Love and the Loveless - Critical reception

 

 

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HW's photographs from 1917 (208 MGC)

 

Draft book cover designs

 

 

Critical reception:

 

Pasted into the front of his own copy of Love and the Loveless (together with the commemoration cuttings for the 'Boy General', Roland Bradford) is a telegram from Lady Monica Salmond, sister of Julian Grenfell whose poem 'Into Battle' meant so much to HW, and whom he incorporated to a large extent into his portrait of 'Spectre' West (see A Fox Under My Cloak):

 

LL Salmond

 

It is clear that at this time there were a large number of books being published on the Second World War: the tone of some reviewers reveals a slightly weary attitude towards war books in general.

 

Pre-publication notices appeared in:

 

Publisher’s Circular, 18 and 25 October 1958:

LL Publishers Circular

 

Similar notices appeared in The Bookseller, 5 July 1958 and 18 October 1958.

Yorkshire Post (Phyllis Young), 6 November 1958:

 

“Love and the Loveless” . . . describes the most sombre years of the First World War . . . It is written with utter devotion to the nightmare as Mr. Williamson himself knew it. . . . For in the world of death . . . there remains loyalty; there is mutiny, and poetry . . .

 

This, remember, is “chronicle”, its effect is achieved by narration supported by fact, without attempt to concoct dramatic moments, and it is all the more powerful for that. [This book] puts Mr. Williamson, as a writer on the First World War, where his “Tarka the Otter” put him as a nature-writer – in the first rank.

 

News Chronicle (David Holloway):

 

In Love and the Loveless Henry Williamson continues with the seemingly endless saga of Phillip Maddison, the socially unsure subaltern who fights the Germans he does not hate on behalf of the neighbours he does not love . . . the best thing in the book is the quite brilliant description of a mutiny in a base camp . . .

 

Sunday Graphic (Maurice Wiggin), 2 November 1958:

 

The great writer Henry Williamson, whom I am proud to call my friend . . . many people think of him as “just a nature writer”. He is “a nature writer” . . . but to Henry Williamson his nature books, though they are luminous with insight and love, are only a sideline.

 

He is engaged on a tremendous series of novels . . . they are adding up to one of the few truly great achievements in twentieth century fiction. The latest, Love and the Loveless, is a terribly vivid and moving story of Phillip Maddison’s experiences in the darkest year of the war, 1917. Williamson’s gift of recreation has never been displayed more magnificently. Nor has his compassionate vision shone more clearly. . . . Together these books add up to a historical novel on the heroic scale, as big as “War and Peace”.

 

The Daily Mail (Kenneth Allsop),1 November 1958; Allsop’s main article covers an amazing interview with James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity (bestseller and subsequently a cult film): a side column ‘Book-Ends’ covers HW’s novel – perhaps revealing that coolness that had sprung up between them since Allsop’s review of the previous book in the series, The Golden Virgin, where he mistakenly stated that HW had been awarded the MC, to HW’s embarrassment.

 

Henry Williamson’s spiritually maiming experiences as a front line soldier in the mud and murder of the Western Front have never far left his mind. . . . Standing by itself the novel is true, compassionate and an almost unbearably vivid revelation of those forgotten men in that distant nightmare. Also, it is an additional stone in the important historical monument that Williamson is building in intensely felt words.

 

Eastern Daily Press (Doreen Wallace), 18 November 1958; having led off with two ‘country books’, Lindy by Basil Davidson and The Long Meadow by Katherine Morris (both appear to be love stories!):

 

Henry Williamson is not country in Love and the Loveless: he is World War One . . . Mr. Williamson is a very good writer [but] on the whole I am against the modern fashion of saga-writing.

 

Manchester Guardian (Norman Shrapnel), 11 November 1958, repeated 27 November:

 

With Henry Williamson we seem to peer through a reversed telescope. The 1917 scene looks sharp and small and impossibly distant – the cavalry drill, the mules, the dashing-emancipated girls in bars, and then the horror of the trenches. It is a feeling book . . . without anaesthetic . . .

 

Glasgow Herald (Frederick Porter), 13 November 1958:

 

Love and the Loveless is a fine remembrance of the First World War . . . narrates a plain “soldier’s tale” of the disastrous year 1917. Maddison is a transport officer at Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and the Ypres Salient. He remains unembittered and compassionate towards his comrades and the enemy throughout frequent injustice and every beastly horror. The battles are pulverising and the documentation . . . faultless and complete. A book of great human sympathy and professional skill.

 

Yorkshire Evening Post (C.R.B.), 14 November 1958:

 

. . . Some events in our history, in terms of human misery, are beyond adequate description: the 1914-18 war is one of them. Henry Williamson, however, has got nearer than most writers . . . The highly individual Phillip is something of a rebel. He finds discipline a hard pill to swallow, which often lands him in trouble. He puts his own opinions first and acts accordingly; he is forever questioning the decisions of his superiors. . . . We sympathise with this square peg in a round hole . . . but we have to agree with the commanding officer who once told him: “You’re such an ass” . . .

