The Sun in the Sands - The book

 

 

Back to The Sun in the Sands main page

 

Critical reception

 

Book covers

 

 

sins frontispiece

The striking portrait that was used as a frontispiece.

Although captioned 'HENRY WILLIAMSON in March 1921',

I think it's a little later – perhaps 1924.

 

 

The book:

 

Much of the material in this book will be familiar to the reader who has been following HW’s life and work, but his blend of fact and fiction here makes it a very interesting study. The facts are presented as if straight from, and concerning, the author himself but they are (increasingly) transmuted through his imagination. As a psychological study it must have a great deal to offer. We have here HW’s most intimate thoughts, of which the greater part was recorded originally in his early 1920s ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’ (the foolscap ledger in which he recorded all his thoughts and ideas at that time), as he notes on page 72 here:

 

These facts I wrote in my book, ending with a confession, as to a dear friend – indeed my writing at that time was my friend: it was something very near to me, and yet apart from me. When I read it to myself, it was never as something I had written, but something of the life of truth.

 

In order to absorb the total experience of the book it will be necessary, throughout the examination of the actual plot, to continue to explain the real-life background and the many cross-references that occur. This surely deepens the eventual enjoyment of the book and admiration for HW’s writing skill.

 

One must recollect the importance of the ‘sun’ as symbol to HW, with its links to Richard Jefferies: frequently referred to throughout HW’s writing but of particular import in his title here, and in his later ‘ancient sunlight’ of the Chronicle.

 

The book is divided into three parts:

 

Part I: JULIAN – chapters 1-14; pages 9-112 (103 pages)

Part II: ANNABELLE – chapters 15-26; pages 113-207 (94 pages)

Part III: BARLEYBRIGHT – chapters 27-40; pages 208-250 (42 pages)

 

 

PART I: JULIAN

 

'Fierce midnights and famishing morrows.'

—Algernon Charles Swinburne

 

The quotation is from Swinburne’s poem ‘Dolores, Our Lady of Pain’ (1866). HW used the same quotation in his later novel The Innocent Moon (1961) where Part Two, also titled ‘JULIAN’, covers the same era and material. There HW widens his view and shows more clearly the hidden meaning of his quotation, for in Swinburne’s poem ‘Dolores’, ostensibly the epitome of ‘the sacred feminine’ (mother goddess – Eve, the Virgin Mary, etc.), is shown to be flawed. Here HW is using its more obvious meaning.

 

Julian Warbeck is based on HW’s friend Frank Davis, who lived with his father near HW’s family home in Lewisham. He had been an RFC pilot in the First World War and was obviously badly traumatised. Strangely, despite the detailed intimacy of these two men as shown in this section, HW does not mention Frank Davis in the ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’, beyond stating that he has a new friend while still in London in 1920 (with a later 1961 marginal note, i.e. when writing The Innocent Moon, saying ‘Frank Davis’). I think they probably met in a pub in the later stages of the war, or soon after. In fact he is not identifiable by name until a seemingly chance mention in HW’s 1933 diary, when HW says with reference to an incident: ‘R’s letter reminded me of Frank Davis, the original of Julian Warbeck . . .’ As HW was then writing this current book, he may have been (probably was!) laying a clue. ‘Julian’ plays an important role in the early novels The Dream of Fair Women (1924) and The Pathway (1928). There is however a photograph of him:

 

 

innocent davis2

 

 

In The Dream of Fair Women HW describes him as:

 

Heavily built with reddish-brown hair flung back from a wide and tall forehead, large ruddy face, small eyes, slight reddish-brown moustache, heavy jaw, thick neck. . . . he was dressed in a bright brown suit, very tightly fitting, bright brown boots, with a high collar, a yellow bow tie, and stiff white shirt cuffs. His reddish hair was oiled and brushed back from his high rounded forehead.

 

Julian/Frank Davis was a great admirer of (as in absolutely obsessed by) the prolific poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), a writer of flamboyant romantic poetry. HW professes to dislike this poet, although there is some evidence to the contrary elsewhere! His dislike is purely part of his plot here. Davis obviously thought to follow in Swinburne’s footsteps. Hence the quotation fronting this section: particularly apt as Davis was a serious drinker and carouser of the midnight hour, leaving himself literally and metaphorically famished the next day (no money left for food – no mind left for work).

 

The book opens with a scene where the autobiographical ‘I’ (so openly HW) quarrels with his father and is told to leave the house immediately. In the foreground in this opening passage is his

 

fast motor-cycle with its long silver-shining open exhaust pipe, [and as we learn on the next page, it is] my beautiful, long-stroke single-cylinder Brooklands Road Special Norton [which gets] up to fifty miles an hour in a few seconds. . . . My totem of a Barn Owl was painted on its silver-grey tank, beside the star of Spica Virginis.

 

That last fact is not verifiable and I’m not sure is true! HW bought his first Norton motorcycle – LP 1656 – in 1915. He named it ‘Doris II’ after his first calf-love for Doris Nicholson (Helena Rolls in A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight) who lived up the Hill at the end top house of Eastern Road. He then bought a newer model with his ‘demob’ money – LW 82 – which is the one he is talking about here. The star of Spica Virginis is a reference to his love for Doline (Gwendoline) Rendle, whom he called ‘Spica’ after the star, but which was over before the point at which this book opens.

 

 

innocent spica

A studio portrait of Doline Rendle – 'Spica';

HW and she remained lifelong friends.

 

 

sins lw82

LW 82, looking a little road-weary with its bent front mudguard, outside Vale House in

Georgeham. The identities of the two girls are unknown.

 

 

He then writes proudly:

 

I had three pounds in the bank and twenty-two pounds ten shillings to come from the publisher for my first novel.

 

(HW has most punctiliously here taken off the 10% due to his agent from the £25 advance he received for The Beautiful Years, although in fact at that time Andrew Dakers had magnanimously handed over the whole £25, knowing HW had no money.)

 

I personally no longer totally believe in that ‘last quarrel’ with his father. Certainly they did not get on and William Leopold disapproved of his son’s behaviour, while HW felt very constrained within the family home. He had experienced the horrors of a war on which their views were totally opposite and it is obvious that there were frequent outbursts. However, brief notes in HW’s various papers show that the move down to Devon had been planned for some time – and the acceptance of his first novel gave him the means with which to do so at that point, in March 1921. This ‘autobiography’ is already being novelised!

 

HW, having been thrown out and not knowing where to go, decides to go to the home of ‘war-time acquaintance Julian’, who had had ‘over four hundred flying hours on that eccentric and spiralling gyroscope called a Sopwith Camel, and had crashed badly in a dog-fight . . . grounded . . . given extreme sick leave . . . Swinburne was his great love.’

