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This review is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

AN OUTSIDER Henry Williamson. The Man, The Writings. Brocard Sewell (Editor) (Tabb House, Padstow, Cornwall) £6.95

It seems appropriate that the first full-length appreciation of Henry Williamson should come from a provincial press, for despite the enduring popularity of Tarka The Otter he has always been an outsider, patronised by academe and ignored by the literary establishment. And while his association with Oswald Mosley would have debarred him from the Honours List, his particular idealistic brand of nature-mysticism commanded little sympathy or approval among his contemporaries. Although a dedicated literary artist (Tarka was re-written seventeen times) he had to rest content (and commendably did) with the allegiance of the private reader.

This book is a compilation of reminiscences by his friends and a number of more formal literary studies. The excellent photographs bring the alert provocative man before us: the sketchy and impressionistic recollections supplement them, rather than the other way round. Ted Hughes in his funeral address acknowledged Williamson's influence as well as friendship, and indeed he is a writer who commands both passionate advocacy and that contemptuous dismissiveness which is its complement. David Hoyle's essay on The Flax of Dream tetralogy is especially illuminating in this respect, pinpointing as it does, and accounting for, that work's maddening mixture of fervent commitment and emotional self-indulgence.

What emerges from these essays is a realization of how self-exploratory a writer Williamson was. The fifteen volume Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight is in effect a fictional autobiography: more interesting, it is a re-working and correction of the romantic pre-war novels. If Williamson was an ...


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