Goodbye West Country - Critical reception

 

 

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Critical reception:

 

 

Among the reviews here are there is also some mention of HW’s edited edition of Richard Jefferies’ Hodge and his Masters, published at the same time. This obviously made a cross reference for those that noticed the significance.

 

As noted earlier in the text, the reviews do not start until first week of November 1937, which suggests that there was a month’s delay in the printed publication date.

 

Devon & Exeter Gazette, 5 November 1937:

 

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The Star (Wilson Midgley), 5 November 1937:

 

In America they would call Henry Williamson “an ornery cuss”. . . . He has packed his bag and thrown in all kinds of things, including broadcast scripts, letters to other people, and others addressed to him, lovely perceptions of nature, ill-natured comments on people, and some vague stuff about Lawrence of Arabia, and a visit to the Nazis, meant to be inspiring, but disappointingly flat.

 

News Chronicle (Robert Lynd), 5 November 1937; also reviewed here is Wyndham Lewis’s Blasting and Bombardiering:

 

An able and exasperating writer who gives the impression he is trying to impose his personality and opinions by main force. . . .

 

Mr. Williamson is a good writer . . . here of birds and other wild creatures, of his books, of a visit to Hardy, of T. E. Lawrence, of everything that turns up, and everybody who turns up . . . His judgment, however, like Wyndham Lewis’s, seems to me to be erratic . . . [re TEL & Hitler].

 

Shooting Times (F.H.L.), 6 November 1937:

 

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Eastern Daily Press, 6 November 1937 (13-inch column plus photo); reviews both Goodbye West Country and Hodge and his Masters:

 

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FROM WEST TO EAST

Henry Williamson’s Valediction

 

[The reviewer explains why HW has left Devon] . . . a sense of frustration is ever present in this book [but does not] rob it of the intensity of the author’s love of nature . . . For those inimitable pictures this book will be as much cherished as any of its predecessors. [But also] in many cases with even greater interest – the author’s frank and revealing self-portrait . . . he hates shams and half-truths, and though some of his enthusiasms may not be to everyone’s taste neither their deep sincerity nor the fact that they are really personal in their origin will be questioned for a moment.

 

Richard Jefferies, Hodge and his Masters, ed. by Henry Williamson (Methuen, 7s 6d):

 

This new edition [is timely] . . . a faithful picture of farming . . . the richness of unique character of the countryside and its people.

 

Manchester Evening News, 11 November 1937:

 

The almost day-to-day diary of his doings and thoughts rambling actually or in memory over a large part of Southern England and even as far as Germany . . . As the essayist and commentator at large and as the rather morbid student of his own ego, he is sometimes profound and stimulating, at other times merely garrulous or banal.

 

Southern Times (J. H. L. Cort), 20 November 1937 (9-inch column, most of which is understandably devoted to HW’s meeting with Hardy):

 

Books for Dorset Readers

 

Goodbye West country shows an intense love of nature and is a fascinating self-portrait of Henry Williamson, who has decided to change the scene of his life from Devon to Norfolk.

 

Irish Times, 20 November 1937 (11-inch column):

 

gwc review3a

 

[The middle section is devoted to quoting the peregrine stoop description.]

 

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The Scotsman, 22 November 1937:

 

. . . It deals with multifarious topics . . . [but] perhaps this diary has too much of the character of a kit-bag into which ill-assorted objects are stuffed. . . .

 

Yet those who know Mr. Williamson’s works will not be disposed to dwell on minor defects of the book. It contains characteristic accounts of [nature]. But the autobiographical element predominates. . . .

 

There are so many recollections embedded in this diary that it may be described as an informal autobiography. . . . Mr. Williamson makes a strong plea for friendship with Germany and a truce to the unfriendly criticism of that country’s regime. . . .

 

Birmingham Post, 23 November 1937:

 

[Opening paragraph of regret that HW is leaving the West Country.] In form it is a journal of his last year in the West Country; in fact, it is a miscellany of reminiscences drawn from his earlier life and interesting chips from his workshop. . . . an abundance of odds and ends of natural history acutely observed. . . . Mr. Williamson writes of what he has felt.

 

Birmingham Daily Mail, 23 November 1937 (11-inch column; devotes 9 inches of review to the story about plagiarism of HW’s work in the USA! Then continues):

 

. . . whatever he touches on he does it with that style and grace for which he is celebrated. Lovers of his nature books will find fascinating studies of the countryside, but they will also enjoy reading his excursions into a wider field of human endeavour.

