The Innocent Moon - Critical reception



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Critical reception:


The Bookseller, 28 October 1961:  


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One of Macdonald's advertisements for the book:


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And another, eye-catchingly set vertically in the Sunday Times:


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Sunday Times, 1 October 1961:


MORE AUTUMN BOOKS. Publisher’s Pick – Part II


[Publisher’s to choose one particular book from their own lists – about 25 here]


Eric Harvey (Macdonald): My personal choice is “The Innocent Moon” by Henry Williamson. This romantic novel of the early 1920s has an idyllic quality . . . largely set in the West Country. “The Innocent Moon” also marks the latest stage in the growth of that revealing sequence of novels . . . “A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight”, which I regard as among the most remarkable and evocative ventures undertaken by any living author.


Evening Standard (Walter Allen), 31 October 1961:


Just Too Much of Maddison


[After a good résumé of the plot, including: ‘shy, sensitive, in love with nature, literature and love’, Allen concludes:] After nine volumes about Maddison I find my patience severely tried: he is a monstrous egotist.


The Scotsman, 4 November 1961:


Phillip Maddison emerged from the 1914-18 War having, as it were, stepped for a time off the ladder of life, feeling deprived of his personality by the overwhelming powers of destruction. In The Innocent Moon tentatively at first, he resumes the ascent. . . .


This book . . . is a work of great breadth and beauty, and is also a classic illustration of the power and scope of the novel. . . . most impressive is the completeness of the structure, the steady portrayal of Phillip [moving from nature to human relationships].


Sunday Telegraph (Anthony Quinton), 5 November 1961:


. . . [the book] resembles a long-deserted attic full of forgotten [memorabilia] . . . but Phillip is too watery, unformed and negative a figure.


Sunday Times (Alan Wykes), 5 November 1961:


. . . like his creator, Phillip Maddison has an impressive individuality. Mr. Williamson’s . . . grasp of period, place, and character throughout . . . is masterly. It is impossible to criticise him for his oddities . . . To read this particular volume is to enjoy a bright clear picture of the twenties: but 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. Follow him.


The Spectator (Patricia Hodgart), 10 November 1961:


Mr. Williamson’s view of history is strictly a personal one . . . [he] is gently ironical and often very interesting about the literary life of the period, and birds, beasts and flowers of Devon, but Maddison and his tremulous love-affairs are hard to swallow.


Bristol Evening Post (Michael Hardcastle), 10 November 1961 (7 column inches):


It’s 1920 – and the horror still haunts Maddison. Still they come, those long, brilliant, enthralling, evocative books by Henry Williamson about the life and times of Phillip Maddison, a hero of the Great War and now an unsettled civilian. . . . Phillip is still restless, hyper-sensitive, introspective and becoming gradually more egocentric . . . haunted by the horrors he experienced on the Somme.


The Bookseller (O.P.), 11 November 1961:


The Innocent Moon . . . is set in part against a background of the literary world in London after the first war. This background has all the appearance of verisimilitude and I foresee a good deal of innocent research for those who like to have their literature and life neatly equated. . . .


The Observer (John Davenport), 12 November 1961:


[Does not like this volume at all – after A Test to Destruction and its evocation of the horrors of the 1914-18 war.] This is not to deny the accuracy of this slow narrative of the slow development of a lower-middle-class young man. Future historians may find a treasure trove here but novels are not made by realism alone. [Mentions Mr. Williamson’s ‘R.A.F. novel is a masterpiece’ – confusing him with V. M. Yeates, author of Winged Victory – so the review is not entirely reliable! It does however, concede:] There is an excellent description of climbing in the Pyrenees.


The Times Literary Supplement, 24 November 1961:


[After book details, some plot analysis and comments on the (refreshing) ‘innocence’ of the love interest:] This is an unashamedly old-fashioned novel. Many readers will also find it a touching and nostalgic one. [This hardly seems worthy of the TLS.]


Express and Echo (Exeter), 10 November 1961 (10 column inches):




The publication of . . . is the most important recent event in the world of books. . . . the disillusioned young ex-officer lingers for a while in Fleet Street newspaperland and “literary circles” and has an attachment to an idealistic young woman, makes an abrupt departure for the simple life in Devon. . . . there is a large element of himself in most of Williamson’s novels . . . To read this saga . . . is an experience which cannot but leave an indelible impression on the mind. In particular the novels about France and life in the trenches belong to the great literature of the war.


A prolific writer [nature classics] . . . But the present sequence . . . may well be judged by time to be even more important. . . . [a greatly undervalued writer].


Herald & Express (Torquay, Devon), 16 November 1961:


Henry Williamson is one of the most sensitive and accomplished novelists now writing in the English language . . . [from nature classics to this present volume] He tells a magnificent story in glowing, sensuous prose, charged with an ineluctable sense of destiny. . . .


