Eminent English authors

Hugh’s choice of books for October 1942 includes some eminent English authors with whom Jim was already acquainted.

England is my Village by John Llewelyn Rhys

Being only two hundred pages long, the book contains ten short stories. They are extracts from the novels of John Llewelyn Rhys, beginning with the one which gives its name to the book. This tells the story of a young fighter pilot whom the reader assumes is killed. Hugh’s criticism of Rhys is very astute as the writing is indeed naive and dialogue contrived. He seems to sense that Rhys will never achieve real success. This became true but for the wrong reasons. It is as though Rhys has thought up a number of fictional situations in which to describe his flying experiences.

Ice is a tale about a pilot whose girlfriend persuades him to take her on a night flight. She imagines it very differently from reality especially when ice covers the plane. When its instruments pack up, they have to make a bumpy landing in a field. Remembered on Waking is an extract from Rhys’ The Flying Shadow. It contains descriptions of the coastal village in North Wales where the protagonist, a pilot, lives with his father. Having landed a job, he chooses his moment to break the news to his father. He does so during a game of chess and, surprised at how well his father has taken the news, his mind wanders between moves. Imagining himself leaving for the new job, he also looks back on his life thus far.

Having established his flying career before the war, Rhys was killed in action in August 1940 and his widow had the book published a few months later. In her preface, dated September 5th, 1940, the day Hugh and Jim reached Liverpool, she states that Recognition was coming quickly. But so was the war. His work with the RAF had taken over from his budding writing career although pieces were still being published in newspapers. His last piece of work was England is My Village, published in the United States in June, before Hugh left that country.

The Purple Land by W H Hudson

This book is by naturalist W. H. Hudson. He was very popular with the British public and there is a bird sanctuary and memorial to him in Hyde Park. Born in Argentina of British parents, he was brought up on a farm near Buenos Ayres where he developed his love of wild life. First published in 1885 as The Purple Land that England Lost, the novel was revised in 1904 with the shortened title but with a long subtitle, Being the Narrative of one Richard Lamb’s Adventures in the Banda Oriental in South America, as told by Himself. The story was also published as part of a collection, South American Romances, in 1930. It would probably have been the 1935 Penguin edition of the single story that Jim sent to Hugh. Hudson, like Lamb, travelled the country, taking notes on wildlife and also of the people he encountered.

On Sunday 3rd August, 1941, Jim wrote:

W. H. Hudson was born 100 years ago. Am listening to an appreciation. He rejoiced in colour, scents, sounds. 15th birthday most remarkable day of his life. He asked himself what he wanted – to remain as he was and still enjoy the birds’ songs and sounds of nature. This delight never passed away even in London, sick and poor and friendless. At 28, came to England, 35, married a woman of 50 who kept a boarding house. He seemed an eagle among canaries. J. Conrad said of him, “he writes as the grass grows”.

So, written in the first person, the book begins by informing the reader that Lamb eloped with Paquita from Buenos Ayres to the Banda Oriental and thence to Montevideo to seek refuge with her aunt. Full of guilt, considering his wife’s unhappy state, he goes off to the Banda Oriental searching for work. The Spanish and the Portuguese had disputed this territory of modern Uruguay for a long time. It was therefore subject to rebellions and revolutions. The title of the book is a reference to the bloodshed.

In the eighteenth century, Spain and Portugal colonised South America and fought over the Banda. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British invaded. Montevideo and Buenos Ayres were captured but then lost. The British had colonised Banda Oriental but gave it up for a thousand soldiers imprisoned in Buenos Ayres. They seized the Falklands instead. In 1810 there was a revolution after which Spain regained some territory. Infighting between the Blancos and the Colorados resulted in the Battle of San Paulo.

Hugh would have heard of the area through The Battle of the River Plate of December 1939 when The Admiral Graf Spee was scuttled. The Germans had believed the British to have much stronger military force.

Jim’s father may have told her that he visited both Montevideo and Buenos Ayres. Although William Roy had private income, he worked as a ship’s clerk for many years. Passenger Lists show him travelling from Buenos Ayres to Southampton in 1899 via Montevideo. He continued to make such voyages in the twenties including Port Stanley to New York in 1920, Cherbourg to New York 1922 and Chile to New York 1923. A testimonial letter dated 31 December 1900 states that William had worked for The Buenos Ayres and Belgrano Electric Tramways Co. Ltd. since May of that year. Jim was only twenty-one when her father died. Her independent and adventurous spirit may also have stemmed from these days when he was away from home. It is remarkable that she duplicated her father’s routes ten years after his death.