 

Julian’s continual reference to Swinburne has an adverse effect on HW: ‘I became easily exhausted and silent in those days, soon after the war had ended.’

 

We are being told in effect that here we have two men whose experience of the war has left them both badly damaged.

 

Julian is not at home but HW is made welcome by his father, Mr Warbeck, and his (sympathetic) aunt, given dinner and told he can stay the night.

 

We have already been told that our hero has been invited to a party that night given by J. D. Beresford, who is now his publisher (as reader for William Collins, J. D. Beresford had recommended to them HW’s first book), and eventually he goes. There he sees Mrs Dawson-Scott, founder of The Tomorrow Club for aspiring writers, which later became the International PEN.

 

We are told of HW’s early stories printed in The English Review: ‘The Night’ (November 1920), and ‘The Passing of the Blossom’ (May 1921), for which he had had permission from Walter de la Mare to dedicate it to him: both stories were reprinted in The Lone Swallows (published in July 1922).

 

We read of J. C. Squire (Jack Squire, later knighted), writer and critic, who was on the Hawthornden Prize Committee and recommended Tarka the Otter for the award in due course, and many other well-known literary names of the period. We learn of HW’s admiration for the tenor Lauritz Melchior, and of his own ambition for his tetralogy (i.e. The Flax of Dream), which he ambitiously intended would clarify the causes of war.

 

Note that all the names mentioned are from real life: HW was fortunate indeed to have met all these illustrious names, here and at the Tomorrow Club – and J. D. Beresford was obviously kindness itself in inviting this gauche, unknown, and as yet unpublished writer to such a gathering.

 

On returning to Mr Warbeck’s house, HW finds that Julian has returned, and after some lively exchanges, HW ‘remembers’ that two years previously he had rented a cottage in Devon for £5 a year. (I have explained elsewhere that the Georgeham cottage was in the family hands as early as 1914 – originally rented by his Aunt Mary Leopoldina, which HW, or his mother at first, seems to have taken over.)

 

It is decided that the two men will go down there to live. Mr Warbeck will send two guineas a week for Julian’s keep, and any excess money can be for Julian’s own use. That, as far as can be ascertained, is all as in real life.

 

The motorcycle ride down to Devon (Julian is to follow by train the next day) is described in great detail, and our author’s thoughts as he travels reveals to the reader his love for the writings of Richard Jefferies, William Blake and Francis Thompson, and his hopeless and spurned love for Spica (Doline Rendle).

 

On arrival in Devon HW greets familiar faces (revealing he is indeed already well-known there: a huge clue for early researchers!). The village is Georgeham, not named here, but the primitive state of Skirr Cottage is described in detail. Julian’s arrival livens things up! He immediately borrows money in order to visit the pub (HW directs him to the ‘Higher House’), where he lavishly treats all and sundry to a round of drinks, and continues to do so on various occasions. HW stays behind to wash up and then write, but after a while does walk up to the pub, finding Julian happily ensconced.

 

The next day they go for a walk by the sea; Julian is already beginning to irritate our author. As stated, there is no actual documentation anywhere of Julian/Frank staying with HW in Skirr Cottage (whereas he does mention other visitors in his ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’). It undoubtedly did happen, but for how long this visit lasted has to remain a mystery.

 

HW mentions here writing a story called ‘Mating-time Millinery of Birds’ for the first issue of The Millinery Trades Journal, which appeared in May 1921. This was first recorded in his ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’ in an entry under the date 18 April 1921, where he refers to it as ‘a pot-boiling silly story’ and where he states he was paid 1½ pence per line for this article (which would have been 15/6 in total). The printed article refers to HW as ‘that so well-known an ornithologist’ – in May 1921 he hadn’t yet had his first book published! (The article is reprinted in HWSJ 48, 2012, pp 5-6. The Millinery Trades Journal lasted, it seems, for all of two issues.)

 

Immediately after this in The Sun in the Sands he refers to his ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’ as ‘one of two big thick ledgers of ruled paper which I had brought with me out of the war’. He then gives an entry from that journal from 14 March 1921 (pp. 53-4):

 

 

sins p53

sins p54

 

 

This is the actual entry in his Journal:

 

 

sins rj

 

 

But as we know, he didn’t!

 

He also gives a memory of the battlefields, taken from the ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’ entry for 27 March 1921 (soon after his arrival to live permanently in Devon), which opens with a piercingly poignant thought of his school-friends Rupert Bryers and ‘Bony’ Watson, both killed in action. Then he remembers Bullecourt, Mory, and Cambrai, the area where he was a transport officer with the Machine Gun Corps in 1917:

 

Four years ago! Then, instead of the evening star gleaming on the ocean-bed of sky when the tidal light of day had ebbed, the calcium flares arose into the darkness and with tremulous brilliance wavered to earth. Sometimes the pop-pop-pop of a machine gun traversing to catch reliefs floundering and cursing in the mud, and the hissing whine of gas-shells came when it was quiet. One night I left the mess and walked beyond the village of Mory, and looked out over towards Cambrai. . . . Ruddy and sudden fountains of light where shells were bursting a mile away, the high far throb of a twin-engined Gotha and the white flares diminishing north and south, yet rising everlastingly. I sat there for hours, held by the unrealisable aching vastness of the scene. . . .

 

It goes on for another page, totally real and true – haunting for HW as a memory and for us as readers. It is, of course, a scene we meet again in A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight in due course.

 

Julian discovers, and is befriended by, ‘Porky’ – a drinker who has stated he was J. D. Beresford but asks for this to be kept quiet as he is incognito! We hear quite a lot about this colourful character: unfortunately no information about his real-life counterpart has ever come to light: I suspect that he probably never actually existed, and is merely a product of our author’s imagination to add ‘colour’ to his tale!

 

HW briefly mentions here a visit the previous June (1920) when he had a holiday in Georgeham with ‘Jack’. This is Jack O’Donovan, whom HW met in the gallery of Covent Garden Opera House. The visit turned out to be not very successful – he describes Jack as only being interested in the ladies they meet! There is a photograph of Jack in the cottage:

 

 

innocent donohue3

 

 

Then on a walk to Baggy Point (one of his most favourite places) he muses:

 

I see so much, love so much, feel so free and without care; I can write not a tithe of my joy in the country, words are feeble; no writing can recreate the thoughts these things give.

 

He wrote in his 'Richard Jefferies Journal' at that time:

 

 

sins rj june1920

 

 

(The 'she' he writes of here is Doline Rendle.)