Time and Tide (Gillian Tindall), 16 November 1961:


A novel with no relevance to today . . . family sagas . . . are out of fashion; but Mr. Williamson is as undisturbed by literary fashion as in the West Country of which he writes. . . . This book is not only about a vanished world but its style belongs to it. . . .


I think, over fifty years later, we might find that quite complimentary – but it brought forth a letter from Father Brocard Sewell to HW, supportive as ever:


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Western Morning News (Plymouth, Devon), 17 November 1961:


With each new volume added to the series . . . reduces the challenge of anything comparable in all literature. . . . This work is not based on a plot. It is a sequence of events . . . the story depends on an extraordinary representation of character. . . . [compared to the often (superficial) cartoons of Dickens] are seen to embody deep inner forces originating from their earlier times.


Topic, 18 November 1961 (10½ column inches):


[After an opening paragraph of general information, which includes one or two errors of fact:] In his sixties Williamson is writing with a plain-spoken vigour . . . He is not given to autobiographical gossip . . . but his life may be assumed to have been put into his novels. . . . in a series which ought to be valued at least as highly as The Forsyte Saga [I would remind you that Galsworthy & HW were, unbeknown to each other, actually cousins.] It is funny and touching and superbly honest . . . The idealism, the nightmares, the shynesses and the jokes are quietly and lucidly reported . . .


Birmingham Post (Geoffrey Bullough), 21 November 1961:


There are two poets in Henry Williamson’s THE INNOCENT MOON, or, rather, three, for Willie Maddison is a modern Shelley, Phillip his cousin is a modern Richard Jefferies, and Mr. Williamson is behind them both . . .


Yorkshire Post (A.B.), 23 November 1961:


. . . It is satisfying to know that the modern English novel is capable of vast Proustian structure. . . . Phillip Maddison, rather like the young Wordsworth, is concerned with controlling (and being drawn to self-fulfilment by) the headstrong troika of art, nature, love. . . . May this chronicle long continue.


Eastern Daily Press (Doreen Wallace), 23 November 1961:


Book Eleven [sic] . . . Phillip . . . is trying to break into the literary world and into love. It takes 313 pages. The 1920s background is carefully done; real people appear thinly disguised . . . but Phillip has already had enough words expended on him . . . and is far less interesting than otter or salmon.


Glasgow Herald (L.V.B.), 23 November 1961 (2½ column inches only):


[Book details] . . . finds Phillip Maddison, the young returned officer trying to become a writer in the Britain which was to be a land fit for heroes . . .


This item included only because it evoked a rather scathing letter from HW (though why this review in particular, one wonders?):


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Daily Telegraph (Daniel George), 24 November 1961:


[A fairly mundane reportage of the plot: Phillip is:] A dedicated aspirant to literature, devoid of any sense of humour [but] portrayed with remarkable accuracy . . .


John O’London’s (Harry Hearson), 31 November 1961 (8 column inches):


. . . Phillip Maddison is endeavouring to establish himself as a serious writer and is haunted by his memories of the battlefields. [Wide variety of place and character] . . . [but to whom] it would be impossible to extend [sympathy].


Inquirer (E. W. ‘Ernie’ Martin), 11 December 1961:


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Irish Times (R.M. Gamble), 16 December 1961 (9½ column inches):


The immense autobiographical novel sequence . . . [this volume] corresponds closely to The Flax of Dream novels . . . many incidents are similar . . . [various criticism of ‘unabashed romanticism’ and the diary entries – BUT:] . . .


As the chronicler of an age he has an eye for the significant detail and incident that is not far short of Proust’s. . . . But he [HW] is now out of tune with the times . . . The world has gone in a very different direction. Phillip . . . is a misfit in more senses than one.


Manchester Guardian Weekly (Sid Chaplin), 7 December 1961:


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This interesting piece also appeared elsewhere, but the source is not marked.


North Devon Journal & Herald (F. H. A. Kempe), 7 December 1961 (8½ column inches):



Williamson adds to his saga


[An opening paragraph recaps previous volumes.] Maddison having endured these horrors, is now trying to find his way in a literary career, initially as a reporter . . . [but] has too much intelligence to cultivate the trivial and too much integrity. [so to Devon] . . .


Perhaps the sense of anticlimax is inevitable, for Phillip, having survived the rigours that went into winning the war, is here living through the years of imperceptions which were to cost us the peace.


Homes and Gardens (Celia Dale), April 1962:


. . . The book has a strange wandering beauty about it, a rootlessness that at last comes to rest, which well recreates the lost generation that survived the First War.


The Aylesford Review (Ruth Tomalin), vol. IV, no. 5, Winter 1961-62:


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In the same issue Macdonald took out a full-page advertisement:


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