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Critical reception and book covers


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




Appendix II:


The American edition of The Phasian Bird



phasian 1950 front    

The American edition was published by Little, Brown and Company (Boston) in October 1950 as ‘An Atlantic Monthly Press Book’, at $4.00. The text was considerably revised, giving a very different aspect to the book, as is shown in a 'revision' file copy of the book. The dust wrapper painting by Mildred Eldridge was retained within a black frame (reduced in size, but shown in its entirety), and the book additionally contained attractive line illustrations by Israel Doskow as chapter-heading vignettes.













The title page quotation in the UK edition, 'The letter killeth . . .' was deleted, and this edition instead carries a 'Dedication'.  HW's note for the dedication is written in his file copy of the UK edition:



phasian us ded1



The dedication as it was published:



phasian us ded2



HW further revised this, perhaps for some future edition:



phasian us ded3



Major and Mrs P. C. Hollingsworth – Holly and Mossy – were good friends of HW during the Norfolk Farm era, where they had a fruit farm nearby. However they are not mentioned anywhere within his personal papers until, when writing this book, he notes that he visited them two or three times. Although no further details are given, presumably HW was checking details for the book.


This American edition also has a definition of the word 'Pheasant' – probably to act as an explanation of the word 'Phasian' in the title.


This is the note pasted into HW's file copy of the UK edition in preparation for the US edition:



phasian us dict1



And as it was published, on a page to itself:



phasian us dict2



When HW received a copy of the finished book, sent to him at Christmas 1950 by the publisher, he was much distressed to find that a short passage – a line – been omitted within the vital climax, as this note he wrote in the copy shows:



phasian us comp4




phasian us comp1



He corrected the penultimate page of the book accordingly:



phasian us comp2



It can be deduced from his note that HW had realised that these words were missing at a very late stage, and certainly after the final proofs had been returned to the publisher. He must have written post haste with the correction . . . but too late, the book had already gone to print.






The American editor concerned with the book was Edward Weeks of The Atlantic Monthly, well-known to HW from his earlier contributions to the magazine, and it would seem from one or two small clues that he asked for (that is, demanded) these revisions. There was a long gap between the time when HW first sent typescript copies of the text and the book’s eventual appearance. Correspondence about this is not present in the archive, other than one letter post-publication concerning royalties.


(HW's writings for, and the background to his involvement with, the Atlantic Monthly can be found in Atlantic Tales, ed. John Gregory, with explanatory afterword 'Both Sides of the Water' by AW, HWS, 2007; e-book 2013.)


Matthews (Henry Williamson: A Bibliography, 2004) has analysed the alterations very succinctly:



phasian us 1matthews



While this is useful, it does not really clarify the matter sufficiently for the researcher or reader. It is what HW deleted and changed that matters – and the end result, while basically remaining the same story, is a very different book to the first (UK) edition. Mainly, as will be seen, all references to Wilbo's imprisonment are removed and the farm is given its actual 'A' status, instead of being run-down due to Wilbo's enforced absence.


Apart from the original manuscript notebooks, typescripts and galleys already held at Exeter University, in the archive there is a file copy of the book that HW used to mark up these various revisions, including the changes in the preliminary pages already mentioned above. This gives a most interesting insight into how the author set about the task of editing and changing his own work.


The pagination is different from the start: the UK edition text begins at page 11, the US edition on p. 3. The first correction is in the first line: altering 'western' to 'eastern', probably due to an original misreading of the author's handwriting. But that hardly seems a major problem!





Correction, or revision, is minimal, mostly one-word elisions or additions, or small changes such as a comma to a semi-colon. On UK p. 15 (US p. 7), where 'the village dealer' is mentioned, the name 'Flock' is added and the last phrase of the sentence removed.


In Chapter 3, three lines about the First World War are deleted (UK p. 33; US p. 25) and a similar reference in Chapter 7 also (UK p. 81; US p. 73).





Chapter 8, two phrases regarding 'sweated labour' and 'to the detriment of'' etc. deleted, (UK p. 89; US p. 79).


Chapter 11 (UK p. 119; US p. 109): a sentence inserted in place of elision marks:



phasian us 2



Chapter 12 (UK p. 124; US p. 114): a paragraph to be inserted half way down page. This is typed in brown on a page from a small notebook and pasted in at this point in the file copy.


(para) When the guns had moved away to the first stand, the newcomer, who had been watching from behind a tree on the hillside, walked down to where the stockman was standing. He picked up the broken boxes, and saying, “We'll want every bit of stuff that will rot down for compost”, went to the bullock yard and trod them into the dung.


