Tales of Moorland & Estuary - Critical reception




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Critical reception:


There are a large number of reviews of Tales of Moorland and Estuary. Shorter ones that add nothing to the overall picture have not been detailed, but were printed in:


Britain Today; Manchester Evening News; Sphere; Literary World; Daily Mail; Catholic Herald; Yorkshire Post; New Zealand Herald; Bolton Evening News; Birmingham Post; Birmingham News; Wolverhampton Express & Star; Glasgow Evening Citizen; Sunday Times; Cape Times; British Weekly; The Lady; Shetland Times; Western Morning News; Western Evening Herald; Housewife; Homes and Gardens; Irish Independent.


Liverpool Daily Post, 12 December 1952 (headed 'Now for next season', by Brother Savage):


moorland rev23 Liverpool Daily Post


Belfast Telegraph, 16 March 1953:


In “Tales of Moorland and Estuary” Henry Williamson has written again of the country that he has made so much his own – North Devon. This collection of stories, and stories they really are, is full of the character of one of the loveliest parts of England, of its rivers, hills, plants, and animals.


For description of this kind, Henry Williamson is without a rival, and his latest tales are among the best of all his work. The drawings of Broom Lynne are perfectly in keeping.


Oxford Mail (S. P. B. Mais), 19 March 1953 (Perhaps wisely for his reputation as an objective reviewer, Mais makes no mention that the book is dedicated to his daughter!):


moorland rev24 Oxford Mail


News Chronicle (Frederick Laws), 20 March 1953:


Of another world are . . . It is Devon and the characters are fishermen, farmers, hunters and animals. You probably know his Tarka the Otter.


This set of stories belongs to the 'twenties, the same period as his Peregrine's Saga, which I liked even better. The best story in it is The Crake, a harsh, taut tale equal to the best pastoral Hemingway. . . .


East Anglian Daily Times, 25 March 1953:


His sojourn in Norfolk did not influence Henry Williamson's vocabulary to any noticeable degree [re what name he gives to the smallest pig of a litter!] . . .


Perhaps it was a mistake to place the macabre “A Winter's Tale” at the very beginning. But it may serve to warn the reader that this is a book to be enjoyed in daylight, it has “Grand Guignol” touches that disqualify it for the bedside shelf. It is the author's great merit that his animals, wild and domesticated, are the real thing . . . and his interweaving of these with the narrative of human experience is peculiarly well done. This collection is “good Williamson” which should be sufficient recommendation.


['Grand Guignol': a term for something intended to horrify the reader – from a Paris theatre of that name which specialised in naturalistic horror shows – originating with a puppet named 'Guignol'.]


Shields Gazette, 28 March 1953:


moorland rev25 Shields Gazette


Glasgow Evening News, 30 March 1953:


A Nature Writer of Genius


The many admirers of Henry Williamson will warmly welcome his latest nature book. . . .


These short stories spring from the period of Tarka the Otter and now appear with some revision. Here again the setting is the country round Georgeham in Devon to which Mr. Williamson has now returned after his years in Norfolk. From his introduction he seems indeed a happier man . . .


In Mr. Williamson England has a nature writer of genius. His present series of new novels promises also to establish him as a novelist of the front rank. Meanwhile the present short stories are warmly to be recommended . . . One of them, Yellow Boots, grimly catches the atmosphere of the moors while A Winter's Tale is a brilliant mixture of pathos and comedy, typically Williamson.


The Tablet (E. W. Martin), April 1953 (Ernie Martin, friend of HW & also writer, devotes most of the space to Laurence Meynell’s Exmoor, with a last paragraph on HW):


As novelist and naturalist Henry Williamson has been much concerned with the North Devon side of Exmoor. In this present collection of tales there are characteristic regional sketches written thirty years ago. A Crown of Life is a memorable and tragic account of Clibbit Kift, the Exmoor farmer whose cruelty was an echo of boyhood bewilderment. The Crake, A Hero of the Sands and the Maiden Salmon are also typical of this author's nervous and subjective style.


Daily Telegraph (John Betjeman), 2 April 1953 (in a long review column of several books):


The TALES OF MOORLAND AND ESTUARY are best when they are about water, about the wave of a fin, the flash of a fish among the moving weeds, the leap of a salmon and the warms till summer evening hanging in the sky. There Henry Williamson shows himself what we know him to be, our best living nature writer. He can concentrate all our interest in a little patch of stream and make a story out of it which is as thrilling as a thriller. Let me personally recommend “The Maiden Salmon”.


The author's admiration for old families and old ways of life, and his hatred of mechanisation have never been better expressed than in “The Trout”. This book reminds me of another book of Devon sketches which ought to be reprinted, “My Native Devon” by Sir John Fortescue, who was himself an admirer of Williamson's writing.