 

Punch, 24 November 1927:

 

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Nottingham Journal, 25 November 1937; straightforward short review: ‘a self-portrait’.

 

Sheffield Telegraph, 25 November 1937; straightforward short review: ‘an intimate and frank revelation’

 

The Times Literary Supplement, 27 November 1937:

 

Mr. Williamson has migrated . . . ‘My work in the West country is finished.’ . . . a hint of certain arrogance and ennui in the author’s attitude, indicative of the general tenor of the book. . . . [But] perhaps he is not so jaded as he protests . . . there is evidence of the old responsive thrill to the marvels of nature and the familiar powers of vivid, poetic description . . .

 

The Times, 30 November 1937:

 

[Compares Goodbye West Country with Llewellyn Powys, Somerset Essays.] . . . deep insight and persuasive eloquence.

 

Mr Williamson has allowed a note of weariness and discontent to dominate his valediction to Devon. Writing, it seems, has presented him with the hateful paradox of being at once an essential means of supporting life and a direct obstacle to the enjoyment of it.

 

. . . a round of writing, broadcasting, walking, visiting and being visited, bathing, fishing and working in his garden. His opinions of other people and theirs of him are candidly set down . . . but on the whole the book in style and content is below the standard of the author’s best work.

 

Liverpool Daily Post (C.V.C.), 1 December 1937:

 

Mr. Williamson writes a good deal about himself in this book. . . . [He] writes of friendship, travels, broadcasting, and much besides. A tribute to ‘Winged Victor’ . . . is full of affection . . . one chapter describes King George V’s funeral in London, another a visit to Germany and the Nürnburg rally . . . clear vivid English that is a joy to read.

 

The Friend (Edgar G. Dunstan), 3 December 1937:

 

. . . In this beautifully produced volume Henry Williamson pays his valedictory to Devon . . . The entries are concerned with day-to-day happenings, the changing seasons, the morning’s post, preparation of broadcast talks, reminiscences of T. E. Lawrence and Hardy, and a quite extraordinary and naïve account of a visit to Germany.

 

Evening Gazette (Reading) (Moore Ritchie) 3 December 1937; a large review column mainly concerned with ‘Don Roberto’, as the colourful R. B. Cunninghame Graham was known (A. F. Tschiffely, Don Roberto). (HW brings Cunninghame Graham into his description of ‘Bloody Sunday’, in November 1887, in The Dark Lantern. See AW, Henry Williamson and the First World War, Note 6, p. 181.) Of HW Moore Ritchie writes:

 

Mr. Henry Williamson is possibly the most individual of present day men of letters. After long struggle, in which he conceded nothing of his writing skills, he achieved richly deserved fame with his nature-studies. Mr. Williamson is an artist in the austere sense [and so] it is not surprising to learn that he sometimes grows discontented. . . . This is a book that could have been written by no other living author, it is in places as surprising as it is full. . . . the most compelling descriptions are of animal or bird.

 

The Church of England Newspaper (F.O.W.), 3 December 1937 (14-inch column):

 

Mt. Williamson may not be what T. E. Lawrence called him, namely “the greatest living writer of English prose”, but he is certainly a master in the plain, straightforward style, entirely free from mannerism. He and his friend, S. P. B. Mais, are probably the two foremost writers on Nature we have. [A slightly odd conclusion?]

 

[The reviewer goes through the nature observations: then a paragraph on HW’s question – ‘What is Truth?’, and how he answers it.] Mr. Williamson admits us to some of the intimacies of his private affairs in the ostensible form of a diary for 1936. It is an enthralling book and grips one from the first page to the last.

 

Bristol Evening Post (C.R.H.), 4 December 1937 (23-inch column):

 

HENRY WILLIAMSON’S FAREWELL TO THE WEST

 

Henry Williamson has left the West Country. Devon has lost him and Norfolk has gained him. . . . in a diary which is both a picture of the lovely West Country and a portrait of himself. . . .

 

This enthusiastic review then quotes incident after incident from the book.

 

Western Weekly News (Ernest W. Martin) 4 December 1937 (6½-inch column); when HW came back to Devon after the Second World War, the writer Ernie Martin became a friend, probably through the West Country Writers Association, although there is no evidence that they knew each other at this stage:

 

A typically frank and fascinating chronicle of his last year in Devon which he has left for the new peace of a Norfolk Farm, a record of his thoughts, frustrations, prejudices and preferences.

 

There is no unity, no set theme in this book but it has the curious appeal of the haphazard. . . . occasionally the real Williamson shines through expressing beautiful thoughts in emotive prose of perfect lucidity.

