Devon Holiday - Critical reception

 

 

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Critical reception:

 

 

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There is an extremely large file of reviews for Devon Holiday, so shorter reviews have been omitted here. The ‘G. B. Everest’ disguise was busted from the start. Indeed, it was mentioned in a couple of papers even before the book was actually published. There had been of course an enormous amount of press attention over TEL’s accident death and funeral (HW kept a big selection of newspapers from that time).

 

Yorkshire Post, Nottingham Guardian, Southport Guardian and The Star all mentioned this on 20 June 1935.

 

Liverpool Daily Post (Brother Savage), 22 June 1935: ‘Books and Bookmen’ column. Brother Savage was a regular reviewer of HW’s books. After a 7½ column inches diatribe against Gertrude Stein, Brother Savage turns to HW, fastening on the references to T. E. Lawrence.

 

North Devon Journal, 22 June 1935: 2 items; the first (14 column inches) by the Editor, grumbles that HW has used and twisted his own words in an article in the Sunday Referee – all to do with spelling ‘Henry’ as ‘Henrny’ (as HW does in Devon Holiday) and obviously feeling hurt at HW’s pastiche of this editor’s previous article, which in Devon Holiday is found lying in the road, very dirty, picked up, casually read and then carefully burnt: NOT the way to make friends even if it was done in fun! This editor points out that all this passage is merely a rehash of the article by HW in the Sunday Referee – ‘whole chunks identical in phraseology’. However, he is happy to include a review.

 

Review proper, signed A.J.M. (11-inch column), first gives reasons as to why the book should be unreadable, carrying on:

 

But as a matter of fact, “Devon Holiday” is very much more attractive than its method of compilation would lead us to suppose. . . . The author has once again brought into use those remarkable and penetrating powers of observation and that great gift of descriptive realism which went into [Tarka the Otter] . . .

 

Sunday Referee (A.V.O.), 23 June 1935 (for which newspaper HW was then writing a regular ‘Nature Lover’s Notebook’ column):

 

 

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Daily Telegraph, 24 June 1935:

 

The last thing “Lawrence of Arabia” ever wrote is given in a book which is published today.

 

Then a full review on 25 June 1935:

 

Otters, peregrines and ravens move about in Mr. Henry Williamson’s books. . . . He digs up the dialect of Devon warm and coarse and serves it like cottage bread. . . .

It is a strange book, full of odds and ends and whatever seems to strike the author. It begins with the last telegram ever sent by Lawrence of Arabia a few minutes before the end. It closes with a lyrical idyll of a salmon’s life story intertwined with that of a girl. In between is a ghastly story of the Grand Guignol transferred to the tors and heather . . . [i.e. ‘The Story of the Poisoned Hounds’]

 

Birmingham Post, 2 July 1935: Opening with the ‘Postscript’ incident, the reviewer continues:

 

Mr. Williamson and his work have, however, little need of adventitious publicity. Both are vigorous and independent, likely to attract the mentally robust, certain to repel the squeamish . . . the last chapter, an exquisite story called “The Maiden Salmon” . . . most important of all, studies of the countryside and of wild life observed with unsentimental sympathy.

 

John O’London’s Weekly (Osbert Burdett), 6 July 1935:

 

Mr. Henry Williamson is one of those authors who cast a peculiar spell on people, but a spell that may seem inexplicable to others. His new book . . . is a baffling example of this spell. On the loose framework of a ramble in Devon . . . he strings a collection of all sorts of stories. . . . I do not think the framework very successful, nor the characters of the ramblers, nor the chronicle of their route; but . . . this book is the apparently impossible feat: a book about Devon unlike any other, and inimitable. . . .

 

The cream of the book is the last chapter . . . a lovely nature story beautifully told. [Then an interesting insight, that the book reveals a strain (or split personality?)]: That which one overhears in his written word is, I suppose, a voice which finds writing as much a barrier as an expression.

 

Morning Post, 9 July 1935: 13-inch total column headed ‘A QUARTETTE ON THE COUNTRY’, but mainly on Through the Wilderness by H.J. Massingham and Devon Holiday by HW]. Opens with a generalisation about writers on country matters – either ‘sentimental cockneys’ or those who know the countryside; the latter feel regret that its qualities are being lost. Of Massingham:

 

His book is charming, informative, provocative and provoking . . . because Mr. Massingham’s archaeological-romantic-mystical impulses narrow his vision and clog his analysis.

Mr. Williamson, also, neglects the depth of the human problem . . . This new book describes everything . . . strung together with the string of a long tour on foot . . . The talk and description are as good as ever but . . . Mr. Williamson gives something of the impression of living in a fool’s paradise.

 

HW replied!

