined to a still and poignant emotion that seems to project a background of universal experience for a particular sorrow."The bonus story 'Pensioned Off' is a sensitive and touching tale of a Latin teacher approaching the end of his career, reflecting on his obsolete methods of trying to teach a dying language. The story is based in part on Bates's own Latin teacher who he described as "extremely fat", so in a sweetly comic moment we hear how he fasts every Thursday so as not to become obese. Published in the New Adelphi (1929), and not republished since.
The Nature of Love (Michael Joseph, 1953) was Bates's first published collection of novellas.It contains three stories, different in weight but similar in texture, drawing from rural landscapes and the sensitive, poignant studies of the people that bring them to life. Dulcima, dedicated to W. Somerset Maugham, is a tale of a simple girl in rural England whose manipulation of both an old widower and a young forest worker has tragic results. In 1971, EMI Productions released a film adaptation starring Carol White and John Mills. The Grass God is a literary portrait of Fitzgerald, a landowner who is unfeeling in the treatment of his tenants and his wife, who, whilst bumbling through a summer affair with a young beauty, gets a taste of his own medicine. Further afield, The Delicate Nature follows a young man to the Malaysian jungle to assist a plantation owner, but enters into an affair with his wife. For the first time, this collection includes the bonus story 'Old Lady' which continues the retrospective theme and the dalliances of young romance.
The Bride Comes to Evensford, a novella first published in 1943, follows a woman from her arrival in a small town (modelled on Bates's native Rushden) to her work for a draper, her marriage to him, her increasing command over the business and the household, and finally to her infatuation with a young man as a widow in her fifties. Written and published in the midst of Bates's work for the Air Ministry, but hearkening back in style and subject matter to his pre-war stories, this is a beautiful study of one woman's life, her hopes and disappointments. Philip Toynbee stated that it had "e;a fine elegant shape, covering with formidable skill a period of thirty years in only twice as many pages...Mr. Bates is a master of restraint...in a period of over-exuberance."
Something Short and Sweet, H. E. Bates's sixth collection first published in 1937, demonstrates his mastery of character and form. Richard Church, writing in John O'London's Weekly, stated that this collection confirmed his belief that Bates "is an immortal...Here is a creative artist whose technique in the art of the short story is comparable with that of the great masters in this form." The title story explores the intricacies of the relationship between a forty-year-old evangelist and his twenty-year-old assistant. 'Cloudburst' and 'Spring Snow' are vignettes of human struggle in a rural context, similar to much of Bates's earlier work. 'Finger Wet, Finger Dry' and 'The Sow and Silas' continue Bates's success with the antics of Uncle Silas. The Morning Post commented that "each story stands out individual and distinct...In each the theme has been worked over, walked round, sifted, considered, a stance as viewpoint selected, the ultimate significance determined."
The Daffodil Sky, first published in 1955 (Michael Joseph), mixes eclectic characters travelling to foreign lands with poetic treatments of rural life in Bates's Northamptonshire. 'A Place in the Heart' is set in Asia against a colourful backdrop of rickshaws and ceremonial drumming. An Englishman, shortly before returning home, romances a local girl in this tale of lost love when his inarticulate and flippant goodbye is achingly contrasted with her disappointment.Closer to home, 'The Evolution of Saxby', one of Bates's best-known stories, concerns a cold, controlling woman who buys, decorates and sells one house after another. Challenging this notion of constant movement and progress is her sweet but helpless husband, who wants only to settle down and garden in a place to call home.The Times noted that "there is no better writer of straightforward short stories...Mr. Bates writes simply; his instinct is a deep compassion." This collection illustrates his ability both to feel deeply, and then to reflect sensitively on the page.
Includes an introduction by Patrick Bishop, bestselling author of Bomber Boys: Fighting Back 1940-1945.The Flying Officer X stories were written by H.E. Bates in his unprecedented role as an official war writer with the R.A.F. during WWII, where he animates the realities faced by pilots tasked with protecting the skies from enemy aircraft. The resulting stories that appeared under the pseudonym Flying Officer X are portraits of individual pilots narrated by an observer who, like Bates, is on the inside of the air force without being a pilot. These portraits recount the personal history of the pilots, and convey the individual qualities and forces that motivate them. They blend the action and suspense of aerial battles, friendships cut off too soon, and life enduring against all odds. In true Bates style, the New York Times noted "e;These are tales told in impressive quiet, tales that are innocent of even the suggestion of flagrant heroism that colors so many stories about combat pilots."e;Bloomsbury Reader is delighted to collect these stories into one volume for the first time, along with five additional stories from the same period, never before included in a collection: 'Fishers' sees a bond between two soldiers from very different walks of life; 'Happy Christmas Nastashya' sees an English officer encounter a young woman in service to her country in Russia; 'The Bell' follows a young flying officer as he travels back to a familiar pub to reminisce about a lost friend; 'From this Time forward' exposes the raw emotion of losing a loved one; and 'Three Thousand and One Hours of Sergeant Kostek' shows us a man of extraordinary character and flying ability.