Belfast News Letter ('Greenwell'), 4 April 1953 (the juxtaposition of the following two books makes this worth scanning – Taverner fished at Shallowford. Possibly his book put HW in mind for his own future volume, A Clear Water Stream):


moorland rev26 Belfast News


Tatler (E. V. Knox), 8 April 1953:

Overall column title:  The Brightest Crown. E. V. Knox begins with Elizabeth Our Queen, by Richard Dimbleby (recollect that the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was in 1953); then a book on travel in Tibet by an American judge who went as a botanist and on a secret mission. The third book is HW's:


moorland rev27 Tatler


Eastern Daily Press ('M.P.'), 10 April 1953:


It will please most of Henry Williamson's admirers that he should return to the country and to the style of Tarka the Otter for his Tales of Moorland and Estuary (Macdonald 12s. 6d.). There is a variety of mood, ranging from comedy to stark terror. In these twelve stories, Mr. Williamson has intense feeling for country life in Devon, and how sweetly he writes of it when he will. He has, however, as great a liking as ever for the macabre and the satirical: his is so often an alluring world of forebodings, tearing alike at the heart of men, animals, fish, and birds. Mr. Williamson did right to return to Devon, for, sad as we are to say it, Norfolk never gave him such inspiration.


Kentish Mercury, 10 April 1953:


moorland rev28 Kentish Mercury


Observer (Jon Wynne-Tyson), 12 April 1953 (This is the review that so upset HW. The column is under the heading 'Shorter Notices', with three other books, all by different reviewers. Evidently HW was hoping JW-T would do something in depth – rather lacking up to this point):


moorland rev29 Observer


Sunday Mail (Rhodesia), 19 April 1953:


moorland rev30 Rhodesia Sunday Mail


Irish Press (Dublin), 21 April 1953 (note that the reviewer mistakenly calls 'The Crake' 'The Cradle'!):


moorland rev31 Irish Press


North Devon Journal, 23 April 1953:


moorland rev32 North Devon Journal


Nottingham Journal, 23 April 1953:


moorland rev33 Nottingham


The Writer, May 1953 (Included not for content – but this is the review that complains about HW's description of a Pekinese! Or 'Pekingese', as the reviewer clearly considers it should be!):


moorland rev34 Writer


St Martin's Review (William Kean Seymour), May 1953 (the reviewer was a friend of HW & regular reviewer of his books):


moorland rev35 St Martin


Britannia & Eve, May 1953 (short but conveys the flavour!):


moorland rev36 Britannia


John O'London's (Gerald Moore), 8 May 1953:


moorland rev37 John OLondon


Fortnightly Review (S. L. Bensusan), May 1953:


moorland rev38 Fortnightly Review


New Statesman (George D. Painter), 16 May 1953:


moorland rev39 New Statesman


Bookseller, 23 May 1953 (Regarding the New Statesman's review, the booksellers' trade magazine made this comment, on a page headed: 'UNDER REVIEW' and under further sub-heading of 'Infidel Hosts' – the opening word 'The' is at bottom of the previous column):


moorland rev40 Bookseller


Sketch (Rupert Croft-Cooke), 17 June 1953:


moorland rev41 Sketch1


(Just as interest: the reverse of this, in total, large column has photographs taken at the Coronation Ball held at the Royal Albert Hall, together with the following report:)


moorland rev41a Sketch2


Illustrated London News, 4 July 1953:


moorland rev42 Illus London News


Countryman, Summer 1953:


moorland rev43 Countryman


Times Educational Supplement, 21 August 1953:


moorland rev44 TES Macdonald


moorland rev44a TES


(ThisTES review was also sent direct from his Press-Cutting Bureau)


Paisley Gazette, 14 November 1953:


moorland rev45 Paisley Gazette


Calcutta Statesman, 15 December 1953:


Henry Williamson's characters also tend to be a little sombre, but here the gloom is not unrelieved, for his stories – as much of birds, beasts and fish as of humans – provide a wide range of moods, Christmas Eve with the pickled corpse, the hounds who dined on man, the maiden salmon, the faithful dog, the ceremonial catching of a boy's first trout, there is much to be seen through the Devon window, and much to delight.



Reviews of the Panther paperback edition, 1970:


Retail Newsagent, 28 March 1970:


moorland rev46 Retail News


Observer, 26 April 1970:


moorland rev47 Observer


Liverpool Daily Post, 1 May 1970 (in a list of one of ten titles):


moorland rev48 Liverpool Daily Post






Finally – this cutting, unmarked as to source or date, is ostensibly a review of Tales of Moorland & Estuary by W. Gore Allen, and is presumably from the West Country Magazine, Summer 1953. It is however more far-reaching than its immediate purpose, for W. Gore Allen (critic and novelist) later wrote an essay for the Aylesford Review 'HW' Special Issue (Vol. II, No. 2, Winter 1957‒58) 'Williamson: The London Novels' (that is, the early volumes of A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight).


moorland rev49 Gore Allen








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