The Henry Williamson Society
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The writer Henry Williamson was born in London in 1895.
Naturalist, soldier, journalist, farmer, motor enthusiast and author of over fifty books, his descriptions of nature and the First World War have been highly praised for their accuracy.
He is best known as the author of Tarka the Otter, which won the Hawthornden Prize for Literature in 1928 and was filmed in 1977. By one of those extraordinary coincidences, Henry Williamson died while the crew were actually filming the death scene of Tarka.
Here in the Henry Williamson Society's website you can explore the man, his life, and his place in English Literature and history.
If you enjoy browsing through the pages of this website and wish to support the work of the Henry Williamson Society in furthering the appreciation of Henry Williamson’s writings, please consider either becoming a member of the Society or making a donation towards the maintenance of our website.
November 2013 — A note for your diary! The Southern Area (Redhill) Meeting, on Saturday, 23 November, is called 'A Chronicle of Ancient Music', and promises to be a most interesting experience. Andrew Harper and friends are presenting a series of musical tableaux consisting of the music and lyrics mentioned by Henry Williamson in the first eight books of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, using live instruments as well as such state-of-the-art media as a 78 rpm gramophone. For further details and booking form please click here.
August 2013 — The programme for our Autumn Meeting and Annual General Meeting is now available - details and registration form are available under Society Events.
June 2013 — We are pleased to bring to your attention an important new resource on our website, A Life's Work. This is a descriptive bibliography of Henry Williamson's writings, title by title. Written by Anne Williamson and utilising rare archive material, it is not a bibliography in the strict sense of the word, but literarily a description of each book – its plot; the circumstances behind Henry’s writing of it; Henry’s life at the time; and its critical reception. Anne Williamson is uniquely placed to write this, having both such an intimate knowledge of the writings and access to Henry’s journals, diaries and archive material; we are fortunate indeed in being able to work with her in publishing this work here. It is planned to add books at relatively frequent intervals, as they are completed. Anne has now covered the The Flax of Dream, and its four constituent volumes, The Beautiful Years, Dandelion Days, The Dream of Fair Women and The Pathway,are now online, together with The Star-born, a short entry on HW's early contributions to The Weekly Dispatch as a novice reporter, and some of the 'nature' books. She has also started her consideration of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight and has completed The Dark Lantern, Donkey Boy and Young Phillip Maddison, the first three books in the series. The latest books to be covered are Henry's best-known work Tarka the Otter, and The Wet Flanders Plain.
April 2013 — On the recent (10th) HWS visit to the Battlefields of the First World War, members visited several new cemeteries and some also previously visited, among them the Thiepval Memorial. Crosses were laid at the grave of Edward Thomas, who had connections with HW, and also at the grave of Rupert Bryers, who was at Colfe's Grammar School with HW and a close friend. He was killed in action on 15 September 1916, aged 20, and buried at Lesboeufs, where a tribute was paid and a letter from Rupert to HW written in 1913 was read out. The final visit was to the German Cemetery at Neuville St Vaast, which HW had visited in 1925 and been so forcibly struck by the sight of 36,000 black crosses stretching out before him, which he wrote about in his book The Wet Flanders Plain. Today there are 44,830 Germans buried in the cemetery: the sight of the black crosses is just as powerful now as then.
March 2013 — Members enjoyed an interesting Study Day with talks on the subject of The Gale of the World, with background information and much discussion. There will be a full report in the Society Newsletter in due course.
NEW! — We have begun the conversion of our publications to e-books, both as a means of keeping available out of print titles and to attract readers who possess Kindles, Nook and Kobi readers, iPads, tablets etc., and who enjoy taking their library with them wherever they are. Nine e-books are now available, just click on the E-books button on our main menu bar.
November 2012 — The Tarka Challenge! It has just come to our notice that eight-year-old Rudi, whose favourite book is Tarka the Otter, has set himself the challenge of actually seeing, and if possible photographing, all the animals listed in the book, which he has counted as comprising 89 birds, 54 land-based animals, 120 plants and 56 aquatic organisms. This young naturalist began his challenge at the beginning of 2012, and has built up an impressive list of sightings. How is he doing? Follow his progress on his blog!