“H'm” said the stockman.

(One line space)


(UK p. 129; US p. 119) last two lines of the top paragraph deleted.





Chapter 16, UK p. 167 half way down, and top paragraph on p. 168 deleted from US. The section concerns the locals' suspicion of Wilbo's behaviour, especially the aggrieved moneylender:


“Who was the foreigner trying to suck in by such squit?”


('Squit' is a much used word in Norfolk!)


UK p. 171: at top, paragraph about British tobacco and Post Office Savings habits of the Stockman deleted (presumably meaningless to US readers).


UK p. 172; US p. 158/9: Paragraph inserted about how the Flockmaster got his name. Then UK pp. 174-5 and top 176 – all to do with the Flockmaster – deleted (US p. 160).


UK p. 178, bottom 6 lines and top 179 – deleted.


At Chapter 18 (UK p. 188 onwards) 'the driver' and 'the farmer' are replaced with the name 'Wilbo' from then on: removing an irritation present for the reader of the UK edition. 'Harcourt' (a neighbouring farmer) is also given his name at this early stage.


UK p. 189; US p. 173: a nice phrase inserted:



phasian us 3



UK p. 190-1; US p. 175: para deleted and new words inserted:



phasian us 4



Note the phrase 'the orient and immortal corn': HW wrote an article for the London Evening Standard with the title ‘Immortal Corn’ (26 April 1939) and uses this quotation; the material was later used in Lucifer before Sunrise. He misquotes Thomas Traherne (1636?‒1674) as writing ‘the wheat was orient and immortal corn’; Traherne’s Centuries of Meditations actually reads: ‘The corn was orient and immortal wheat . . .’ The Evening Standard articles written between 1939 and 1941 were collected in Heart of England (ed. John Gregory, HWS 2003, e-book 2013).


Chapter 20 (UK p. 211; US p. 194): another deletion and replacement, removing: 'For now that war had come, the new farmer was the subject of much talk and suspicious regard in the locality.' And the following paragraph; this was replaced with:



phasian us 5



However, the US edition file copy has its own short addition marked in red ink MS, showing that HW planned to put back some indication of the suspicion Wilbo was held in in any future edition.


UK pp. 218-9; US p. 200: further small deletions / additions, mainly clarifying text – all fairly typical of HW's continual honing of his work.


But now begins the real change to the book: Wilbo is NOT arrested or imprisoned.


UK pp. 223-4, top of 225: text concerning arrest of Wilbo – deleted. US p. 205 continues straight on with 'The Pightle' text. ('Pightle' is a Norfolk dialect word for small area of land – probably derived from 'parcel of land'.)


From now on all references to Wilbo's imprisonment are deleted and text adjustments made to cover this. An example is UK p. 227:



phasian us 6



The US edition (US p. 207) has 'She forgot to close the gate behind her' added – so allowing the turkeys to escape! The text from halfway down UK p. 231 to end of Chapter on 232 is deleted.






Chapter 22 (UK p. 240): bottom 4 lines and top 4 of p. 241 deleted and new text inserted.


However, the file copy of the US edition has a short red-ink MS addition showing local suspicion that Wilbo was a spy (US p. 219).



phasian us 7



UK p. 243: ¾ page deleted and new text inserted (US p. 221, and another red-ink MS note here), and then several small adjusting deletions / insertions to the end of that chapter (UK pp. 246-7; US p. 225):



phasian us 8and9



Chapter 23 (UK p. 248-56): entirely deleted except for one paragraph inserted later:



phasian us 10



The pencil note is NOT HW's writing – and I am fairly sure it will be that of Edward Weeks, the US editor. The whole chapter is 'blued' out as above.

So Chapter 24 (UK) becomes Chapter 23 in the US edition: opening with those great words:


Day after day with coarse diapason . . .


as of a great organ with all the lower stops out at once. And HW actually uses that phrase 'organ diapason' later in his description of Bach’s Mass in B minor (UK p. 280; US p. 240).


UK p. 261; US p. 230: the paragraph about the Italian prisoners-of-war on the farm from UK p. 249 now inserted:



phasian us 11



UK pp. 262-4 and top of 265 deleted. This is the passage about the dangerous handling of the yellow chemical.


And much deletion and alteration over UK pp. 265-7, covering the visit of the doctor: in the US edition he has come to treat Wilbo's wife and merely makes a social call on Wilbo – and so sees the painting of Chee-kai on the barn studio wall. In the US edition Wilbo is not portrayed as in a depressed state. But again, here there is a short red-ink MS note for further future revision. And within this passage (US p. 231) there is the possible supposition of the source of Chee-kai, no longer anonymous but given as a ‘stray from the woods of Merton’, an estate held by the 'Earls of Walsingham' (and so making a link to Sir Stephen Renshaw, as can be seen elsewhere in this era in the Chronicle novels).


