We’re nearing the end of our project to publish all of H. E. Bates’s extensive collections of short stories and novellas. This month sees the release of The Wild Cherry Tree and The Fabulous Mrs. V.
Many of H. E. Bates’s stories depict life in the rural Midlands, particularly his native Northamptonshire, where he spent many hours wandering the countryside. His first novel, The Two Sisters (1926) was published by Jonathan Cape when he was just twenty. Many critically acclaimed novels and collections of short stories followed.
First published in 1968, The Wild Cherry Tree is a late collection of ten tales including comic vignettes, a humorous celebration of the sensual life, and several explorations of love, loneliness, and problematic relationships.
Title story ‘The Wild Cherry Tree’ sees the wife of a pig-farmer who dresses like a ‘shabby, straddling scarecrow’ as she tends her pigs by day, but, alone in the evenings, adorns herself in exotic clothes and jewels without leaving the house. ‘Same Time, Same Place’ follows an impoverished spinster and a lonely bachelor who become friends, but when he drunkenly and clumsily proposes to her she avoids him, denying herself ‘the possibility of friendship with a man who genuinely likes her.’ Included in this collection for the first time is ‘A Waddler,’ which is a village sketch with colourful dialogue, and was Bates’s first published story. It follows a man as he deals with the death of his overly critical wife, as he is conversely complimented by a widow on carrying his grief so well.
The stories in The Wild Cherry Tree amply illustrate the fact that the author’s talent has many facets – Books and Bookmen
First published in 1964, The Fabulous Mrs. V. is a late collection of twelve stories celebrating comedy and Bates’s ability to paint amusing, idiosyncratic women.
‘A Couple of Fools’ follows two fashionable young women, ripe for a luxurious Sunday afternoon outing, who find that their flamboyant hats win them attention and favours at every step. They and their male admirers become too drunk for anything but a taxi home.
But it is not just the women who are given Bates’s quirky treatment. ‘The Cat Who Sang’ observes an overworked teacher who hallucinates that his black cat Susie is able to sing Schubert’s ‘Trout’ theme. In ‘A Dream of Fair Women’ a body building adolescent boy engages in vivid fantasies about women risqué enough to be reprinted in Penthouse Magazine in 1965. Also included with this cast of peculiar characters is a retired Reverend in bonus story ‘The Electric Christ’, who becomes enamoured with a statue of Christ with an electric halo and purchases it for his home.
Both his vigour and unique ability to evoke, visually, his settings and characters remain undiminished – Times Literary Supplement