 

The farewell of this erratic and entirely likeable man will be long remembered in Devon.

 

Ernie also reviews here: Reginald Pound, Their Moods and Mine, noting that Pound and HW were friends.

 

Eastern Daily Press, 8 December 1937; mainly an article about the difficulties of ideal Christmas presents, and ends with a short list of 8 titles of which Goodbye West Country is one.

 

My Garden, December 1937:

 

gwc review5

 

Oxford Times (A.P.D.), 10 December 1937 (8½-inch column):

 

Mr. Williamson’s readers will find themselves in something of a quandary . . . for they will have discovered a new Henry Williamson. It has taken nearly 20 years . . . Bitter and disillusioned [from the war] he found a way of life in close contact with nature . . . our good fortune that he was able to translate his happy moments into words.

 

Goodbye West Country is first and foremost a revelation of himself . . . [and so is] one of Mr. Williamson’s most interesting books.

 

Evening Standard (Howard Spring), 9 December 1937 (total column 11 inches across and 16½ inches long, either side of a centre page spread – so prominently featured. HW has the ‘left side: ‘A WRITER TURNS TO FARMING’; the right-hand side, ‘TOO FAR GONE FOR SAINTS’, is for Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means.)

 

[After some considerable pre-amble about HW and his move to Norfolk as ‘a new allurement’ Howard Spring states:] In his last year in Devonshire Mr. Williamson wrote this book: a day-to-day diary, a record of work done, of things seen, of meditations about this and that. Mr. Williamson is tremendously struck by the ideology of the New Germany [but] politics do not take up much of his space. The greater part of it is a matter of country observation.

 

Altogether, it is clear, he has arrived at a major crisis in his life – one that can only be met by doing rather than thinking and imagining. We who have in the past owed something to his work hope that he will now prove his own theory, secure happiness for himself and satisfaction for us, by writing “on the side” [reference to the comment made by HW in the book: ‘all writing, to be happy, should be on the side’.]

 

The review is accompanied by two illustrations, linocuts, 2½ x 3½ inches, signed ‘K’, one in the middle of each side. Neither is given any attribution – but they are by William Kermode, the unattributed designer of the dust-jacket of Goodbye West Country. Why no name is given is a mystery, but someone had surely noticed the connection and was laying down a marker.

 

The Tribune (VANOC II), 17 December 1937 (another large column, 9 x 10½ inches); this is an article and not a book review column. Most of the space is given over to the death of Jerry Donoghue who died saving the lives of eight stevedores by his own heroism. From here the writer goes sideways into the Irish question, but it is all really a rant against the ruling class and is headed by a photograph of a fox hunt – where, he states, the ruling class learn to wage war. From this he lams into HW, ‘whose books have often given the impression that he was the only man who fought and suffered.’ He then trashes GWC, ending:

 

Nobody will take Williamson seriously. He always was the immature poet, without roots among men; never a guide. . . . Beware of writers who glorify animals the better to abuse men.

 

(For readers who may not be aware, The Tribune was extremely left-wing.)

 

Express & Star, 29 December 1937:

 

gwc review6a        gwc review6b 

 

Southport Guardian (reviews Hodge and His Masters, Goodbye West Country, and The Sky’s Their Highway by Kenneth Williamson):

 

BOOKS OF THE DAY

* IN NATURE’S WAY *

From Jefferies to Voronoff

 

Hodge and His Masters (6½ inches):

 

Mr Williamson continues his memorial to Richard Jefferies . . . he rescues from neglect . . . this ‘revised’ Jefferies is given a beautiful format. Mr. Williamson dates his revised Jefferies from his new farming home in North Norfolk . . . [leading into:]

 

Goodbye West Country (7 inches):

 

. . . There is much nature-observation in this chronicle . . . but this is not so much a nature-book as the autobiography of a naturalist. [All the main points of the book are neatly and sympathetically covered, and ends hoping:] Mr. Williamson will recapture spiritual peace.

 

The Sky’s Their Highway, Kenneth Williamson, ‘A Lancashire Bird-Watcher’(10 inches; no relation); again a detailed and sympathetic review of a book illustrated by Tunnicliffe. It may be of interest that HW’s son Richard wrote a joint scientific bird report/paper with this naturalist in the late 1970s, based on the Common Bird Census results for Kingley Vale NNR, where RW was warden for over 30 years.