June 2012 — The haunting music that accompanied David Cobham's 1973 BBC film The Vanishing Hedgerows, which featured Henry Williamson returning to his Norfolk farm, was composed specially for the documentary by Paul Lewis. 'Norfolk Idyll', the concert work based on the score, has been released in its original orchestration for flute and harp on the CD Summer was in August – British Flute Music, performed by Rachel Smith, flute, and Jenny Broome, harp, Campion Cameo 2030, available from Amazon. Four other pieces by Paul Lewis are also included among the twelve tracks.
The sheet music of 'Norfolk Idyll' bears the dedication “In memory of Henry Williamson”, and is published by Broadbent and Dunn, available direct or through music shops.
The work has also been recorded in a version for harmonica and harp under its previous title 'Norfolk Rhapsody' on the CD Serenade and Dance – the Romantic Harmonica Music of Paul Lewis, performed by James Hughes, harmonica, and Elizabeth Jane Baldry, harp, Campion Cameo 2024, again available from Amazon.
February 2012 — Last September Manchester University Press published Adam Reed's academic monograph Literature and Agency in English Fiction Reading: A Study of the Henry Williamson Society. The recommended retail price is a steep £65, though it can be bought slightly cheaper from Amazon. 'This book represents the first anthropological study of fiction reading and the first ethnography of British literary culture. It is the outcome of long-term engagement with a set of solitary readers who belong to a single literary society.' Many members of the Society were interviewed by Adam over a period of years, though in a manner reminiscent of Henry Williamson himself, he has disguised their identities. His non-literary approach to a literary society makes for most interesting reading.
OUT OF PRINT JOURNALS: The contents of journals now out of print (nos 1 to 30) have been scanned. Articles are available as PDFs from either the Journal Contents page or the Author and Article Title indexes, and may be downloaded or printed as desired. While this service is free of charge, those availing themselves of it may wish to make an appropriate donation by using the Donate button above.
Members of the Society are invited to submit their favourite passage (200–750 words) from any of Henry Williamson's books for inclusion in the new webpage that we are developing of extracts from his works.
Ted Hughes, in his address at the memorial service for Henry Williamson, 1 December 1977, on Tarka the Otter
|In the confrontations of creature and creature, of creature and object, of creature and fate – he made me feel the pathos of actuality in the natural world . . . I now know that only the finest writers are ever able to evoke it . . . It is not usual to consider [Henry Williamson] as a poet. But I believe he was one of the truest English poets of his generation.|
|Michael Morpurgo, Introduction to Salar the Salmon, 2010||It is a rare gift indeed for a storyteller to be poet as much as a storyteller, to tell a tale so deeply engaging that the reader wants to know what will happen and never want it to end, and yet at the same time tells it in such a way as to leave a reader wide-eyed with amazement at the sheer intensity of feeling that can be induced by the word-magic of a poet. Henry Williamson is just such a story-maker poet.|
|George D. Painter||
Here is an unrolling map of the labyrinth of three generations, our fathers, ourselves and our children, and the thread leading to the mystery - monster or divinity? - at the centre. In my belief ... the whole cycle [of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight] will ultimately be recognized as the great historical novel of our time, its subject as the total experience of twentieth-century man.
|John Middleton Murry||
This will be in its entirety one of the most remarkable English novels of our time ... It is amazingly rich in all the living detail of a swiftly changing society; the characters are drawn with such loving sympathy and such firmness of imaginative outline that we are entirely absorbed by their vicissitudes. We are apprehensive for them, we are relieved; we rejoice and are sorrowful; we are angry and we understand and we laugh and laugh again. To be able to do this with us is the novelist's supreme gift ... I believe it is high time we awoke to the splendour and scope of his effort and achievement in A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. Begin with The Dark Lantern and read on; you will be the richer for it.
