Two More Penguins: H.E. Bates and R.H. Mottram

Can’t say that I had heard of either of these early twentieth century English writers, but I had their orange Penguin paperbacks, and decided to read them.  Worth doing.

First, R. H. Mottram wrote a trilogy of which “The Spanish Farm” was the first volume (I do not have the other two). It’s a World War I novel, but the heroes are not politicians or soldiers, but rather Madeleine, a French country girl, of intelligence and capability who lives with her father and siblings on a farm in northern France which becomes a billeting stop for English officers.  It is part of a larger baronial estate and Madeleine falls in love with the Baron’s son, who is called off into war.  Missing their assignations, she vows to wait for him (does he feel anything for her, a commoner?) until she learns that he has been injured, and then she must search.  First to a military hospital, then to take a job in AMiens, and then Paris.  No trace of her one time lover, but she does run into an English officer she had known from the farm, and they have their own series of rendezvous but her heart belongs to her titled neighbor, now possibly dead.  But he isn’t dead, he appears, he longed for her as much as she for him, but he goes off and this time, he is killed, forcing her to return to the farm and resume her previously life, with everything somewhat changed.  A good, and unusual, story.  I think I would classify it as an example of feminist literature. It was apparently very popular in its time.  And worth reading today.

The other book I read was a book of three long stories (termed novelettes) by H.E. Bates, another prolific English writer.  They contrasted with the stories of Max Beerbohm that I read last week.  The Beerbohm stories were, as they might say in England, wickedly clever, and intellectually written.  The Bates stories were not at all clever (you pretty well knew how they’d turn out), and they were written in simple words, and simple sentences.  But they were ultimately readable, and very enjoyable.  I only read two of them (one, about an unattractive woman with low self esteem and questionable ethics who finally attracts two men, not realizing that one of them would kill the other, and the other about a country gentleman with an unappealing wife who meets a young girl who promises that they can have fun over the summer, although he believes – incorrectly – that the summer would never end).  I didn’t read the third story, the shortest of the three, because it was a sea captain’s story, and I just wasn’t interested.

I recommend both books.


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