 

We are then treated to the tale of the quarrel between HW and Julian, which ends with HW firing his 12-bore shotgun at the coal-house door. Soon after this hilarious incident Julian moves out to lodge with ‘Sailor’, a retired naval stoker living in the village (whom we have met in previous books).

 

The mood changes (chapter 11, p. 80): there is a lyrical description of being alone on Putsborough Sands (the beach immediately behind Georgeham); but our author is yearning for female companionship:

 

While I walked along the shallow foam-nets of the waves . . . I imagined a maiden to be walking beside me . . . my companion, my sun-maiden, who would share with all the loveliness of my new world. This rare and tender being, Beauty herself, would clasp me and cherish me . . .

 

One day in this paradise he hears voices and sees a woman and a girl. Following them he hides (in other words draws attention to himself) by sitting on a nearby rock until the tide comes in and he has to swim for it! (This scene is repeated in The Innocent Moon where the action is transposed to ‘Malandine’ in South Devon, based on Milton Sands, where the topography of the village, beach and cliffs amazingly replicate that of the Georgeham area, including Thurlestone Rock as a substitute for the rock on Putsborough Beach.) Enter Irene and her daughter Barley. In the original manuscript they are rather more ordinarily named ‘Joanna and Julia’: what romance is conjured by the change of name!

 

Soon we were talking and laughing. She had thought me an escaped patient from some military hospital, suffering from shell-shock. [Interesting!] The girl beside her looked at me with a very straight glance. She was quick and slender, with a mass of hair the colour of ripe barley, almost white, which contrasted with eyes of an almost indigo blue. She talked like a grown person, yet simply and naturally. . . .

 

I have explained the complications that go into the make-up of ‘Barley’: her genesis arose from HW’s unrequited love in 1933/4 for Ann Edmonds (his ‘Barleybright, or Bb) but Barley is not Ann – indeed she is nothing like Ann Edmonds, other than perhaps the basis of her physical description. Neither was Ann around in 1921, the time here in this book. Barley (aged 14 when we first meet her) as such did not exist – neither did her mother Irene Lushington (we only learn the surname in The Innocent Moon). The fictional strand of HW’s rope is beginning to take over. These are the ideal – idealised – people which HW so longed to meet: the perfect woman he wanted for his mate.

 

The book then takes us firmly straight back into the real world, as HW relates receiving a letter from Walter de la Mare about his essay ‘The Passing of a Blossom’, which has been printed in The English Review (May 1921) and dedicated to this great writer, exactly as in real life.

 

Irene is fleeing from an unpleasant and persistent lover and asks HW for help. HW finds them a cottage to rent: by its description this is Vale House, situated at a right angle on the other end of the row containing HW’s own Skirr Cottage. But Julian muscles in on this new friendship and virtually takes over for a while, creating friction.

 

In despairing mood HW goes off on his Norton into ‘the town’, has his beard shaved, and as he returns stops to walk in the Spreacombe woods, which he had first visited in May 1914:

 

How far away seemed that May month before the War, when first I discovered it! Seven years ago – nearly a third of a lifetime.

 

A few pages further on HW and Barley walk:

 

up the hill to Windwhistle Cross, the beech plantation which was a favourite place. . . . We went into a small field just below the spinney which many times I had wished were mine.

 

This is of course the ‘Field’ at Ox’s Cross, which HW did indeed buy in 1928 with the Hawthornden Prize money for Tarka the Otter, where he then built his Writing Hut: his refuge for the rest of his life.

 

Under Irene’s influence Julian becomes a reformed character: he stops drinking and actually does some writing. (This does not last!) We learn of our author:

 

From the vain contemplation of a sun-maiden my mind would transform the inner self into a star-wanderer of the centuries of light, to the ultimate radiance of eternity.

 

In 1922 (also the time in this book) HW was writing his extraordinary visionary book The Star-born, although this wasn’t actually published until 1933, when he was then writing The Sun in the Sands. The interweaving of these many factors is amazingly intricate.

 

Barley and I went to many places together, she riding on the carrier of the Norton . . . Morte and the bay beyond, Spreacombe, Baggy, the Chains of Exmoor, and swimming . . .

 

He reads Francis Thompson’s poetry to Barley (which she thinks she understands), and in a lovely passage he shows her his baby owls. Meanwhile Irene begins to realise that Julian is a problem: he borrows money from her and generally is a nuisance. He is to return to London: after two false starts, when he creeps back to HW, he finally goes. Both men are saddened by this parting. This ends Part I.

 

 

PART II: ANNABELLE

 

'I could not love thee, Dear, so much

Loved I not Honour more.'

—Richard Lovelace.

 

Richard Lovelace (1618-58), Cavalier poet, was the clever and dashing son of a wealthy knight who was imprisoned twice for verbal defence of Charles I and thrown into the Tower. The lines HW quotes here are from ‘To Lucasta, Going to the Wars’ (1649). Lucasta was actually his fiancée, Lucy Sacheverell. The poem is about the meaning of loyalty. The lines are of course very well-known, but it is an interesting choice for HW to have made: the hint of ‘war’ ever present. Lovelace also wrote a poem ‘To Althea’ from prison: so that may be where HW got the name for the proposed but dropped last section of The Sun in the Sands, ‘Althea’.

 

As this section opens it is the author’s birthday, or rather, as it has gone midnight, the date ‘had passed’. We are told:

 

I had been born half an hour before midnight on 1 December 1896.

 

Not quite correct: HW’s year of birth was actually 1895!

 

Our author is waiting for his partridges to cook, the fire having gone out earlier while he was at the Higher House. His spaniel Billjohn and cat Pie are curled up beside the fire. He is reading

 

Way of Revelation, a new and long War novel which was . . . a best seller. It was magnificent, a real book.

 

Way of Revelation, by Wilfrid Ewart, was published in November 1921. HW’s personal copy is signed and dated ‘Henry Williamson, Skirr Cottage, March 1922’ with his owl sketch alongside. HW had already given the book pride of place in his essay ‘Reality in War Literature’ (first written in 1926, published London Mercury in January 1929, reprinted with additional material in The Linhay on the Downs, 1934: for background see HWSJ 47, 2011, AW, ‘Following A Wild Goose Chase ’, pp 85-99: HWSJ 50, 2014, AW ‘Witness to War: An Examination of HW’s “Reality in War Literature”’, pp. 4-26.)

 

His own first book, The Beautiful Years, had been published a month before Ewart’s, on 13 October 1921, and here HW relates his feelings at the time, mentioning the various reviews and telling us that his second book, Dandelion Days, had been finished in September, after Irene and young Barley had left precipitously as pursued by the irate lover ‘Ivan the Terrible’!

