Bates, H(erbert) E(rnest)

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BATES, H(erbert) E(rnest)

Nationality: English. Born: Rushden, Northamptonshire, 16 May 1905. Education: Kettering Grammar School, Northamptonshire, 1916-21. Military Service: Served as a writer in the Air Ministry, 1941-45: squadron leader. Family: Married Marjorie Helen Cox in 1931; two daughters and two sons. Career: Reporter, Northampton Chronicle, 1922; warehouse clerk, 1922-26; lived in Little Chart, Kent, from 1931; columnist ("Country Life") from 1932 and literary editor from 1941, Spectator, London. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1950 (resigned 1963). Awards: C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire), 1973. Died: 29 January 1974.



The Best of Bates: A Selection of the Novels and Short Stories. 1980.

Short Stories

The Seekers. 1926.

The Spring Song, and In View of the Fact That …: Two Stories. 1927.

Day's End and Other Stories. 1928.

Seven Tales and Alexander. 1929.

The Tree (story). 1930.

The Hessian Prisoner (story). 1930.

Mrs. Esmond's Life (story). 1930.

A Threshing Day. 1931.

A German Idyll (story). 1932.

The Black Boxer: Tales. 1932.

Sally Go round the Moon (story). 1932.

The House with the Apricot and Two Other Tales. 1933.

The Woman Who Had Imagination and Other Stories. 1934.

Thirty Tales. 1934.

The Duet (story). 1935.

Cut and Come Again: Fourteen Stories. 1935.

Something Short and Sweet: Stories. 1937.

I Am Not Myself (story). 1939.

The Flying Goat: Stories. 1939.

My Uncle Silas: Stories. 1939.

Country Tales: Collected Short Stories. 1940.

The Beauty of the Dead and Other Stories. 1940.

The Greatest People in the World and Other Stories. 1942; asThere's Something in the Air, 1943.

How Sleep the Brave and Other Stories. 1943.

The Bride Comes to Evensford (story). 1943.

Thirty-One Selected Tales. 1947.

The Bride Comes to Evensford and Other Tales. 1949.

Selected Short Stories. 1951.

Twenty Tales. 1951.

Colonel Julian and Other Stories. 1951.

The Daffodil Sky. 1955.

Selected Stories. 1957.

Sugar for the Horse. 1957.

The Watercress Girl and Other Stories. 1959.

An Aspidistra in Babylon: Four Novellas. 1960; as The Grapes of Paradise: Four Short Novels, 1960.

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal and Other Stories. 1961; as The Enchantress and Other Stories, 1961.

The Golden Oriole: Five Novellas. 1962.

Seven by Five: Stories 1926-1961. 1963; as The Best of Bates, 1963.

The Fabulous Mrs. V. 1964.

The Wedding Party. 1965.

The Wild Cherry Tree. 1968.

The Four Beauties. 1968.

The Song of the Wren. 1972.

The Good Corn and Other Stories, edited by Geoffrey Halson. 1974.

H.E. Bates (selected stories), edited by Alan Cattell. 1975.

The Poison Ladies and Other Stories, edited by Mike Poulton. 1976.

The Yellow Meads of Asphodel. 1976.


The Two Sisters. 1926.

Catherine Foster. 1929.

Charlotte's Row. 1931.

The Fallow Land. 1932.

The Story Without an End, and The Country Doctor. 1932.

The Poacher. 1935.

A House of Women. 1936.

Spella Ho. 1938.

Fair Stood the Wind for France. 1944.

The Cruise of The Breadwinner. 1946.

The Purple Plain. 1947.

The Jacaranda Tree. 1949.

Dear Life. 1949.

The Scarlet Sword. 1950.

Love for Lydia. 1952.

The Nature of Love: Three Short Novels. 1953.

The Feast of July. 1954.

The Sleepless Moon. 1956.

Death of a Huntsman: Four Short Novels. 1957; as Summer in Salandar, 1957.

Perfick, Perfick: The Story of the Larkin Family. 1985.

The Darling Buds of May. 1958.

A Breath of French Air. 1959.

When the Green Woods Laugh. 1960; as Hark, Hark, the

Lark!, 1961.

Oh! To Be in England. 1963.

A Little of What You Fancy. 1970.

The Day of the Tortoise. 1961.

A Crown of Wild Myrtle. 1962.

A Moment in Time. 1964.

The Distant Horns of Summer. 1967.

The Triple Echo. 1970.


The Last Bread. 1926.

The Day of Glory (produced 1946). 1945.


There's a Future in It, 1943; The Loves of Joanna Godden, with Angus Macphail, 1947; Summertime (Summer Madness), with David Lean, 1955.


Flowers and Faces. 1935.

Through the Woods: The English WoodlandApril to April. 1936.

Down the River (essays). 1937.

The Seasons and the Gardener: A Book for Children. 1940.

The Modern Short Story: A Critical Survey. 1941; revised edition, as The Modern Short Story from 1809 to 1953, 1972.

In the Heart of the Country. 1942.

O! More Than Happy Countryman. 1943; revised edition, as The Country Heart (includes In the Heart of the Country), 1949.

Something in the Air: Stories by Flying Officer X. 1944.

There's Freedom in the Air: The Official Story of the Allied Air Forces from the Occupied Countries. 1944.

The Tinkers of Elstow. 1946(?). Edward Garnett: A Personal Portrait. 1950.

Flower Gardening: A Reader's Guide. 1950.

The Country of White Clover (essays). 1952.

The Face of England. 1952.

Pastoral on Paper. 1956.

Achilles the Donkey (for children). 1962.