 

HW rather took exception to the above review and wrote a heated reply, of which there is a draft copy in this file:

 

LL HW Yorkshire Posta

 

 LL HW Yorkshire Postb

 

The Scotsman,15 November 1958:

 

“Love and the Loveless” is the seventh volume of Henry Williamson’s remarkable chronicle . . . Mr. Williamson’s capacity for recreating, after some 40 years, the living detail of an epoch is continually astonishing. There are chapters in the novel whose evocation of sights and sounds is so full and true that they might have been written yesterday. . . . This is essentially a personal story, a sympathetic and reflective view of life in the trenches during the First World War, poles apart in spirit and treatment from “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

 

Sunday Times (J.M.), 16 November 1958; contrasts Love and the Loveless to Of Lesser Renown by Laurie Andrews, set in Burma during the Second World War:

 

Mr. Williamson on the other hand, in a tradition that dates back to Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon, is concerned with the sensitive individual. His picture of France and England during the bleak horrors of 1917 is enormous in scope and intensely detailed. The series is an impressive undertaking. . . .

 

Scarborough Evening News, 20 November 1958:

 

How vividly Mr. Williamson shows the differences in feeling of the fighting forces in the two world wars. It was never difficult to inspire hatred of the Nazis, an enemy whose creed involved persecution of an innocent minority. But . . . in World War I the British soldier had a respectful sympathy for his enemies. Into his novels Mr. Williamson cleverly conveys this spirit – the spirit of hapless human beings pitchforked into a common holocaust for a cause that was bewildering vague. . . .

 

Evening News (John Connell), 20 November 1958:

 

A strong sad courageous novel which recreates with great fidelity the sense of the ordeal which was life for an infantry officer on the Western Front in 1917.

 

The Observer (W. John Morgan), 23 November 1958:

 

One has only admiration for Mr. Williamson’s purpose in setting down in detail . . . the conditions under which the First World War was fought and the fashion in which the soldiers lived. . . .

 

Time and Tide (Fred Urquhart), 22 November 1958:

 

[Love and the Loveless] can be recommended wholeheartedly whether readers are familiar with the previous volumes or not. . . . Phillip now an officer in a Transport company . . . at last gets first hand contact with “the donks” or mules. This contact leads to his persecution by an irascible director of Veterinary Services and by his commanding officer, Major Downham. . . . Phillip’s experiences at riding school, an exhilarating account of a wartime foxhunt, and his attachment to his charger, the Black Prince, . . . are a prelude to powerful descriptions of fighting at Messines and Cambrai and the mutiny of the British troops at Etaples, following widespread mutinies in the French army. . . .

 

Identical adverts were placed by the publishers in The Sunday Times and the Observer, 30 November 1958:

 

LL reviews ad

 

Birmingham Post (R. C.Churchill), 2 December 1958:

 

Henry Williamson continues . . . Maddison is, very largely, the young Mr. Williamson, and this vein of autobiography gives the reader confidence, for who can properly re-create the Western Front of 1917 save one who saw service in it. The sequence of novels . . . is going to be a massive affair when completed, but on the whole the method is justified. The detail is what counts in this re-creation of war . . .

 

Evening Chronicle (Manchester), 4 December 1958:

 

Best known for his wonderful nature books “Tarka the Otter” and “Salar the Salmon” Williamson is also a novelist of great power. “Love and the Loveless” is a grim but enthralling book. The time is 1917, and the main scene, that muddy blood-soaked hell, the Ypres Salient.

 

After the rush of novels dealing with the last war, younger readers may believe that their generation discovered the terror, the courage and the horrors of warfare. Williamson shows that not only did the first war have its heroes and cowards, it also had writers of more than sufficient talent to bring them to life again 40 years later.

 

The Times Literary Supplement, 12 December 1958:

 

Mr. Williamson succeeds admirably in recording a young man’s experience of the First World War. The young man in question is no one special. He is interested vaguely in poetry and ideals, he is moderately competent . . . and he is something of a dreamer. All the appurtenances of the setting . . . are recorded with accuracy and a nostalgic affection for period detail. . . . the horrors are painted in very restrained colours. The heart of the book is the hero’s acute awareness of the changing shapes of the battlefields, with all their associations and regrets. . . . and [he] is haunted by the ghosts of the tens of thousands who perished in them . . . the ghosts of people, not mere units in a force. People who suffered and perished pointlessly, uncomprehendingly, for no ultimate reward.

 

“Love and the Loveless”, with its undertone of compassion, its sense of time come-and-gone, the emptiness of hope, yet lacking bitterness, is a good book.