 

He is invited to spend Christmas with an ex-army friend at his farm The Rodings, in Essex. On his way via London he takes his new typescript to a rather world-weary J. D. Beresford. He then continues to Essex where he is collected by ‘Pickles’ with motorcycle and sidecar. This is Denis Sisley, as in the later The Innocent Moon.

 

Pickles has arranged a horse for him, and at the Boxing Day Hunt he meets a young girl, Annabelle, and her mother Sophie (and by default as it were, Annabelle’s older sister Queenie). Their surname, not given here, is Selby-Lloyd. The Hunt is described in farcical fashion. Incidentally Annabelle is riding a horse called ‘The Learned Pig’. A horse of this name had been owned by Leicester Hibbert (grandfather of HW’s first wife), who had bought it off the then Prince of Wales. HW does not waste any small detail!

 

This family are living at Tollemere Park. This is an odd ‘coincidence’, for Tollemere Park had been the home of the Kingsman family (Jasper Kingsman was Phillip’s commanding officer when he was stationed at Hornchurch in The Golden Virgin: see HWSJ 34, 1998, where, in AW, ‘Some thoughts on Spectre West and other elusive characters’, p. 89-90, background of the house is given.)

 

HW becomes very friendly with this family, falling in love with Annabelle. Mixed in with this is a passage about his love for his mother:

 

The love of my mother, whose sensibility and tenderness I had inherited, had been part of my life until I had first returned from Flanders with frozen feet, dysentery, and the shock of realising that death and suffering were the realities of life. Love for my mother had gone from my life like a limb blown off by high explosive, the stump charred by permanganate of potash; I was nearly always irritable with my mother, whose patience and sweetness was exasperating – but now, far away and in the water-rillet silence of midnight, tears fell anew for my defection.

 

He is looking for, desperately longing for, someone to replace that love:

 

A mother-maiden, whose arms would fold around me, and by whose cherishing I would lose the fatigue of the past and of the present.

 

These are extraordinarily intimate thoughts to express. To me, they show that the writing here is indeed a therapy for the trauma he has undergone – and is still undergoing.

 

So we learn of the very awkward development of this relationship with the young (sixteen-year-old) Annabelle and her mother. Difficulties and problems are ever present, but HW is once again desperately in love – but really to an impossible ideal in his mind. The reader can see it is doomed to fail.

 

The family are based on Esther Graham Stokes and her daughter Mary Graham Stokes, with older sister, also Esther, and younger brother, Edward. We first met them in The Lone Swallows (1922), where the story ‘Peregrines in Love’ is dedicated ‘To E.G.S.’ while ‘A Seed in Waste Places’ is dedicated to Mary. HW had met them in Georgeham in the spring of 1922, and had fallen violently in love with young Mary. (The full background of this episode can be found in HWSJ 47, 2011, Ted Stokes, ‘The Owl Club’). They also of course play out these same roles in The Innocent Moon.

 

HW uses his friend Pickles’ hospitality in somewhat cavalier fashion: his only thought being in pursuit of Annabelle. Three months later (broke from hiring hunters at 3 guineas a day!) he returns to his cottage in Devon to find rust on his Norton, his little cat more or less starved and his expensive logs missing. He states:

 

I was in love with Annabelle, and Annabelle’s mother was in love with me.

 

And that is how it was in real life: rather an unhappy, certainly an awkward, triangle.

 

HW’s night thoughts take him back into the war:

 

four years ago at this very hour I was being roused by an orderly, in the strangely quiet darkness of night . . . giving me a telegram signed BRAMBLE, and two other words which shocked and thrilled me. It had come at last. BATTLE STATIONS. The mist, the terrific barrage, uncertainty, retreat, petrol dumps, billowing black smoke, low strafing Fokkers and Albatri, Candas. Four years ago, a whole world away, gone forever. Now it was 21 March 1922 – the first day of spring!

 

(This statement does not quite tally with HW’s actual movements: he seems to have gone back to France on 27 March 1918 – but perhaps a little poetic licence is allowed. As adjutant at Landguard at that time HW would certainly have been alerted of the imminent attack.)

 

But his thoughts immediately return to Annabelle, following the tangled pattern of stalled love, so he gets up and goes for a walk telling himself he must devote himself to work, quoting Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven to himself.

 

Ah! must –

Designer infinite! –

Ah! must Thou char the wood ere

Thou canst limn with it?

 

Against which thought he protests. But more importantly perhaps are the unquoted words that immediately precede these within Thompson’s poem (and which HW would, rather unreasonably, expect his readers to know):

 

My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap

My days have crackled and gone up in smoke

 

HW’s protest against Francis Thompson’s acceptance of what he, Thompson, as a staunch Catholic, believes is God’s Will includes the words: ‘for the god of golden song is also the god of the golden sun’. HW uses this same phrase in Devon Holiday (written just after this present book) as part of his heading for chapter IV:

 

We talk of Things which are because the God of Golden Song is not always perceived as the God of the Golden Sun.

 

The nearest direct quotation I have been able to find to fit this seems to be from the second stanza of Francis Thompson’s poem ‘To My Godchild Francis M.W.M.’ (Francis Meynell, daughter of his benefactors):

 

To the Sun, stranger, surely you belong,

Giver of golden days and golden song;

 

The poem ends with the well-known last line: ‘Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven’. Also, in his poem ‘An Anthem of Earth’, Francis Thompson also refers to ‘the golden sun’. It would seem that HW is giving his own twist to those words. (The importance of Francis Thompson within HW’s life will be discussed in due course.)

 

In The Innocent Moon the section encompassing the ‘Annabelle’ story (Part Three) is fronted by a quotation from Edgar Allan Poe’s tragic poem Annabel Lee which gives the episode an edge that it does not have here.

 

There are many passages in HW’s ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’ that reveal his innermost struggle at that time (the early 1920s) to come to terms with the meaning of life and the part played by the Christos figure. Much of that mental torment was transmuted into his mystical book The Star-born, first written in 1922, but we see a glimpse of that struggle here in HW’s protest against Thompson’s thought expressed in his poem:

 

I know crucifixion and sacrifice is wrong. In future I will be furious because Jesus was done to death by stupidity which made of that crime a religion of Innocence tortured to save Ignorance!

 

Threaded through these ‘night-thoughts’ are his memories of his earlier love for ‘Eve Fairfax’ (heroine of The Dream of Fair Women, which book he is now writing within The Sun in the Sands!) (Mabs Baker of his Folkestone era, while he was still in the army, but post-war – see HWSJ 39, 2003, AW, ‘Save his own soul he hath no star’, pp. 30-60; also the HWS booklet/e-book, ‘Recreating a Lost World: HW & Folkestone 1919-20’.); and of his later love for her cousin, Doline Rendle – ‘Spica’ of the novels. The cross-referencing and juggling of these several balls in the air leaves the reader almost breathless!

