The Enduring Land: H. E. Bates



The symbolic narratives of Powys contrast revealingly with the far more popular tales of an equally fastidious craftsman, H. E. Bates (1905–74), to mention whom is to refer not only to a skilful novelist, but also to one whose career showed him to be something of a literary barometer. His work went on changing, if not developing, in response to the pressures and outlooks of the times, his war novels1 and the opulent Larkins saga of the 1960s2 being alike pointers to the moods and tastes of the periods in which they were written. But Bates’s most popular work has probably been the group of rural stories which he published in the 1930s.3 While written with all the grace and refinement of The Two Sisters (his first, intensely romantic novel, published in 1926, when he was twenty, with an introduction by Edward Garnett), these books are of their time in their concern with the hardships and practicalities of country life. Deborah Loveday, the farmer’s wife in The Fallow Land (1932), and Luke Bishop in The Poacher (1935) are types of human endurance, of a basic simplicity that acts directly according to its nature and without the prevarication and complex motives of urban dwellers. They thus provide a kind of twentieth-century heroic ideal. Rosie Jefferys, the barmaid turned farmer’s wife in A House of Women (1936) is another.4


Complex Motive Urban Dweller Inherent Dignity Popular Work Absolute Objectivity 
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  1. 4.
    A similar type of woman is more fully and memorably portrayed as Sara Munday in Joyce Cary’s Herself Surprised (1941). It is interesting to compare her character with that of the old landowner Wilcher, her employer, in To Be a Pilgrim (1942), with regard to their different roles in society. Sara has vitality, Wilcher sanity.Google Scholar

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© Glen Cavaliero 1977

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