 

The Bulletin & Scots Pictorial (Glasgow), 11 December 1958; after a brief, snappy précis of the plot:

 

So vivid, plain, and realistic that it is practically a documentary of war.

 

Newcastle Journal, 13 December 1958:

 

. . . told in a dispassionate, restrained and thoroughly effective manner, it vividly evokes all the discomfort, squalor and fear of the trenches, as well as the contrast between the front line and life at home during the brief periods of leave. Nor, in giving the picture of the bitter, futile struggle of attrition does Mr. Williamson neglect his story. His hero – whose private grief . . . is a complex but entirely flesh-and-blood character.

 

The Listener (Goronwy Rees), 18 December 1958; There are three copies of this review in the archive file: on one of them the sender (it looks like George Painter’s handwriting – biographer of Proust etc. – whose own review appears below) has written above it ‘Be uplifted in spirit about Love and the Loveless’, and marked with a margin line one or two of the best sentences:

 

I have not read the earlier volumes . . . [but] if they are all as good as this I must make haste to remedy my omission. In this volume Phillip Maddison is a young transport officer in the Machine Gun corps during that appalling blood-letting . . . the Battle of Passchendaele. The description of the fighting itself is so vivid as to make one wonder once again how the human body and the human spirit ever endured such intolerable hardships, yet in glimpses of Haig and his staff Mr. Williamson makes us understand how Passchendaele might be justified on military and political grounds, if on no other. It is no ordinary achievement to write in a way that does even approximate justice to an immense human tragedy, for Passchendaele was certainly tragedy, even if, in the eyes of Haig and others, it was also victory, or the unavoidable preliminary to victory.

 

But what is equally extraordinary is Mr. Williamson’s eye and ear for the details of a period . . . his soldiers, officers, and civilians speak with the voice of a doomed generation yet with a vivacity and a historical truth that make the living seem, in Yeats’s words, more shadowy than they. It is a feat of recollection that has something in it which is akin to genius. . . . it seems certain that when the story of Phillip Maddison is finally completed it will compose a chronicle which will be of permanent literary and historical value. There are not many works of fiction of which one can say that.

 

The Daily Telegraph (Robert Greacen), 19 December 1958; first a précis of the plot – then ends:

 

This is a sincere and moving piece of work.

 

Books of the Month (Denys Val Baker), December 1958: This review is by someone who knew HW and his writing well, and contains good insights. HW had noted in his diary (see main section) that he had sent Val Baker a copy of the book for ‘his excellent article in W. H. Smith’s Trade News’. That article is not in the archive file but I would presume this is identical:

 

LL Val Bakera
LL Val Bakerb
LL Val Bakerc

 

 

There are three letters in this file that are worth noting. One is from Stephen Southwold (who wrote under several pseudonyms, including Neil Bell), writer and editor and a long-term friend of HW:

 

LL Southwold

 

Another is from Eric Watkins (who helped with reading and making corrections on several volumes): long and detailed – dated 30 December 1958:

 

What impresses me most about the book is, first, its total impact, formidable with a sense of agony of creation behind it. . . . Second, what strikes me is the maturity of Phillip, his integration, which is all the more effective because it is against a background of disintegration.

 

Watkins gets through many points in great detail: he would have known how much HW wanted someone to understand and appreciate the finer detail.

 

The third letter is from a captain of the RAMC (T) in the West Riding Field Ambulance. He wrote with appreciation for HW’s writing, telling his own tale of war service.

 

Books & Bookmen (A.B.), January 1959:

 

Now some real war writing, Love and the Loveless is another of Henry Williamson’s marvellous meticulous and comprehensive reconstructions of the days of the first world war. Phillip Maddison is at Ypres in 1917.

 

It is of course much more than just a war novel. . . . this latest in the series is a novel of sincerity, sensitivity, grandeur and that transcendent quality of creative imagination which is hard to define but unmistakeable when one meets it.

 

St Martin’s Review (William Kean Seymour), January 1959:

 

. . . again I salute the author’s genius for recapturing in detail – interpreted with sweeping imagination – the titan struggle in France . . . Mr. Williamson draws a sombre and terrible picture of the attack . . . Mr. Williamson’s remarkable feats of memory and collocation make that struggle an epicof human endurance, and the complete work will rank with Rolland’s masterpiece, though from an utterly different viewpoint. . . .

 

['Rolland' (sic) has to be a reference to the medieval French romaunce heroic poem Song of Roland, which expresses the code of chivalry, Roland being a brave warrior at the court of Charlemagne. Roland is betrayed in battle, his men are all killed and he also dies – and his soul is taken straight to Paradise. This enhances my earlier comments in connection with the Pervigilium Veneris. It is quite possible that HW had discussed this aspect with his friend Seymour.]

