The Sun in the Sands - Critical reception



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Critical reception:


Several of the reviews of this book need scanning in full in order to emphasise the full effect it had on the ‘professional’ readers. They were pasted into a large black-paged ‘review’ scrapbook and do not appear to have come from Durrant’s Agency. The source is written in by hand and very few dates are added. We should also remember here that in 1945 there was very little factual information available about HW. (Indeed, right up to quite recent times biographical information was based to some extent on hearsay, misinformation, and whatever could be gleaned from his various books, leading to some rather peculiar and erroneous statements.)


The Times Literary Supplement, 4 April 1945:



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The Lady:



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The Sphere:



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New Statesman and Nation (Antony Brown), 9 June 1945:



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John O’London’s Weekly (L. A. G. Strong), 20 April 1945 (the 4-inch column has been divided in half to ensure legibility):



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This long review is so revealing about its (at the time very well-known) author that he deserves a brief comment. Leonard Alfred George Strong (1896-1958) was born in Plymouth (South Devon) but of Irish descent. He became a teacher until his novel Dewer Rides (1929), set on Dartmoor, brought attention. He was a prolific writer (poetry, plays, radio scripts, biographies, autobiographies, novels): often his books had Irish settings. In 1945 (so this same year as The Sun in the Sands) Travellers brought him the James Tait Black Prize. His poems were collected in The Body’s Imperfection (1957).


Punch (H.P.E.):



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Eastern Daily Press (Lilias Rider Haggard), 24 March 1945. Oddly, there is no actual cutting for this, only a photocopy on A4 paper made later:



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Source unknown (S. P. B. Mais), (18½ inch column):


This part of Henry Williamson’s autobiography tells of his struggle to secure recognition as a writer between the time of his demobilisation after the last war and 1924. . . .


Henry Williamson went out to the last war as a young, sensitive spirit keenly alive to the world’s suffering. His experiences seared him as they seared Wilfrid Owen with whom he has much in common. On his return he found no sympathy for his point of view from his father . . . [continues through various points of the story].


The pangs of calf-love have surely never been more sensitively revealed. Outstanding and complete honesty about himself . . .



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There is also another item attributed to Mais, from one of his gossip columns; the portrait of HW is by Edward Seago, reproduced from his Peace in War (Collins, 1943). It is not clear if the item pasted immediately below the illustration in this scrapbook of reviews is also by Mais:



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Tribune (W. P. Rilla):



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The Sphere, 7 April 1945:


. . . It is perhaps these two time lapses [1924-34-44] which give the book its strangely nostalgic flavour. . . [not like previous books]. That his reminiscences – for this is autobiography – should be ingenuous is surprising in itself.


The narrative pictures a young man fresh from the horrors and confusion of the last war -- a young man shrinking from the realities and making an outlet for his idealism in authorship. . . .


The Field:


Mr. Henry Williamson is a most uneven author. . . . The Sun in the Sands, an autobiography (the majority of his work is autobiographical) . . . contains passages of real beauty and very little that is not class A Williamson, so to speak. The story does not go very far. This is the young Williamson, the budding author, a highly strung very sensitive young man obviously destined to be successful.


Daily Telegraph: A very short paragraph ending: ‘The whole thing is very ingenuous.’


Irish Independent (V.S.):



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Yorkshire Post:


[Ends:] that these episodes should follow experiences of the last war which have seared the pages of everything he has written explains, also, the constant struggle within himself. This is a most moving book to those who are not antagonised by his introspection and who can sympathise with an acutely sensitive spirit.


Manchester Guardian (W.G.) Could this perhaps be Waveney Girvan, HW’s early bibliographer?


This story . . . is wrought with such considerable craft that it almost achieves the form of an autobiographical novel [presumably as opposed to a ‘novel-autobiography’?] and I could not help feeling surprised when vivid portrayals of my own friends kept appearing in the company of seemingly fictional characters. Mr. Williamson re-creates for us in trenchantly beautiful prose his own remarkable experiences in the between-war years, illuminating each episode with a pregnant perception of its spiritual significance. . . . His frankness [is due to the fact] that he is resolved on the discovery of the profoundly obscure sources of humanity’s fantastically inexplicable conduct.


The Scotsman:



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Belfast Telegraph:



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Evening Standard:



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The Spectator: This astringent lady basically found the book to be too much about HW:


All the others are presented so entirely in terms of his words, prejudices and illusions that they never appear as independent rounded characters. . . .


“A tragic climax” says Mr. Williamson’s publishers, “which reaffirms the writer in his integrity.” Integrity? Say rather selfishness. And whether this selfishness is justified by Mr. Williamson’s writings as a whole is another question.


Liverpool Post:



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Observer (John Moore), July 1945. This photocopy of the review proof has been provided by the John Moore Society, the copyright holder, and is reproduced with their permission:



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The Adelphi, April–June 1945, Vol. 21, No. 3: The following advertisement is from the back cover of this issue. It gives interesting insight into HW’s other current activities:



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An interesting and percipient interlacing of ideas was made by one reviewer. In February 1945 Lord Moran’s book The Anatomy of Courage (Constable) had been published, one month before HW’s The Sun in the Sands. Lord Moran (Sir Charles McMoran Wilson, 1882–1977) had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the First World War and was awarded an MC in 1916. The Anatomy of Courage arose out of his experiences of that time combined with further study into the subject (the quotation under his title is: ‘The thing in the world I am most afraid of is fear.’ Montaigne). During the Second World War he was personal physician to Winston Churchill. The book deals with fear and man’s attempts to overcome it – courage: particularly in relation to shell-shock, nervous breakdown – or as we now call it, post-war trauma.


It was obviously a book which HW himself found of great importance. He has marked several passages in his own copy of the book, and later quoted from it in A Test to Destruction (Vol. 8, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, 1960) and Lucifer before Sunrise (Vol. 14, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight, 1967).


But the import here is the substance of a review of The Sun in the Sands from the Times Educational Supplement (date not given), which HW pasted into the front of his copy of The Anatomy of Courage:



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