We are excited to publish An Aspidistra in Babylon and The Black Boxer Tales, as part of our ongoing project to revive all of H. E. Bates’s short stories and novellas. His fiction centred mainly in his native Northamptonshire, in which wandering the countryside inspired these critically acclaimed collections. Bates has been described as ‘a supreme anecdotalist’ by the Spectator, with ‘the gift of imagery’ that is presented in this collection.
“A sure way with words”
An Aspidistra in Babylon, a collection of some of his most striking novellas, continues the explorations of unhappy love that H. E. Bates often favoured. The title story tells of a girl’s loss of innocence to the much older Captain Blaine, who charms and seduces her. This reminiscence sets the scene for other turbulent tales including ‘A Month by the Lake’ which is full of bottled affections, ‘The Grapes of Paradise,’ sewing a darker thread into the collection as a cold and violent tale and ‘The Duet,’ featured in this collection for the first time as a bonus addition to Bates’s brilliantly gloomy take on love.
First published in 1932, the stories featured in The Black Boxer Tales differ from Bates’s creations of complicated lovers, showing more of an emphasis on character development with colourful backdrops and exciting atmospheres. These skilful pieces of writing detail the struggles of characters that are familiar within Bates’s style, yet with an altered focus from mood to character. This transition, which Bates himself considered ‘a new world,’ is refreshing and showcased from all angles.
“Paints his landscape and mood in a way to stir the most apathetic reader”
Title story ‘The Black Boxer’ explores the identity of an aging boxer that finds himself ‘tired and stupefied’, while the contrast in the collection exists in Bates’s countryside settings, with ‘A Flower Piece’ and ‘Death in Spring.’ Bates also delved into explorations of flirtation in ‘A Threshing Day for Esther’ and ‘Love Story.’ Both of which light up the collection with Bates’s brilliance as a versatile and adventurous writer, described by the Times Literary Supplement as having ‘mastery of both matter and manner.’