 

We read of HW’s early writing and its criticism (mainly of artificial ‘grandiose’ words) by J. D. Beresford, which is immediately followed by the recounting of the debacle of the ‘Fancy Dress Dance’, where he famously dressed himself up as an owl:

 

How many times had I writhed in bed at night, remembering my sudden idiotic appearance at that dance, in home-made costume assembled from pyjamas, riding boots, leather jerkin, with my face white-washed and burnt-cork black circles round my eyes, a baby’s woollen cap on my head stuck with two turkey feathers, and carrying in my mouth a moth-eaten lambskin tied with rope in the shape of a mouse! . . .

 

Desperately I thought of the Spartan boy and the fox.

 

That last line relates of course to the ancient classical tale of stoical bravery in extreme pain related in Plutarch’s work of the Spartan youth who hid a fox under his cloak, and who, although it was biting his belly and guts to the point of death, did not reveal his guilty secret (this was part of an initiation ceremony into manhood for Spartan youth). HW incorporated this into his title and concept for the fifth volume of his Chronicle:A Fox Under My Cloak. (Although, of course, the red fox was also the emblem of the Vth Army.) What is interesting is to see HW using this same thought here as early as 1933, and relating it to a 1922 incident!

 

In the next paragraph we find HW’s title-line tucked into a lyrical description:

 

It was midsummer, with the voice of the corncrake in the moonlit corn, and swifts flying all night far up in the pale sky, and myself wandering in fields of dim-seen grazing sheep and cattle. It was high summer and the sun in the sands by the sea recharged me . . .

 

Being high summer, Sophie plus Annabelle, Queenie and young Marcus arrive for their holiday having rented a house on the ‘Bay’. HW is filled with confused thoughts: longing for Annabelle mixed with memories of the war and the song of the nightingale.

 

Why, when I was near Annabelle, did I think of the War? Why as I walked on the sunlit sands did my mind drag me backwards in time, to hear the nightingales singing in the woods of Aveluy, that sinister place lit by the gun-flashes in the Ancre valley? . . . Peace, rest, beauty – the nightingale’s song; Annabelle, the spirit of beauty in the shape of her body, in the brightness of her eyes . . . Peace, rest, beauty – the goal of my life: Annabelle, O Annabelle, come to me and let me lose myself in thee.

 

(The poetic reference here is to the last line of Tennyson’s ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white’ from The Princess:

 

so fold myself, my dearest, thou, and slip

Into my bosom and be lost in me

 

which poem our author reads, as you will see, towards the end of this section.)

 

And again the title refrain:

 

The hot sands loose under my feet as I walked by myself to hear the strange music in the sky, rising and falling with the sun in the sands.

 

We read now of the tennis tournament, when Annabelle was his partner for the mixed doubles.

 

 

innocent stokes2
HW and Mary Stokes ('Annabelle') at the tennis club

 

 

But this only leads to more introspective anguish. There was no hope and we see the deep torment of his mind:

 

The war was the apotheosis of – how could one man fight so much, so many. . . . I saw it all, with paradise clearness, with the light of the Morning Star, who was Lucifer the Lightbringer, the Prince of Darkness, the aspiring Soul of Man! . . . Save me, save me, I cried under my blanket, while I shivered in deep fear. Let me be normal, let me forget the war, let me be ordinary . . .

 

This is the cry of a man deeply disturbed: War and Peace; Love and Hate; Good and Evil; Hope and Fear – those intermixed opposites that concerned HW throughout his life, that gnawed at his very soul, as did that fox the vitals of the Spartan youth under his cloak. It was so in 1922 when he first wrote these muddled, troubled (deeply sincere) thoughts into his ‘Richard Jefferies Journal’ in the 1920s, and we see it surfacing here and indeed throughout his life, permeating every book he ever wrote.

 

That chapter ends and the next opens more calmly with HW suggesting a picnic on the Burrows (the wonderful wild area of sand dunes that adjoin the Taw/Torridge estuary) with Annabelle and Marcus. This was one of HW’s favourite places, and features in many books, especially The Pathway. They get caught in a rainstorm and take the ferry across to the ‘fishing village’ (Appledore) where Annabelle has a hot bath and then they sit with his arms around her, have boiled eggs for tea and then return. (HW readers will recognise a very similar scene from The Pathway!)

 

Indeed, that night, during a difficult conversation with Sophie (who is trying to vamp him), HW mentions the word ‘pathway’, and realises with excitement that he has found the title for his next book: ‘The Pathway’! It really is quite difficult to keep track of all the myriad interlacings here!

 

His next book, Dandelion Days, is published. (That was October 1922, so gives us a time reference!) Next we find he has convinced himself he has tuberculosis. A false alarm, but it caused him great concern for a while. We meet ‘Valentine’, based on Aubrey Lamplugh, who with his wife were friends of HW in those early days: he is another character who crops up in various books.

 

But the main thrust of the story here is his ejection from the Tennis Club, deriving from his unsuitable behaviour at the dance and due to malicious and slanderous remarks by the so very correct local ‘Society’ ladies. Eventually, to clear his name, he goes to a local solicitor, who only makes matters worse; eventually all is put right. However, he still feels that the honourable course is to leave the Club. This is based on real events, and does serve to reinforce the idea of the ‘outsider’.

 

The doctor has told him he needs to look after himself better, and he now begins to take his meals in the cottage of the ‘postman-sexton’, whose 18-year-old daughter sings in the church choir. (Again, these characters have been met in previous books – and will of course also appear in the Chronicle in due course.)

 

HW goes home for Christmas, where we find the usual strained atmosphere. He goes to see Mr Warbeck, who tells him Julian is ‘much the same’ and obviously following a life of dissolution, certainly in his father’s eyes. Julian’s tale is a very sad one: he fades out of HW’s life and we never learn what happens to him.

 

One day walking through Piccadilly, he sees Irene. They go to tea in the Hotel where they hear de Groot** play the violin. Irene tells him they are living near Pau in the Pyrenees. She tells him Barley is at school, loves skiing, and is very fond of him, keeping a photograph of him on his motorcycle next to her bed and is now a ‘very creditable young woman’.

 

(** By coincidence Richard and I have met his nephew, Philip de Groot, on many occasions of his playing with the superb Levon Chilingirian Quartet.)

