‘Bates shows the commonplaces of country life more clearly, freshly and delicately than they have been shown before, and gives the fantastic and the bizarre precisely their proper emphasis’ –Spectator
We are excited to release The Complete Uncle Silas Stories by H. E. Bates as part of our ongoing project to reissue all of Bates’s short stories and novellas. Originally published in three different volumes, The Complete Uncle Silas Stories brings these fantastic stories together for the first time. This famous loveable rogue, Uncle Silas, has a unique range of work to his name.
Some tales offer sly, affectionate glimpses of the narrator’s great-uncle Silas – the rural oldster of the earthy, boozy, incorrigible school. But there is also an active tenderness as seen in ‘The Revelation,’ where the narrator watches old Silas being given a bath by his surly, long-time housekeeper and realises that their relationship is intensely romantic.
In ‘The Lily’, in a voice at once dreamy, devilish and triumphant, 93-year-old Silas recalls his more youthful days of poaching and wooing. Elsewhere, in ‘A Funny Thing’, Silas chortles over tall tales of his Casanova days, trying to out-lie his dandyish, equally ancient brother-in-law, Cosmo.
There are nostalgic vignettes of roof-thatching, pig-wrestling, and grave-digging. Bates claims some of the stories to be “so near to reality that they needed only the slightest recolouring on my part”, citing ‘The Wedding,’ ‘The Revelation,’ ‘Silas the Good,’ and ‘The Death of Uncle Silas’. It is in these examples that we see how he was inspired by that “apocryphal legend” borne of “every country child who keeps his ears cocked when men are talking.” Silas shrewdly and gently opens the eyes of his young listener to the adult world.
V.S. Pritchett acknowledged Bates’s gift in the short story genre, finding that he avoided farce with Silas through the use of the “passive, wondering audience” of the boy and the fidelity of style to the “techniques of rural story-telling…Uncle Silas is in fact the scandalizing village memory at work.”
‘Silas cannot be described in a short review, for he is a creature of epic individuality, whose wit, vainglory and lust for cowslip wine can only be recounted in the set phrases and telling adjectives of his creator’ – New Statesman