 

Manchester Evening News (R.C.H.), 20 January 1959:

 

A Soldier of Ill Fortune – but a brave one

 

. . . A bewildered, beaten youth who drifted into trouble with his superiors yet earned their grudging friendship at times. Was he like the nation – a little baffled by the origins of a silly war?

 

Williamson has relived this war. The treatment is almost documentary . . . This book is a wonderfully sensitive reminder of Britain – desolate and nearly overthrown.

 

There is little for the 1964 paperback edition available, but one is worth noting – because it contains a priceless error!

 

Evening Argus Brighton (Gordon Thomas), 2 January 1964:

 

As this is the fiftieth year anniversary [expect a flood of WWI reprints]. Few, I believe, will come better than LOVE AND THE LAWLESS by Henry Williamson.

 

“Love and the Lawless” is a novel that picks abrasively away at the events . . .

 

But perhaps the most important review was one by George Painter (Assistant Keeper of Printed Books in the British Museum, literary critic and author of works on André Gide and other French writers, and at this time working on his 2-volume biography of Marcel Proust (author of the great work À la recherche du temps perdu, which won great acclaim when published) that appeared in The Aylesford Review,Vol. II, No. 6, Spring 1959, pp. 214-18. Ostensibly a review of Love and the Loveless, it actually places HW’s writing into the literary context, being entitled ‘The Two Maddisons’.

 

Painter opens with an explanation of how he first came to read Dandelion Days when on a visit to Croyde (North Devon, village adjoining Georgeham) in 1936:

 

And the presence of Henry Williamson has stayed living within me as one of the permanent experiences of my life. . . .

 

All great writers have something in common – a sense of power and vision, a moment of grace and revelation made permanent – which is communicated from them to the reader and is lacking in other authors . . . it will be among the accepted facts of English literary history that our only two great novelists writing in the second quarter of the second century, after the deaths of Lawrence and Joyce, were John Cowper Powys and Henry Williamson; . . .

 

Great writers are all the same, because the truth to which they have direct access is single; but they are also all unique, because it is infinite. The peculiar quality of Henry Williamson is the piercing directness of his vision, the absolute identity of his own feeling, and its communication to the reader, the clothing of a naked and terrible pain or joy in a noble and innocent prose, as keen as sunlight and as transparent as spring-water. He stands at the end of the line of Blake, Shelley and Jefferies: he is the last classic and the last romantic. . . . the theme of all his work has been the search for redemption from the miseries of the human condition.

 

[There follows analysis and comparisons of previous writings The Flax of Dream and Willie Maddison, The Gold Falcon, etc.]

 

In Love and the Loveless. . . three hideous battles – Messines, when the great mine was exploded, Cambrai, when the new tanks failed to exploit their break-through, Passchendaele with its blood and mud – are fought and described with a terror and beauty which no prose-writer of that war and only one poet, Wilfred Owen, has hitherto achieved. . . . there are scenes in which the poetry goes deeper than the sum of all the symbols into which it can be analysed. . . . The detail and unity of the novel, both in itself and as a part in a series, are organised with the same astonishing fusion of instinct and intelligence. . . .

 

. . . The two writers [Marcel Proust and HW] have a real affinity in their vision of the past as the place in time where the truth of things and people . . . can be seen as pure and undying. The two ideas of Time Lost and Ancient Sunlight . . . are intimately related; . . .

 

This vast novel-cycle . . . is an unrolling map of the labyrinth of three generations, our fathers, ourselves, and our children and the thread leading to the mystery – monster or divinity – at the centre.

 

[I believe] Love and the Loveless [and the other volumes] constitute the only true English war novel, comparable in vastness and compassion to War and Peace . . . and the whole cycle will ultimately be recognised as the great historical novel of our time, its subject as the total experience of twentieth-century man. 

 

Immediately following this article in The Aylesford Review is a review of John Middleton Murry’s book Katherine Mansfield & Other Literary Studies (Constable, 1958) by Fr Brocard Sewell. Murry’s book contains an important essay on HW’s writings ('The Novels of Henry Williamson' – reprinted as an e-book by the HWS in 2013). Here it is noted that Mrs Murry, in her Compiler’s Note in the book, states that her husband

 

considered it of real importance that Henry Williamson should be recognised as one of the great novelists of the generation. [Before Murry died he had read] A Fox Under My Cloak (Vol. 5), which he judges ‘altogether worthy of its predecessors’ . . . Henry Williamson is among the greatest of English novelists.

 

The same issue of The Aylesford Review also contains a revue by HW of In Flanders Fields, by Leon Wolff – ‘an American of a generation hardly born when Third Ypres was being fought.’ HW did not entirely approve the content of this book – but he says so quite politely!

 

 

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HW's photographs from 1917 (208 MGC)

 

Draft book cover designs

 

 

 

 

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