 

After this encounter HW revisits The Tomorrow Club, now expanded and meeting at Caxton Hall, re-stirring old memories, mainly the embarrassing one of saying that he knew Arnold Bennett to a lady who turned out to be Bennett’s sister and knew he did not! She now tells him that she found his book lovely and had been wanting to tell him, which moves him to tears. His other memory is of an interesting lady who had once spoken to him about Jefferies, and whom he realised only later, when he saw her obituary, had been Mary Webb. (Mary Webb, 1881‒1927: in 1920/1 her early books had met with little success, but Precious Bane, published in 1924, was a best seller.)

 

On the Sunday after Christmas he is invited to the home of Walter de la Mare. ‘It was lovely there.’ The simple description of this party is quite moving – a portrait of the great poet:

 

Unobtrusive among his dear children and friends . . . I sought him out and told him that his verse was Shakespearian in quality. He was modestly attentive, a spirit of dark quicksilver. I saw him as moonlight; myself as the unrisen morning star. Many times had I declaimed his poems aloud to myself in my cottage. When I returned the next Sunday I brought with me a copy of his Memoirs of a Midget, and asked him, after hesitation, if he would inscribe it for me. He wrote, after my name, If it had been, how gladly it would have been, and seeing my puzzlement, explained that he had not given me the book, but if he had, would have done so gladly.

 

 

sins delamare

 

 

This is the episode as written in his original MS:

 

 

sins delamare ms1

 

 

sins delamare ms2

 

 

It was at the first party that he met the elder of the poet’s two sons: ‘Dick, grave and kind, just down from Oxford’, a young man of gentle fibre who was working in a publisher’s office. This is Richard de la Mare, who was to be HW’s best man, friend and confidant, and his publisher at Faber & Faber in due course.

 

HW now stays ‘with my young cousin Arthur in Surrey’. In the original manuscript this young man is called ‘Wyndham’. I cannot account for any ‘Wyndham’ on the family tree, and presume he is actually Hubert Gregg, son of Maude, sister of HW’s father. It is not an entirely comfortable household. However, the two young men go beagling together, about which our author writes a story. Indeed this is ‘A Day with the Jelly Dogs’, later ‘My Day with the Beagles’, which was published in The Old Stag (1926). (For interesting background, see HWSJ 30, 1994, Barry Kitts, ‘The Worcester Park Jelly Dogs’, pp. 23-31.) But Arthur’s father does not approve of HW, and he decides to leave.

 

‘Sophie had asked me to visit Tollemere Park.’: for interest, the MS version states – ‘Joanna asked me to Baldeston Park.’ The book also records (but not the 1934 MS pages still in his personal archive) that:

 

In the train I opened my paper, and read that Wilfrid Ewart, late of the Scots Guards, and author of Way of Revelation, had been killed in Mexico. It was as though I had lost a friend.

 

Wilfrid Ewart was (accidentally) shot on 31 December 1922, when he was hit as he leaned over a balcony of his hotel by the stray bullet from a rifle discharged to greet the New Year. This photograph appeared in the Daily Express on 5 January 1923, accompanying a short appreciation by S. P. B. Mais:

 

 

sins ewart

 

 

And so HW arrives at Tollemere Park, to find that Annabelle has actually gone hunting at Melton Mowbray where she has a ‘beau’, that Queenie is involved with her own young man, and so he and Sophie will ‘have the place to ourselves’ – apart of course from the General, ‘Bay’. To enliven the action here there is a hilarious scene of his new and expensive boots getting totally stuck on his legs and having to cut their stitching to get them off!

 

Sophie and the General go out for the day – in their chauffeur-driven car – and we learn Annabelle has returned. She and HW play tennis and there is a tremulously subtle love scene (on HW’s part) set around a daisy: but Annabelle wants to pluck the daisy – to HW’s anguish. (It is interesting that the first poem in HW’s copy of Selected Poems of Francis Thompson is ‘Daisy’ – a girl Thompson met on the Downs above Storrington (Sussex, where the Meynells lived): a girl who smiles at him and then just leaves. It should be noted here that HW met Meynell at his home soon after publication of The Pathway, and they were certainly friends.)

 

Annabelle wants to talk to him but he now perversely keeps her at a distance. When Sophie returns with the General, she tells him that they are all going to the Pyrenees for Easter, including Annabelle’s beau, Brian Talbot. HW is rather taken aback.

 

After dinner he reads Tennyson’s The Princess. This is no idle interpolation. The poem – incidentally set in the grounds of a typical English country estate – encompasses a complicated story about a Prince in love with a Princess whose only interest is to found a college for (basically) the rights of women, which in due course involves a battle between the forces of the two opposing families (rather à la Romeo and Juliet), which the Prince loses; however, the Princess, modifying her aims, turns her college into a hospital. It is at base more or less a polemic treatise on the moral and social ideas (ideals?) of the early Victorian era. One can see how HW would have seen it as an allegory of the current social situation (1922), the First World War and its aftermath.

 

The poem is enhanced – transformed – by the scattering of idyllic lyrics it contains (including ‘The Splendour Falls on Castle Walls’, ‘Sweet and Low’, and ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal now the White’) and so has its own Romantic essence, also applicable to HW’s ethos.

 

HW and Annabelle have a brief moment together, with the excuse of retrieving her tennis racquet, where she intimates she does indeed love him but—. He determines to leave that night, but sees a shooting star and he quotes from the poem he has just read:

 

Now slides the silent meteor on and leaves

A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

 

This is the passage in his MS:

 

 

sins ms43

 

 

The first archive manuscript for this section ends there. The printed version rounds it off more neatly – and the paragraph appears again in The Innocent Moon. He now has the ending for ‘my fantasy of the spirits of earth, water, air’ (i.e. The Star-born).

 

I sat down and made notes rapidly for the final scene of the fantasy. The notes drew out, and became the narrative.

 

He writes a note to Annabelle, which he slips under her door quoting lines from ‘Lovelace’s poem to Lucasta’, but then retrieves them! These lines are not given, but are in fact the very well-known lines from Richard Lovelace’s ‘To Lucasta, going to the Wars’:

 

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,

Loved I not honour more.

 

He quietly leaves to return to London.

 

 

PART III: BARLEYBRIGHT

 

As the innocent moon, that nothing does but shine,

Moves all the labouring surges of the world.

From Sister Songs, by Francis Thompson

 

The background to HW’s deep affiliation, or affinity, to Francis Thompson (1859-1907) will receive separate treatment in due course. The lines quoted here are from a poem entitled ‘The Mirage’ – which might be a clue to the content of this section! The full stanza reads:

 

In all I work, my hand includeth thine;

Thou rushest down in every stream

Whose passion frets my spirit’s deepening gorge;

Unhoodst mine eyas-heart, and fliest my dream;

Thou swing’st the hammers of my forge;

As the innocent moon that nothing does but shine,

Moves all the labouring surges of the world.