 

 

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Books of Today, July 1935:

 

 

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Daily Herald (A.L.H.), 5 July 1935; headed ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’. The reviewer opens with a somewhat obtuse and over-clever passage about ‘Demiurge’ quoted from Christopher Morley, and proceeds to judge first a book by John Moore, Country Men (Dent, 7/6d), and then HW against his quoted criteria of ‘marking the wrong passages’: both fail. Basically he is puzzled by HW’s book:

 

. . . anything but what we expect of him . . . Between them Henry and his Scribe have made a rambling book, in more senses than one.

 

[He then proceeds to reveal ‘Zeale’ to be S. P. B. Mais and ‘Everest’ to be T. E. Lawrence – and ends:]

 

It is good only for its rare glimpses of a great naturalist who insists on making the wrong comments in the margins.

 

(‘Demiurge’ was the creator of the world in Platonic philosophy. But the word ‘demiurge’ comes from the Greek ‘demiourgos’ meaning ‘craftsman’: in trying to be too clever the reviewer missed an opportunity to be really clever!)

 

Manchester Guardian (G.T.), 8 July 1935: Describes various points of the book but feels the ‘boisterous mirth’ often falls flat.

 

The Observer, 21 July 1935:

 

[Likes the fact that HW] has let himself go; and with effect. You never know what is coming next. [Picks out choice items but concludes that surely HW has yet to write best work, for] this little book, for all its virtues, is little more than a sort of impromptu joke, a merry persiflage, a satiric comedy.

 

The Times, 2 July 1935: under the heading ‘DEVON SCRAPBOOK’ (which would have made a good title for it!):

 

[HW’s] latest book is a light-hearted affair . . . It is a scrapbook of tales of local character, wild life, and personal anecdotes. [And without actually mentioning TEL by name, notes] the vignette of “G. B. Everest” has a poignant interest since the tragic motor-cycle accident at Bovington earlier this year.

 

The Times Literary Supplement, 11 July 1935 (11-inch column):

 

Mr. Williamson surely provides a case for the theory of reincarnation. [His sympathy and understanding of nature is of the highest degree] . . . But Mr. Williamson is far from pointing morals. Indeed, this book is a thoroughly light-hearted affair.

[Of the characters who come and go:] not the least important being “Windles”. [And of course ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ – picking up on the phrase:] ‘future man will be like that after the Final World War’. [While the story of the escaped convict:] shows that Mr. Williamson has a sympathetic understanding of others besides birds and beasts.

 

The Sunday Times, 14 July 1935 (18-inch column):

NOVELIST POET AND NATURALIST

MR. WILLIAMSON ON HOLIDAY

[Quotes HW’s own phrase re ‘slapstick and knockabout’] . . . Mr. Williamson is an elusive person and these expressions from the jargon of the theatre . . . by no means convey the sum of the qualities of “Devon Holiday”.

[Some length is devoted to the J. B. Priestley passages, although no actual comment is made on them.]

Mr. Williamson’s feelings for Devon are those of a naturalist, novelist, poet rustic – all of which jostle one another in this book of high comedy. . . .

A reviewer can only do summary justice to this fascinating book. Characters two-footed, four-footed, winged and finned crowd its pages. . . .

[The reviewer ends with reference to T. E. Lawrence who:] makes a brief and, in the light of after events, a poignant appearance. . . . the last words Lawrence wrote were in a telegram about this very book (then in proof) . . . Mr. Williamson has never written with more delicate sensibility than in the pages where “G. B. Everest” (as he is here called) talks to him for the last time on the Berengaria.

 

The Scotsman, 15 July 1935 (9½-inch column):

 

Mr. Williamson’s many admirers will find in his latest book confirmation of the opinion, frequently expressed, that he is one of the most delightful writers on Nature we have ever had, but not nearly so good on other topics. This “rambling haphazard walk” (real or imaginary) . . . provides literary fare of as mixed a kind as was the company of ramblers. . . .

Truly, Devon Holiday is a mixed bag, but all who dip into it should find something to their liking.

 

North Devon Journal (again), 18 July 1935:

 

. . . the writer has left himself untrammelled by any set method or construction and the reader is led through a series of unconventional descriptions of experiences that, whilst of small intrinsic significance, are made enjoyable by the naive manner of their telling. . . .

 

Southport Guardian, 8 August 1935. This reviewer knew HW’s books well:

 

 

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Irish News, 29 July 1935 (8-inch column):

 

‘A Book for the Holiday’

. . . in this praiseworthy book a perfect master of the extempore holiday . . . the book is such an unpremeditated affair. . .

 

[Ending re J. B. Priestley on HW:] The great English unhumorous writer Mr. Priestley will have to read “Devon Holiday” and recant.

 

Sun (Sydney, Australia), 18 August 1935:

 

 

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The Listener, 11 December 1935. This review really picks up on the salient points:

 

 

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Time and Tide, 23 August 1935:

 

 

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