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FORTNIGHTLY REVIEW

 

 

May 1930

 

(The review below is taken from a poor photocopy, of which one small part is illegible.)

 

 

THE FORTNIGHTLY LIBRARY

 

Wild Life and Open Country

 

by HENRY WILLIAMSON

 

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WILD EXMOOR THROUGH THE YEAR, by E. W. Hendy. Cape. 10s. 6d.

THE LIFE STORY OF BIRDS, written and illustrated by Eric Fitch Daglish. 6s. Dent.

SILVER BOY, by Vance Joseph Hoyt. Chapman & Hall. 7s. 6d.

 

The writing of Mr. Hendy, the author of The Lure of Bird Watching, has been likened to that of Richard Jefferies, and there is certainly an affinity between Wild Exmoor and parts of Wild Life in a Southern County; but probably, fortunately for Mr. Hendy, he has not the sharpness of the Jefferies temperament. There is no ecstasy in Wild Exmoor of the Jefferies kind, which in a way is a wastage of life. A Jefferies, a Delius (who is Jefferies' twin spirit) is a rare phenomenon. Jefferies went to Exmoor, too, and wrote a book about the red deer, and several sketches of the moor. Particularly are his Exmoor writings full of observation, with here and there the gleam that "lifts off the printed page"; some readers, who love music, persist through the "catalogues" in order to find these gleams. Others, I have noticed, do not care much for what is sometimes called the "real" Jefferies (which shines most in The Story of My Heart) but prefer the factual books. These others will find great interest and enjoyment in Mr. Hendy's two books.

 

Wild Exmoor begins in January and ends in December – the year in the country made famous by Lorna Doone. He writes about foxes, badgers, night-jars, the red deer, rabbit trapping, stag-hunting, dippers (very common on the moorland streams) and indeed, of most of the life of the high ground above the Severn Sea. He has read much, seen much, and heard much; his mind goes with the stream of normal consciousness. For example, in the chapter on Red Deer occurs the sentence (in a dissertation on the colour red) "The Bolshevist, the modern representative of the Cave Man, waves his red flag to strike terror into timorous bourgeois hearts". Whence the authority, and the observation? Newspapers? When, on the other hand, he sees the red coat of the huntsman suddenly breaking amidst distant heather, "the effect was exhilarating and exciting". This is an authentic bit of writing; the other unworthy.

 

Wild Exmoor is nicely illustrated by Mr. A. Carruthers Gould. Mr. E. Fitch Daglish's book is also illustrated, by himself, with words. Whence the words? Mr. Daglish chooses from the birds of the world as subjects for his beautiful and careful art of cutting wood blocks. The wood-cuts are of a remarkable and lovely precision, and do not need the clay of words to support them. This is only my opinion; long ago I ceased to write what I thought (or rather, did not think) to be the correct and common-place thing. It occurs to me that publication trade requirements demanded words to illustrate Mr. Daglish's wood-cuts; why not Mr. Daglish himself? God's Man, the novel in woodcuts, has set a precedent; if it is successfully followed, the trade requirements of 1960 may demand no verbal novels until some prose composition brings back the old fashioned method.

 

Not that Mr. Daglish's prose is bad; it is adequate and controlled, and full of care for simplicity and exactitude; but one reader, at least, is given the impression that its main source is from many reference books. If there exists anywhere an Honours degree for Ornithological or Zoological Prose, Mr. Daglish would easily take a First. Whereas, W. H. Hudson would, in time, receive an honorary degree. The Daglish prose is not intimate; it is museum prose – the Natural History Museum at South Kensington with access to the vast Ornithological Section of the Reference Library.

 

What can be said about Silver Boy? In a preface Mr. Hoyt tells how he watched a fox, and caught and tamed him. Then he turned his attentions and fancies into fiction . . . [next sentence illegible] Mr. Hoyt, an admirer of The Jungle Book, turns himself into the fictional Alden, and the fox into Sir Reynard, Mr. Silver, head of the Vulpine Family, etc. Mighty wings flap, savage courage tingles in the blood, adjectives like vicious, pugnacious, snarling, fiendish abrade any desire to know what really might have happened. How much does the author really know about animals, tame or wild? It is possible for someone to know much, and then, with pen in hand, moving wild and fast over paper, to realise it with clichés and so lose all sense of reality. Just as it is possible for a real writer, with little knowledge, to use all that knowledge in an original manner and so give the impression of much knowledge. Silver Boy, part of which was told in American magazines, seems to have been composed from a little authentic observation, most of which was lost in the metamorphosis to animal fiction already moribund with worn-out stereotypes and the fake-Kipling manner. With the next book, let there be homely snap-shots of the tamed hero, and no hectic (meaningless) language.

 

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