 

The poem ends:

 

This poor song that sings of thee,

This fragile song, is but a curled

Shell outgathered from thy sea

And murmurous still of thy nativity.

 

This is a profound statement of belief in the hand of God in all nature and in the heart and soul of the poet. HW would certainly have considered himself a poet at that time; and indeed Ted Hughes (Poet Laureate) called him so in his peroration at HW’s Memorial Service. HW copied this stanza into the front of his own copy of The Star-born, a book which, as has become obvious, is amazingly woven into this present work.

 

HW later lifted the phrase ‘The Innocent Moon’ for the title of volume 9 of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, which deals with the same material and era as The Sun in the Sands.

 

This third section opens quite straightforwardly in autobiographical fashion. HW meets up with his friends from Fleet Street, ‘Johnny and Bevan’: J. B. (Johnny) Morton and D. B. (Dominic Bevan) Wyndham Lewis. Bevan was then writing the famous ‘Beachcomber’ column for the Daily Express, as later did Johnny.

 

HW takes his cousin ‘Arthur’ to a party given by Bevan and his wife Janet, Johnny also being there. Johnny is presented as a personification of his own hero, the larger-than-life writer Hilaire Belloc (Sussex-adopted). The two men are planning to spend Easter walking in the Pyrenees in the footsteps and manner of Belloc (as in his book The Pyrenees, 1909). Johnny declares:

 

We shall sleep on glaciers! We shall hear Roland’s ghostly horn in the Pass of Roncesvalles!

 

(This is a reference to the great Song of Roland, relating the epic tale of Charlemagne and Roland, when brave Roland is besieged and, as arranged, blows his horn to summon assistance – but no one comes.)

 

HW, with some half-thought that he might see Annabelle, asks if he might join them. They are happy to agree. This is a trip that actually took place in May 1924, and the only real evidence for it is a short item written by S. P. B. Mais as ‘Mr London’ in the Daily Graphic:

 

Words from the Wilds

 

I have just received a postcard from the three literary wanderers in the Pyrenees, Henry Williamson, J.B. Morton and D.B. Wyndham Lewis. They say:

 

‘We haven’t slept a wink for a week. Last night we walked in snow over 40 miles (Frankly I don’t believe that.) Civic guards raid us in the forest, thinking we were bandits they were after. We have heard wolves howling at night, and seen the eagles soaring at immense heights.

 

We are a ragged band, blistered feet, collarless, unshaven, bottles sticking out of pockets, and weighed down with packs. If nothing more is heard of us, we rely upon the DAILY GRAPHIC to fit out a relief expedition.’

 

In The Sun in the Sands HW writes: ‘He [Johnny] warned me of the ardours of mountaineering; declaiming we might have to sleep in ice and snow, and on glaciers. My imagination added wolves, bears and bandits.’ Actually all three of these would certainly have been present there at that time!

 

We learn that HW obtained his tickets and then returned to Devon to continue his writing (a revision of the third book of the tetralogy, The Dream of Fair Women, published in June 1924) until it was time to leave. Gathering his gear together he discovers that the postman’s wife, whom he had asked to wash his breeches (made in 1918 when he was supposed to be leaving for service in the Indian Army), had actually boiled them: they were ruined. He iss also accidentally overcharged for his meals. A hilarious passage describes his efforts to make these simple, stubborn (country-crafty) honest guilty people see his point. The serious HW reader will have met this story previously!

 

He leaves for France dressed in ‘thick nailed shooting boots, leather anklets, thick stockings [long men’s socks], tweed plus fours, tweed coat and cap’, with thick sweater and heavy Exmoor hunt coat in his pack. To his surprise he finds Bevan and another friend (Johnny has gone on ahead) are dressed in ordinary lounge suits and town shoes.

 

It is of interest here to capture the writer’s process / progress by comparing the printed word with the archive manuscript - note that the significant last sentence in the book was added later; it does not appear in the MS:

 

 

sins p214

 

 

sins ms53

 

 

HW gives an interesting description of 1924 rural Spain, with its Good Friday procession of the crucified Jesus: muted, quiescent, slow – although some overall comments are not in the original MS and would have been a 1944 hindsight. Such sights and customs would have been unusual to a 1924 visitor.

 

They continue with rumbustious Johnny noisily criticising both local food and people and their own company. They hire a car (against Johnny’s principles!) – a Hispano-Suiza no less – and arrive above the mythic Roncesvalles where Roland had died, blowing his horn in vain. It is a lovely passage. They then walk through the night: it is hard work and without romance.

 

(An aside here: it is known that much of Hilaire Belloc’s ‘walking’ was actually done by train, bus, cart etcetera – he certainly never walked to Rome as he claimed!)

 

The next day Johnny goes off and on alone (they are all rather fed up with his complaining anyway): the others sit around and drink beer and sleep in a room with clean sheets. The next day they continue, quite happily, trudging, imbibing beer, eating bread and cheese, about ‘thirty to forty kilometres’ each day (that’s 20–26 miles, quite good going!). HW describes their walk among ‘the incult foothills of the Pyrenees’. There is a note that he was advised to remove such words as ‘incult’ (basically meaning ‘uncultivated’), but he kept it in anyway.

 

Finally they arrive at Laruns, and he remembers that this is where Irene lives, and, more importantly for him, near where Annabelle and party are staying. ( I am personally always rather struck by the fact that the name of this town is so like that of ‘El Laurens’, the name given by the Arabs to T. E. Lawrence – and wonder if that is why HW chose it for this tale.)

 

With time running out, the other two now want to take the train to Chartres which they want to see before having to return to work. HW decides to stay on and walk over the mountains to Argélès Gazost, where Annabelle and family are staying; a distance of 25 miles – easy!

 

In the street he sees a figure he thinks is Irene: it is Barley, now quite grown up. It is interesting to note that the following pages in the book (223-231), where HW talks to Barley and reads to her from his manuscript for The Star-born, were inserted later. They are not in the original MS.

 

Here HW makes some important points about this mystical allegory, written as already stated during the period that this present book covers, and published just before this book was written. HW certainly felt that The Star-born had not been understood by reviewers or readers, and so he takes here the opportunity to explain his purpose.

 

Perhaps even more importantly for the structure that HW has decided for this present book, this inserted passage allows him to establish a rapport with Barley. The scene ends with Barley telling him quite calmly that she loves him and has done from the moment she first saw him, and will always love him. But, despite Barley’s pleas about the danger, HW has determined to go to Argélès.

 

The patron of the estaminet tells him the route is impassable and Le Corniche (the road cut into the mountainside) is closed until July: there is great danger from avalanches. But he is determined to go.