 

Time and Tide (Geoffrey West), 1 January 1938 (17 x 3½-inch column):

 

Dove and ---------- Falcon

 

[Contrasting Goodbye West Country with Cotswold Days by Colin Howard, Blackie, 8s 6d.] These are birds of a feather – up to a point: each presents a personal record of country life over precisely the same period.

 

[The reviewer likes both books and both authors: Mr. Howard’s is] ‘a cooing pigeon, sucking dove of a book, a book for those who like their birds (and books) quiet in the hand. . . . For myself it is the falcon quality in Mr. Williamson which makes almost any work of his a thing not to be missed.

 

[Beyond that comparison the reviewer concentrates on HW: the overall content of the book is covered – the book is] . . . much less the West Country threnody the title might suggest than a deliberate scrapbook revelation of the author . . .

 

[Of all the items, West notes ‘To the Unknown Soldier’ as outstanding:]

 

gwc review7

 

[West then picks up on what is a most important aspect of HW’s work. Following a paragraph noting that HW will shock ‘innocent nature’ by his reasons for leaving the West Country, he states:] Even allowing for something of weariness of his particular surroundings the implication is plain that the primary Williamson is not the nature-lover but the artist using nature as a means for the expression of something human and personal. That is why Williamson is so interesting and vital; that is what made him from his first appearance, and makes him still, potentially one of the significant writers of our time.

 

He moves not intellectually but intuitively. Falcon-like again, he dives whole and single at his glimpsed prey – to hit or miss.

 

[West does not intend to argue against HW’s ‘very odd views’ of Hitler and the Nazis (as he did when reviewing the one-volume Flax); as he thinks HW has given away the fact that he is too easily impressed: T. E. Lawrence was a ‘hit’; Hitler is a ‘miss’ (referring to his statement above).] His integrity, however, seems to me unquestionable, and he remains one of the most interesting “possibilities” among contemporary writers.

 

Derbyshire Advertiser, 21 January 1938:

 

[Mainly fairly general and approving remarks. The reviewer was particularly interested in the] interesting details relating to German life and behaviour . . . [relates the gist] . . . we should have liked to have heard more about Germany.

 

Burton Daily Mail (Helen Cockburn), 21 January 1938 (26-inch column); a review written in fairly flamboyant language and sincere but somewhat muddled thinking:

 

Who is this man Henry Williamson that we should be so willing and even eager to wade through a great fat book filled with his views on matters great and small . . . [then proceeds to tell her readers exactly why but without being in the least sycophantic, picking out the plums of T. E. Lawrence, Victor Yeates, the funeral of George V. She disagrees with his ‘romantic’ ideas about war (but obviously has somewhat misunderstood HW’s attitude!) saying he shows that even the ‘fervidly patriotic’ German he talks to (i.e. ‘K’)] saw anything glamorous in war. [She ends:] I can assure Mr. Williamson that I saw pretty much the same thing in Germany before Hitler assumed control. [Then she thoroughly recommends the book.]

 

Brittania and Eve, February 1938; this ‘glossy’ has a full-page review column with a montage of book covers arranged artistically down the side, which opens:

 

With Europe divided into armed camps reliable information as to what is really going on becomes increasingly rare and interesting.

 

[That is a prelude to a review of Dover-Nürnberg Return, Mr. Baker White (Burrup, 5s), an account of a trip to the ‘Congress’, but which the reviewer felt added nothing new. Then, beyond mentioning that HW also went to Nürnberg and gives a far more personal account, the reviewer moves on to a more general overview of the book:] a frank account of an artist, discontented with his work, seeking a change and a new source of inspiration.

 

Saturday Review, 7 May 1938:

 

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USA

 

New York Times, 27 March 1938:

 

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Source unknown (R. P. Harris), (24-inch column):

 

. . . not merely a biography of the Devon Moors. Nor is it the biography of a . . . [serene naturalist]. There are many bitter pages in it, pages filled with anguish . . . also a good deal of Mr. Williamson’s philosophy, the least readable part. [A long passage on Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon follows.]

 

To read Henry Williamson is to read nature writing at its best. He knew T. E. Lawrence and Victor Yeates, [etc.; intimate pictures of the Williamson children; Mrs Williamson does not emerge quite so clearly . . .]

 

Now they have said ‘Goodbye’ to a part of their lives that must remain forever memorable.

 

Source unknown (Randolph Bartlett); this cutting, presumably sent to HW by an American friend – or perhaps his publisher – as it reviews the American edition, was found in the front of HW's diary for 1940:

 

gwc review10

 

 

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