The middle chapters of The Purple Land describe the escapades Lamb has and the people he meets. One such is an ‘eloquent old horse-tamer’ who gives him a bed for the night. Next, he seeks shelter at an estancia where there were lots of children and animals. Here, Hudson gives vent to his knowledge of insects, describing the vinchuca in textbook detail. Lamb tries to avoid flirting with one of the daughters. His next encounter is at an establishment for vagabonds where he suggested they milk one of the cows in this carnivorous community. This leads to a fight and Lamb runs away to avoid arrest. He meets English sheep farmers but fails to find a job. The botanist in Hudson again shows itself when describing the classification and physiology of plants to one of his acquaintances. Later he recognises a harmless genus of snake which had frightened his companion.

Lamb doesn’t hesitate to describe the women he meets and nor does he hide his attraction to some of them. When they respond to his charm, he omits to say that he is married. There is a long section about Margarita, Hudson once again taking the opportunity to mention the plant of the same name, comparing its beauty with that of the girl. This becomes important when the last of these females gets the wrong message. She encourages him to join the rebel Blancos which he does at first reluctantly but comes round to believe in their cause against capitalism.

The Civil War had been raging for some decades prior to the time setting of the book but the infighting continued. This was also a time of massive immigration so Lamb would not have stood out amongst the European settlers. Both agriculture and business developed thanks to the input of Europeans and Montevideo especially became a major port. After assisting one of the rebels to escape from prison, Lamb supports the cause. The government pursues him and he flees on a boat bound for Buenos Aires. The reader is reminded of the opening of the book when Paquita’s father imprisons Lamb. She dies of a broken heart.

Strawberry Roan by A G Street

Strawberry Roan is A G Street’s description of farming life between the world wars in a fictional story of the lives of the families who owned a cow of this colour. It was published in 1932, the same year as his popular Farmer’s Glory. The story begins with the birth of the animal and ends when the heifer has just delivered her first calf. The mother soon loses her offspring when the calf goes to market.

Grey Eminence by Aldous Huxley

In Grey Eminence, Huxley writes a biography of a seventeenth century cleric whilst discussing the reconciliation of religion and politics.

Strictly Personal by Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham was a British writer and broadcaster who gained great eminence in the 1920s. Maugham’s birthplace was the British Embassy in Paris where his lawyer father worked. He also served there in World War I as a Literary Ambulance Driver with the Red Cross. Hugh would have enjoyed Strictly Personal. A short book, mine is one of the first trade edition and signed by its 1941 owner, the pages of thick, rough-cut paper.

Maugham’s home since 1926 had been a spacious house in the south of France and the book recounts his 1940 escape from the country following the fall of Paris. He describes his journey in a filthy, overcrowded coal-boat to Gibraltar to his safe landing in Liverpool. He recalls the calm and determined spirit of the people to carry on regardless in the midst of the London Blitz, saying that the first night raid was one Saturday in early September 1940. The first Saturday of that month was Jim and Hugh’s first day in England after their voyage when they’d had to wait to enter port because of the Liverpool bombing.  Maugham then managed to get a visa to America where he published this book. Jim was reading Maugham in July 1941 but she gives no title; there is neither any record of whether she or Hugh read Strictly Personal.

A Tale of Ten Cities by George Sava

George Sava was a Russian exile born in 1903. He joined the white Russian Navy as a young man but later became a surgeon. He began publishing his large output of books in 1940 and Jim had read Twice Round the Clock in 1941. In A Tale of Ten Cities, newly published when Hugh wrote his letter, Sava sets his stories in contemporary times with eye-witness accounts of visits to European cities, some of which have already been invaded, others savaged by war. Although he places himself as the traveller, the stories are fictional and a means of describing the events which led to the outbreak of war. It is a time of political crisis and turmoil but he imagines an optimism springing from the people through their resilience and loyalty to their cultures.

Sava begins with Petrograd where the narrator is meeting politicians at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. In Paris it is the time of the assassination of the King of Yugoslavia. Next he learns about the campaign to release women from harems in the new capital of Turkey, Ankara. The aim is to promote family life, female emancipation and modern culture. Readers meet Mussolini’s family in Rome and witness the blowing up of Sofia cathedral. The last city of the book is London and Sava discusses the actions of Chamberlain quoting his Peace in our time speech of 1938. A year later, Jim was reporting his speech of September 3 on the first page of her red diary.