 

(In the original MS here he leaves a note for ‘Julia’ ‒ Annabelle in the printed book ‒ placed with the pages of The Star-born MS in his pack. There is no mention of Barley.)

 

HW is awakened ‘in the electric pallor of dawn’. He has breakfast with Bevan and Guy, who accompany him a short way along the road. Then he sets off alone to climb directly up the mountainside to reach Le Corniche high above (thus cutting off several miles of road winding itself carefully upwards.

 

HW’s description of this fearful and totally foolhardy climb is short but masterly, and totally convincing! With great difficulty he does eventually reach Le Corniche, to find it a ‘rough and narrow track’. He rests, eats most of his food, drinks a lot of snow water, dries his clothes and runs naked around in the snow, shouting.  The MS shows many amendments to the passage as first written:

 

 

sins ms68

 

 

He sees an eagle: ‘with ponderous and wheeling flight drifting through the pale sky above me . . . mountain gentians with their flowers of an intense deep blue.’

 

Going on he finds the way blocked by a massive fall of rock and snow. Only the parapet is clear but the parapet is merely a poorly maintained and loose dry-stone-wall with a thousand-foot drop below. As he fearfully crawls across this precarious route he hears the rumbling of what with terror he realises is an avalanche (possibly of course triggered by his own behaviour a few minutes earlier!). He has a vision of Richard Jefferies watching over him, involuntarily crosses himself, and just manages to dive into a sheltered tunnel as the avalanche roars past carrying away the parapet.

 

In the absolute silence that follows he hears and sees two eagles soaring heedlessly above it all. He then has to make the difficult decision about how to continue, which means clambering his way below the blocked Corniche, clinging to the side of the mountain, and then when possible getting back up to the road.

 

This section describing the avalanche is on an interpolation of three typed pages within the archive MS copy (marked pp. 3-5, i.e. pages 1 and 2 are not there) with manuscript corrections etcetera added in green ink. There is no mention of Argélès, or Annabelle and co., or of Barley and Irene. This suggests to me that the avalanche story was once a separate story typed up for publication, which he has now incorporated into The Sun in the Sands. This is the last page of the TS, remarked as p. 71 in the MS:

 

 

sins ms71

 

 

Certainly, even though there is no record of the original 1924 Pyrenees visit, none of this adventure ever happened to HW himself!

 

The MS then continues as in the printed story, with our hero with great difficulty eventually getting to Argélès, where he takes a room in the first hotel he comes to. After a rest he goes down to dinner in a rather wild state both physically and mentally. But in his first hysterical relief at being safe he has called out to two peasants he meets that his companion has been killed on the Corniche ‒ which is to have repercussions!

 

After dinner he sets out and finds Sophie, the General, Queenie, Annabelle, plus her ‘beau’ Brian Talbot and his parents, the Colonel and Lady Maude Talbot, although he has now realised that he no longer loves Annabelle. None of them are pleased to see him and do not believe that he has crossed Le Corniche. They tell him they are moving on early the next morning and after an awkward interval he returns to his own hotel, thoroughly exhausted.

 

When he finally falls asleep, he relives the avalanche in a dream and finds himself being shaken awake by two men, the hotel proprietor and a gendarme. He is closely but confusingly questioned. They want details of the man he has said had been killed on Le Corniche.

 

During this interrogation he is called to the telephone. It is Irene, who tells him that Barley had followed him to try and stop him crossing Le Corniche, and has not returned. This is all rather cleverly presented: it seems to be a dream within a dream: we no longer sure what is real and what is not. Indeed, when he came to rewrite these scenes in The Innocent Moon, they are presented as a nightmare: Phillip only dreams that Barley is dead – as she dreams that he is – and they go on to get married with its own tragic ending. (I would remind those readers interested in such matters that this ties in with that stream of ‘dream-narrative’ writing which was prevalent in the ancient Romaunce tales, which I have mentioned in previous analyses.)

 

The scene here is on its own separate (unnumbered) page within the MS in a totally different ink, shown below. It is an obvious later addition, as the story in the MS continues without reference to any of this: HW meets up with his friends, they go to a revue in Paris, etc., they return and he goes on to the battlefields.

 

 

sins ms84

 

 

Here in the printed version, the next day Barley’s body is found: she had broken her back falling from Le Corniche. He returns to Irene and they comfort each other. Irene now says there is only one person she has ever heard of, and indeed had once seen in Cairo, who was like Barleybright: Lawrence of Arabia, whose book has just been serialised in the Daily Telegraph. Had HW heard of him?

 

(T. E. Lawrence’s Revolt in the Desert was serialised in the Daily Telegraph in January 1927, so HW has gone out of his 1921-24 time sequence here.)

 

This little sequence allows the author to lift the story above and away from the tragic end of his tale: the touch of a writer skilled in his craft. It stems of course from that odd little encounter at the end of HW’s visit to Georgia with a Mr and Mrs Cowles, whom he met briefly at dinner just before he returned to England. Cowles was the nephew of Teddy Roosevelt. His wife had ‘spoken rather knowingly about T. E. Lawrence’. We know that HW’s original story had been finished on 2 April 1934 in Augusta, Georgia, but that also he was still writing while in New York while waiting to leave. The two details dovetail very neatly!

 

Our author reveals how TEL has been his hero since the war and that he knows that one day they will meet (as we all know they did – but HW has gone back to his original time-span, which is pre-TEL).

 

The last paragraph reverts to the original MS story: taking a train to Lourdes with its tourist horrors, then to Paris, meeting up with Guy and Bevan (we are never told what happened to Johnny!). They return to England but our author went on

 

to Amiens, thence to Albert, and walked over the old battlefields I had known on the Somme, with aching heart for all things remembered in ancient sunlight, but with hope for the future.

 

This battlefield visit did not take place at that point in real life: it was actually on his honeymoon in May/June 1925. But it makes a moving and very appropriate end to the tale, and is very reminiscent in aura to the hopeful message with which he finally, many years later, ends his Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. Indeed, here he actually refers to ‘ancient sunlight’, the phrase used by Richard Jefferies in his The Story of my Heart, thus tying up several threads within that one final sentence.

 

As I have stated, Barley and Irene never actually existed as such; they are part of the fantasy which HW so convincingly created and wove into what is otherwise indeed a fictionalised autobiography. As a novel it works on every level that one could wish to judge it by. It is, as I hope you will have realised, also a far more important book than it gives the appearance of being!

 

 

*************************

 

 

Back to The Sun in the Sands main page

 

Critical reception

 

Book covers

 

 

 

 

Back to 'A Life's Work'

Shopping Cart


 x 

Cart empty