These adjustment deletions continue UK p. 268-9; US p. 232-3. In the UK edition Chapter 24 ends on p. 270; while the US continues after a 'one line space':



phasian us 12



Chapter 25: UK p. 271 and on to p. 272 are deleted (see above – losing the Italian prisoners poaching, as no farmer to stop them!), picking up with new insertion (US, bottom p. 233):



phasian us 13



The grandly named fierce bull 'Townshend Toussaint the Tenth' (UK p. 272) is downgraded to a 'dozing Frisian bull' (US p. 237; American spelling, changed from 'Friesian'). It is doubtful anyway whether many English readers would have picked up on the reference to the famous 'Turnip' Townshend – an agriculturist from another era!


Also deleted is the rather obtuse metaphysical paragraph about the friendship between Wilbo and the airman-poet (UK p. 277; US p. 237).


Paragraphs about the war-strain of pilots (UK p. 278-9; US p. 238) are deleted, leading directly to the scene of the record of Bach’s Mass in B Minor listened to by Wilbo and the American airman-poet. HW has written on this page in pencil MS note: 'Weeks wanted to cut this Bach scene.' This is one of the clues that the revisions were demanded by the American publisher.


And for the US edition HW now intersperses a passage about Chee-kai – actually from UK p. 311, making a very effective cross-reference here, and adding to the emotive power of this already powerful passage:



phasian us 14



Chapter 26 (UK p. 284-94) is headed: 'Omit this Chapter entire'. This again is in what I presume is Weeks' handwriting – and 'blued' out. This contains the scene where Wilbo paints the Flockmaster. Thus the US Chapter 24 begins at the end of UK Chapter 26, with a new short insertion to cover the omitted passage:



phasian us 15



Most of UK pp. 296-7 deleted and adjusted, and continuing with the text from UK Chapter 27, p. 298 (US p. 244) with some small changes (for example, 'plowed for sugar-beet' instead of 'winter wheat') up to the end of UK Chapter 27 (p. 305), where UK Chapter 28 is deleted from p. 306 to near top of p. 315: the description of Wilbo watching Harcourt's shoot and information about shoots in relation to farming income (evidently not of interest to American readers!) and picking up at the point where radar notes returning bombers (US p. 251).


Far out over the North Sea, the unseen tentacles of the locating systems . . .


and the inevitable crash of the Flying Fortress bomber, and so death (never stated outright) of its poet pilot (UK p. 316; US p. 253).


So: UK Chapter 29 (p. 317) becomes US Chapter 25 (p. 254).


One useful change here is the list of rather silly fictional village names (top of UK p. 320), now given their real names (US p. 257):


UK edition:



phasian us 16



US edition:



phasian us 17



Some further revision on UK p. 322; US p. 259:



phasian us 18



Then at the end of that passage in the US edition HW has added another red ink note (US, p. 261). It would be a useful addition for any future edition.



phasian us 19



There are minor revisions on UK p. 324: then the last 5 lines of p. 325, all p. 326 and two thirds p. 327 are deleted: so removing the passage about the Americans wanting to 'get me a kraut' and Wilbo being a 'Jarman' and a 'fifth columnist'. Picking up again (US p. 263) with: 'Meanwhile . . .' – but the phrase 'the subject of the talk' is changed to a more natural 'Wilbo and his son'.


A further exchange about the 'fifth-columnist' excised (UK p. 329; US p. 264).


In US p. 265, HW has red-inked through the sentence about the soldiers being ordered to carry their weapons with them at all times as this is the sentence he wants taken back to p. 261 as in above scan.


Apart from the exclamation 'Christ!' deleted (UK p. 336; US p. 271) (were Americans that prurient?), there is no further revision at all. HW stood by his original description of the death of both Wilbo and the magnificent Chee-kai.


However, much distress was caused to HW by a missing line (UK p. 275; US p. 275). Coming at the very climax of his book, it must have been very frustrating indeed, and one can well imagine that some shouting and holding of his head in his hands ensued.


UK edition:



phasian us comp3



US edition:



phasian us comp2







These revisions change the whole tone of the book. Perhaps some future publisher will reissue The Phasian Bird using this US version, which can be seen as the definitive edition, and modern readers can see its superb quality.







Back to The Phasian Bird main page


Critical reception and book covers


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