Achilles and Diana (for children). 1963.

Achilles and the Twins (for children). 1964.

The White Admiral (for children). 1968.

The Vanished World (autobiography). 1969.

The Blossoming World (autobiography). 1971.

A Love of Flowers. 1971.

The World in Ripeness (autobiography). 1972.

A Fountain of Flowers (on gardening). 1974.



Bates: A Bibliographical Study by Peter Eads, 1990.

Critical Studies:

Bates by Dennis Vannatta, 1983; Bates: A Literary Life by Dean R. Baldwin, 1987.

* * *

H. E. Bates summarized his own approach to the form of which he was an accomplished master in his study The Modern Short Story when writing of Stephen Crane: "A story is told not by the carefully engineered plot but by the implication of certain isolated incidents, by the capture and arrangement of certain episodic movements." The range and variety of Bates's "episodic movements" is indeed remarkable.

Even as a boy the only vocation Bates wanted to follow was that of writing, though he would also have liked to become a painter and indeed became a skilled amateur practitioner. From his father he inherited his passion for nature and the countryside.

Bates began writing in the 1920s; his first book, The Two Sisters, was published in 1926. During the next 15 years he gradually acquired a reputation for his stories about English country life. His own life at this time was a difficult one, for he did not make much money. He had been taken up by the independently minded publisher Jonathan Cape, who later claimed that none of Bates's first 20 books earned the advances paid on them.

In 1941 Bates was recruited into the British Royal Air Force as a short story writer. He became a flight lieutenant in the public relations department of the Air Ministry, a year later being promoted to squadron leader. During the war years, under the pseudonym "Flying Office X," he produced a series of brilliant stories commemorating the way of life, and sometimes of death, of the men who made up "the Few," who won the Battle of Britain; these are sharply evocative prose sketches counterpointing the poems of John Pudney, using similar urgent material. The stories were collected in The Greatest People in the World. Under his own name Bates also wrote "The Cruise of The Breadwinner, " about a lugsail fishing boat used to patrol the English Channel looking for the crews of shot-down planes. The little boat turned back to pick up a German pilot from the water, and is attacked by an enemy fighter and two of three crew members are killed—the boy Snowy, a boy who loved binoculars, and the rescued British pilot. When the little book first came out a reviewer observed that the story was really only about "the pity of it all." So, indeed, it is; but it remains a small, unsentimental wartime masterpiece of a tale.

The plight of women in the lives of the airmen is movingly celebrated in Bates's novel Love for Lydia. The European war was the inspiration for the novel that first brought him popular fame, Fair Stood the Wind for France, while his experiences in the Far Eastern theater of war resulted in The Purple Plain, set in Burma, and The Jacaranda Tree, based on Bates's experience of India.

After the war Bates made his home in "The Granary," a house in the Kentish Village of Little Chart—where, incidentally, he became an enthusiastic and skillful gardener—returning to his previous theme of English country life. Not that he was unaware of the other face of England: the run-down England of the small-time commercial traveler, evoked in "The Ring of Truth," in which a remembered childhood picture postcard leads George Pickford to return to Skelby to uncover unpalatable sexual truths about his late father and widowed mother.

One of Bates's skills is his ability to paint a country scene with the accurate imagery of a poet. It is a skill he also applies to urban scenes, as with the Derbyshire town of Skelby, which Pickford found to be "a place of squat terraces half in red brick, half in grimy stone, with a short main street of shops, five or six pubs, two working men's clubs and an outdoor beerhouse or two…. Stone walls split the surrounding countryside of hills and dales into lopsided fragments…. It was early August when he arrived and the wind had a grizzling winter sound."

Bates depicts the arousal of desire in all its manifestations with a sure touch, whether Pickford's desire for the sister of Mrs. Lambton, or Maisie Foster, in "The Quiet Girl," whose sensuality is disastrously aroused by a succession of shabby men stroking her hair.

Desire is also the binding element in that hauntingly captured episode "The Wedding Party." Escaping from the vulgar celebrations of the wedding of her sister to a coarse German, the girl in dark green forms an intense relationship with a stranger, which leads not to their escape together to Venice as lovers but to something tragic.

As the critic Walter Allen remarked in The Short Story in English, Bates also is masterly at creating stasis, the feeling of stillness, as in "The Gleaner" and the fine "Death of a Huntsman," stories separated by a quarter of a century.

With his invention of the ripe old character Uncle Silas, Bates found a vehicle for recreating with gusty good humor the character and vanishing ways of an older rural England; the stories are none the worse for our realization that the old man stretched the bounds of truth, even probability, in the telling. For instance, in "Sugar for the Horse" Uncle Silas and a drunken friend try to get the reluctant horse Panto up the stairs to go to bed with them.

By 1958 Bates was a hugely successful writer whose work had been translated into 16 different languages. Yet in that year he began a new, rather more earthy type of story that was to bring him wider popularity: the first of his chronicles of Pop Larkin and his family, The Darling Buds of May. Perhaps vulgarized a little, it is still a successful series on television, thus bringing him before a wider, if perhaps less discerning, audience than his other books.

But it is upon the qualities of his short stories that his lasting reputation depends: a lucid prose style, a sharpness of eye for imagery and a broad ear for dialogue, the ability to handle pathos objectively, a strong deftness for character-drawing, and the flowing invention of a natural storyteller.

In his later years Bates published the three volumes of his autobiography, a racy and readable account of the life and times out of which the stories grew.

—Maurice Lindsay

See the essay on "The Daffodil Sky."

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Bates, H(erbert) E(rnest)

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