T.E. Lawrence to
Edward Garnett, 1928
|If I'd known he was so practiced I wouldn't have dared write him.|
|Malcolm Elwin, 1957||He emerges as one of the most impressively gifted and lavishly creative among writers of modern fiction.|
|James Hanley, on Young Phillip Maddison||How well Mr Williamson conveys all the secret thoughts and doings of boys, living lives that are all heights and depths. Magically he suggests the era by subtle description.|
|Allan Wykes, review of The Innocent Moon in the Sunday Times||To follow Mr Williamson through all the tones and tempers of his chronicle is to emerge with a sense – insistent and triumphant – of having been brushed by experience.|
|Michael Bradbury, review of The Power Of The Dead in Punch||What emerges is a deep sense of truthfulness and accuracy and a complexity of experience.|
|Walter de la Mare to Putnams, 1926||I have always thought that Williamson had a tinge of that very rare quality, or whatever it may be, called genius; and I feel convinced that in time it will be more fully recognised . . .|
|George D. Painter, 1959||It will be among the accepted facts of English literary history that our only two great novelists writing in the second quarter of the twentieth century, after the deaths of Lawrence and Joyce, were John Cowper Powys and Henry Williamson.|
|L.A.G. Strong, 1945||Few writers hold so surely the balance between outer and inner truth; fewer so generously share their vision with their reader.|
|John Galsworthy to Edward Garnett, 1926||Do you know the work of Henry Williamson? It's uneven but at it's best extraordinarily good I think.|
|John Betjeman, review of The Dark Lantern in the Daily Telegraph||There is a magic about this book . . . this excursion into a late Victorian suburb and merchant materialism is unexpected and it is as genuine and affectionate as it is accomplished.|
|General Sir Hubert Gough, letter to Henry Williamson||I have re-read your story of our Fifth Army [A Test to Destruction], and was greatly moved. It made me realise once again what a wonderful people the British are.|
|Times Literary Supplement review of The Golden Virgin||It is difficult to know which to admire the more, the skill of the characterisation or the art by which the character is subordinated to the theme without contrivance and without loss of humanity . . . The contrast between the tenderness of youth and the cruelty of war is most effectively described.|
|George D. Painter, review of How Dear is Life in The Listener||Mr Williamson's prose is like sunlight and clear air; and then, when necessary, it has the taste of fear in the mouth, the terrible beauty of life on the edge of the abyss.|
|Kenneth Allsop, review of It Was The Nightgale in the Daily Mail||The sad beauty of the love story laces a huge exquisitely worked tapestry of period and people.|
|Ernest Wycherley, review of A Solitary War in the Daily Express||This astonishing sequence [A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight]. It is a major mark he is making on the modern novel.|
|Frank Swinnerton, 1937||Henry Williamson . . . seems to spend his days up to his waist or neck in a Devonshire river, watching the habits of otters, salmon and other wild creatures.|
|Cecil Beaton, diary entry, July 1970||The long days of reading are perhaps at an end (I have bitten into so many varied books, E. M. Forster, Thackeray, Henry Williamson and a 'How to Learn Italian) for we have personalities and places to cope with from now on. Then reading H. Williamson's 'Donkey Boy' filled me with adoration and unexpected tears.|
|Paul Scofield, in Castaways' Choice: 50 Castaways choose their Desert Island Book, Folio Society||J. W. Fortescue, in his introduction to Henry Williamson's story [Tarka the Otter], wrote that 'our powers of observation are necessarily limited' and that 'our powers of imagination are always confined within the bounds of our human experience'. Nevertheless observation and imagination are still our only means of entering the daily life of the creatures of the wild, and such qualities are possessed in abundance by Williamson. The hero of Williamson's book is an otter, but other forms of life in the wild – insects, fish, flowers, grasses and birds – also claim his attentive devotion. Every sentence in this extraordinary book either summons the remembrance of something seen and known, or dazzles with a fresh observation; the perceptions are ceaseless, the longing for a natural order of things is unforgettably moving. It is both a celebration and a threnody.|
We will add to these opinions from time to time. Submissions to the webmaster of further examples are welcomed.
Please note: Work is ongoing on the Research Centre pages. This site is actively maintained, and new content is added regularly, in the form of full-text articles from journals now out of print. Links to these can be found on the Research Centre Author and Title pages, and the Journal Contents page for nos. 1–30.
Your comments and suggestions are valued, please email the webmaster.