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This article is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

Neglected Self: W. H. Hudson Robert Wells

W. H. HUDSON shares with his contemporary Hardy a characteristic which Solzhenitsyn has insisted on. He is a memory. The best of his writing takes us back into a world and among people who would otherwise have disappeared without trace and brings them vividly before our eyes. Partly because there is a necessary anonymity in this endeavour, and partly because the memory is a dream and must not be broken by external fact, both men liked to cover their tracks and protected themselves against biographers. The secrecy is connected with their modesty. Hudson told his own story as far as he wanted to tell it or thought it worth telling and, by burning his papers, destroyed what he could of the rest. But, if the romances are excepted, he is not the kind of writer who dramatises himself or improves upon what happened. He prided himself on being a naturalist; and it emerges incidentally from Ruth Tomalin's new biography that where the record can be checked, he is faithful to the facts. 'Caleb Bawcombe' in A Shepherd's Life, for example, is the old man shown in a photograph here, sitting outside his cottage, his lame left leg stiffly extended, and the 'life' is his as Hudson learnt it from him.

Ruth Tomalin is faced with an insoluble difficulty. She has to rely on Hudson's writing for much of her material, and her retelling is bound to be uneasy paraphrase, a poor alternative to her source. The story ...

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