The Phasian Bird - Critical reception

 

 

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Appendix I: Henry Williamson's notes for the writing of The Phasian Bird

 

Appendix II: The American edition

 

Book covers

 

 

 

Critical reception:

 

 

Current Literature, 5 November 1948:

 

phasian rev1 Current Literature

 

Eastern Daily Press ('Jonathan Mardle'), 10 November 1948 (a long review, only a photocopy exists in the archive):

 

phasian rev2 EDP

 

This gave rise to a letter:

 

phasian rev2a

 

Daily Telegraph, 12 November 1948:

 

It is as well that Henry Williamson can write with affection and interest about animals: human beings disillusion him to the point of anger. “THE PHASIAN BIRD” is the story of a Norfolk farm during and just before the war. A hybrid golden pheasant is reared by a man who farms by old-fashioned methods, and commits suicide. It becomes a symbol to his successor, who adopts new methods only to be deviated by a neurosis and eventually murdered, his death coinciding with that of the beloved bird. It is an unusual study in natural history and psychology, full of bitterness against this urban civilisation – an extraordinary story, told with subtlety and style.

 

Evening Chronicle, 13 November 1948:

 

phasian rev3 Evening chronicle

 

Reynolds News (Arthur Calder Marshall), 14 November 1948:

 

At the mention of “Tarka the Otter” and “Salar the Salmon” Henry Williamson's face does not light up with pleasure. Famous as a nature writer, he prides himself on his human stories, such as the Flax of Dream series. In THE PHASIAN BIRD he makes the best of both worlds. He tells the story of the last ten years from the point of view of a hybrid pheasant. I cannot say how true to wild life Chee-kai, this startling and lovely bird, may be. But I accept Mr. Williamson's presentation, because it is both beautiful and precise.

 

Farmer and Stock Breeder (B. T. Darby), 16 November 1948:

 

phasian rev4 Farmer Stockbreeder

 

Manchester Evening News (Julian Symons), 17 November 1948:

 

phasian rev5 Manchester news

 

The Sunday Times (J. W. Lambert), 21 November 1948:

 

phasian rev6 Sunday Times

 

Tatler, 24 November 1948 (the item covers more than just the book, but is, sadly, unattributed):

 

phasian rev7 Tatler

 

Isis (A. Felix Waley), 24 November 1948:

 

phasian rev8 Isis

 

News Review, 25 November 1948:

 

phasian rev10 News Review

 

Daily Mail (Peter Quennell), 27 November 1948 (after reviewing at length Concluding, by Henry Green, Quennell turns to The Phasian Bird):

 

For more conservative tastes there is The Phasian Bird. Provided you can stomach the literary convention by which wild animals bear romantic names – though in this instance they are not credited with almost animal thoughts and feelings – you will enjoy Henry Williamson's pheasants, partridges, geese and hares and gamecocks. For he has an enviable descriptive gift, and writes of English fields and woodlands with the sober passion of a working farmer.

 

Irish Independent, 29 November 1948 (photocopy only in archive):

 

phasian rev11 Irish Independent

 

The Scotsman, 9 December 1948:

 

phasian rev12 Scotsman

 

Evening Standard (George Malcolm Thomson), 1 December 1948:

 

Mr. Williamson, as most people know, brings to the nature novel a rich vocabulary and a fine imagination. In The Phasian Bird, his birds and animals are, in fact, more interesting than his humans.

 

The life, struggles and death of the Phasian bird (a superb hybrid pheasant) enthrall the reader and become for Wilbo, a politically muddled farmer, a symbol of hope which he carries with him when he is imprisoned during the war as a suspected enemy of his country.

 

The Listener (George D. Painter), 16 December 1948 (note HW's markings here: this long review was almost certainly the first contact between these two men. HW turned to Painter for advice when he began to write – very soon after this – the first novel of his Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight series. Painter worked in the manuscript department of the British Museum, and championed HW's work. He was the author of several prestigious biographies, including those of Marcel Proust and Chateaubriand.):

 

phasian rev13 Listener1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

phasian rev13 Listener2

 

Punch, 29 December 1948:

 

phasian rev14 punch

 

Source not named (lost) (S. P. B. Mais); photocopy only in archive:

 

phasian rev15 Mais

 

The Times Literary Supplement, 1 January 1949:

 

phasian rev17 TLS

 

Sphere, 15 January 1949:

 

phasian rev18 Sphere

 

 

 

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Readers should also consult Prof. W. J. Keith, The Rural Tradition: A Study of the Non-fiction Prose Writers of the English Countryside (University of Toronto Press, 1975), chapter 11, ‘Henry Williamson’ (this was reprinted in HWSJ 31, September 1995, pp. 90-101). Prof. Keith, as HW also, had been a President of the Richard Jefferies Society before leaving to take up a post in Toronto University. At the time of the reprint of his HW essay in the HWSJ he asked that it be pointed out that his essay had been written long before any biographical information about HW was available and therefore the occasional 'fact' is inaccurate – but that does not detract from his overall views. He writes of The Phasian Bird:

 

A book which, despite its title, is better interpreted as a modern parable than as an animal story. . . . The story of the golden pheasant, a symbol, like Lawrence's phoenix, of hope in a new world to be born out of the ashes of the past and to recreate the best features of that past – is counterpointed by the story of Wilbo, another of Williamson's masks, upon whose land the Phasian bird finds shelter. . . .

 

But the death of the symbolic bird, apparently without issue, represents a darker ending, and one which is emphasised by the impressive descriptions of a ruined countryside against which the closing events take place.

 

 

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American edition: Little Brown & Company (The Atlantic Monthly Press), October 1950

 

 

Source not named (W. G. Rogers); photocopy only in archive:

 

phasian revus rogers

 

 

Saturday Review of Literature, 28 October 1950 (with error in title):

 

phasian revus19 Sat Rev

 

New York Times, 15 October 1950:

 

phasian revus20 NY Times

 

HW's note reads: 'This was sent to me by an unknown American from the NEW YORK TIMES. The USA edition was cut, 20,000 words. By order of publishers, else I would not have had 1500 dollars to pay school bills.’

 

Christian Science Monitor, 4 November 1950:

 

phasian revus21 Christian Science

 

Chicago Tribune, 5 November 1950:

 

phasian revus22 Chicago Tribune

 

Washington Post, 24 December 1950:

 

phasian revus23 Washington Post

 

New York Herald Tribune, date not known (the end of the heading and the last two columns have been torn off, and follow after this scan:

 

phasian revus24 NY Herald1

 

phasian revus24 NY Herald2

 

 

 

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The following item gives an interesting insight into how HW's writing was perceived by one critic. Anthony Gower reviewed several of the Chronicle volumes.

 

Books and Bookmen (Anthony Gower), October 1963:

 

phasian rev26 Books

 

 

 

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Book covers:

 

 

First edition, Faber, 1948:

 

 

phasian 1948 cover

 

phasian 1948 back

 

 

 

Little Brown and Company (Boston, US), An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, new edition,1950:

 

 

phasian 1950 cover

 

phasian 1950 back

 

 

 

The Boydell Press, County Library Series,1984. Very unfortunately the cover illustration is NOT of a Reeves' pheasant but of an ordinary game pheasant (The HW Literary Estate were not consulted on the matter and were rather horrified at such cupidity!):

 

 

phasian 1984

 

 

 

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Back to The Phasian Bird main page

 

Appendix I: Henry Williamson's notes for the writing of The Phasian Bird

 

Appendix II: The American edition