Day’s End and Other Stories, the first short story collection to be republished by Bloomsbury Reader, came out in May 2015, the beginning of a project to reissue all of H. E. Bates’ short stories and novellas as ebooks. Two years and twenty-nine books later our mission is complete.
Whilst perhaps best known for his bestselling novels Love for Lydia and The Darling Buds of May which were adapted into successful TV series, launching the acting careers of Jeremy Irons and Catherine Zeta-Jones respectively, H. E. Bates is a master of the short story, writing over 300 in his lifetime.
‘If we set H. E. Bates’ best tales against the best of Chekhov’s, I do not believe it would be possible to argue that the Russian was the finer artist’ Graham Greene
Bates’ stories often explore country life, the sadness, joy, humour and darkness in what may be seen as a simpler way of life. He writes intimate character studies against vivid rural landscapes and beautifully captures a spectrum of emotions from innocent childhood and early adolescence, to wise and experienced old age. This skill and breadth of subject is evident in The Watercress Girl, which we also published in paperback. Through a series of short, lyrical stories, the complexities of the world are seen with crystalline purity through the eyes of children. We experience the joyous and painful clarity of youth, full of fears, hopes and make-believe, and the trust and mistrust of the adult world.
Working closely with H. E. Bates’ family, we were able to include bonus stories in these collections that had previously only been published in magazines, newspapers and pamphlets. It was exciting to resurrect fiction that had once fallen from the public domain with the mouldering of yesterday’s papers. Forgotten no longer, we were thrilled to make these available again.
Bates’ stories are not limited to country scenes. During WWII, after writing to his friend David Garnett, then at the Air Ministry, about the possibility of military service, Bates was commissioned as a writer for the Royal Air Force in 1941 under the pseudonym Flying Officer X. He gathered ideas by speaking to the pilots, recounting their personal histories and the qualities that motivated them.
‘It was not patriotic writing of the kind that the Great Patriotic War produced in Soviet Russia; it was low-keyed as to sentiment, far from flag-waving, essentially human and quietly compassionate’ Anthony Burgess
The stories were the bestsellers of their day with print runs of 100,000 copies, an astonishing number then as now. Bloomsbury Reader have collected all of these into one ebook, The Complete Flying Officer X Stories, for the first time. Together they show the highs, lows, weariness and excitement of being an ace flyer in WWII, offering a window into what it was really like for those pilots.
We were also exited to collect all of Bates’ Uncle Silas stories together in The Complete Uncle Silas Stories, for the first time. A 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.
‘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
But perhaps the crowning jewel in our H. E. Bates treasure trove is the novel Love for Lydia, a poignant look at love through the eyes of a boy growing up. Set amidst the hazy beauty of the English countryside and the crumbling splendour of the British upper classes, Bates demonstrates his ability to capture the complexities of human character, his remarkable talent for contrasting romance against stark reality, and the innocence, joy and sadness of young love. A bestseller when it was originally published in 1952, and with a new introduction by Joanna Briscoe, this beautiful work of fiction is not to be missed.
‘Love for Lydia is so exquisitely written, so accurate on both the glorious and dangerous aspects of obsessive love, and so precise in its portrait of a time and place, it seems to me to be timeless’ Joanna Briscoe
We at Bloomsbury Reader have had the pleasure of working with this truly excellent fiction for two years, and feel that, as The Times Literary Supplement says, ‘anyone interested in the English language must read Mr. Bates, one of its outstanding masters.’