The Cruise of the Breadwinner is an adventure at sea, following Snowy as he comes of age through a shower of sea-spray and bullets. The youngest crew member on a coastal patrol boat, he longs for action as his sharp eyes pick out distant plane battles and his ears strain to the sound of faint gun-fire. But when finally the war envelops him and his crew-mates in its terrible grasp, he must face the realities of pain, fear, and death. Rescuing two downed pilots, one English and one German, the humanity of the enemy and the true cost of war become all too clear. Here Bates exhibits his staggering ability to write character, building an exhilarating tension on board with the dynamic between the grumbling yet skilful engine operator, the wide eyed enthusiasm of Snowy, and the rotund, clumsily tender Captain. We witness the impact of war's heroics and futility on the boat and the boy during a short, violent voyage off the coast of England, told with such fluency and lightness of touch that it is a tale of action as well as beauty. The New York Times said that Bates "painted it all with a loose, sure brush that does not waste a stroke. ?
The Wedding Party, first published in 1965 (Michael Joseph), is a collection of short stories evoking both the dark and light, and the comedy and tragedy in human nature. Bates employs a deceptive delicateness of touch in his descriptions and character sketches, here mastering the true essentials of the art of the short story; he says much by saying little, what is left out more poignant than the words on the page.With a host of larger than life characters, we meet the scheming and eccentric Aunt Leonora, who fibs her way through the comic tale 'The Picnic'. The collection also unites two loveable rogues Captain Poopdeck and Uncle Silas, and brings us the farcical tale 'Early One Morning' which provide a sharp contrast with the sombre and haunting tones of pieces like 'The Primrose Place' and 'The Winter Sound', and the lyrical but bitter episode of 'The Wedding Party' itself.
Seven Tales and Alexander beautifully captures a spectrum of emotions from innocent childhood and early adolescence, to those of simple-hearted and uninquiring old age. On its original release in 1929 (The Scholartis Press), The New Statesman observed that Bates has 'by seeing with a child's eyes, found a world of marvellous and strange beauty, and has given the smallest shades of change and emotion the magnitude and drama they have in the minds of children and poets.'In 'The Child' we meet a young girl mesmerised by the sea seen through a multi-coloured window, and, in contrast, 'The Comic Actor' sees an unsuccessful farmer who, encouraged by his devoted family, fulfils a life ambition by participating in a village play.Bates draws on his own experiences of the barber shops of his youth in 'The Barber'. Forced to visit them on Saturdays, he was made to wait until the barber had served the army of 'black-necked, poaching, shoemaking, prizefighting, often stinking men.'The title story, 'Alexander', follows a young boy as he travels with his uncle by horse cart to the garden of an eccentric old lady, where each year they pick fruit. The boy becomes enamoured with a young girl, meets a darkly cunning and cynical poacher, picks a forbidden apricot as a gift for the girl, and is consequently thrust into first reflections on pleasure, pain, and life itself in this most charming story.
The Woman Who Had Imagination, H.E. Bates's fourth volume of stories, first published in 1934 (Jonathan Cape), is a fascinating collection of contrasts. The stories combine elements of realism and poetry, beauty and ugliness, tenderness and irony. Graham Greene, writing in the Spectator, lauded the collection as 'the first volume of Mr. Bates's maturity' and Bates as 'an artist of magnificent originality with a vitality quite unsuspected hitherto'.This is brilliantly demonstrated in the title story, 'The Woman Who Had Imagination', the heart-rending story of an Italian woman, revealed through the casual meetings and conversations that take place on a day's outing of a country choir. The contrast between 'The Waterfall', with its melancholy and grace, and the disturbing tensions in 'The Brothers', emphasises Bates's mastery of both the delicate and the disquieting. It is also in this collection that we are introduced to the much-loved comic narrator, Uncle Silas, in 'The Lily', 'The Wedding' and 'Death of Uncle Silas.'In addition to the original collection this edition includes two extra stories. 'The Country Doctor' concerns a woman's grief on the death of her dearest friend. It was first published in the Fortnightly Review in 1931 with the title 'The Country Sale', and later in the limited edition The Story Without an End and The Country Doctor (White Owl Press, 1932), and has not been reprinted since. 'The Parrot' chronicles a man, a marriage and the eponymous parrot, and has only previously been published in 1928 in T.P.'s Weekly, founded by the radical MP, T.P. O'Connor.