Authors: A. E. Coppard

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English short-story writer and poet

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, 1921

Clorinda Walks in Heaven, 1922

The Black Dog, 1923

Fishmonger’s Fiddle, 1925

The Field of Mustard, 1926

Count Stephan, 1928

Silver Circus, 1928

The Gollan, 1929

The Higgler, 1930

The Man from Kilsheelan, 1930

Easter Day, 1931

The Hundredth Story of A. E. Coppard, 1931

Nixey’s Harlequin, 1931

Crotty Shinkwin, and the Beauty Spot, 1932

Ring the Bells of Heaven, 1933

Dunky Fitlow, 1933

Emergency Exit, 1934

Polly Oliver, 1935

Ninepenny Flute, 1937

These Hopes of Heaven, 1937

Tapster’s Tapestry, 1938

You Never Know, Do You?, 1939

Ugly Anna, and Other Tales, 1944

Fearful Pleasures, 1946

Selected Tales from His Twelve Volumes Published Between the Wars, 1946

The Dark-Eyed Lady: Fourteen Tales, 1947

The Collected Tales of A. E. Coppard, 1948

Lucy in Her Pink Jacket, 1954

Simple Day, 1978

Poetry:

Hips and Haws, 1922

Pelagea, and Other Poems, 1926

Yokohama Garland, 1926

Collected Poems, 1928

Cherry Ripe, 1935

Nonfiction:

Rummy: That Noble Game Expounded, 1933

It’s Me, O Lord!, 1957

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Pink Furniture, 1930

Biography

In terms of struggle and development, the life of Alfred Edgar Coppard (KAHP-urd) was, particularly in his early years, an epic in itself. He began in abject poverty, and his rise was circuitous. Born on January 4, 1878, at Folkestone in Kent, England, he was the son of a housemaid, Emily Alma (née Southwell) and George Coppard, a tailor. After the family moved to Brighton, Coppard was educated at the Lewes Hill Boarding School until the age of nine. His father had died of tuberculosis the year before. Coppard later remembered him as a radical young man with a bushy beard who never owned nor could afford an overcoat. This fact was apparently significant, as Coppard himself did not own an overcoat until he was thirty. After the father’s death, the family (Coppard, three sisters, and their mother) was sunk in destitution and was forced to apply for parish relief.{$I[AN]9810001429}{$I[A]Coppard, A. E.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Coppard, A. E.}{$I[tim]1878;Coppard, A. E.}

At nine, Coppard was taken out of school to become a wage earner. A year later, he was sent to Whitechapel in London, where he lived with an uncle and served as a shop boy to a trousers maker. From there, he was transferred to a pool of messenger boys at Reuter’s Telegraph Agency. The pay was usual for the period, but it was not enough to take care of the rest of his family; he lived on strict rations. This was a period, however, of growth and novelty amid colorful relatives, both hostile and friendly, and the tumult of the city.

Two years later, Coppard returned to Brighton and hired out as an office boy. From thirteen on, he worked at a number of jobs, meanwhile becoming an avid reader of poetry and continuing what had already become a program of self-education. He appears to have been endowed with extraordinary energy; his enthusiasms were broad as well as precocious. He loved sports, hiking, music, painting, and amateur theatricals. By the time of his early teens, he had started to write poetry, inspired chiefly by John Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and John Milton’s “L’Allegro.”

Coppard never returned to school but was employed at various places, including a factory that made soap. In his twenties, he was active in sports; at Chatham and London, he competed in many sprint races. In 1907, with his first wife, he went to live at Oxford. This was a move, Coppard said, that changed his life. He met students and members of the literary crowd, although technically he was an outsider. Nevertheless, in the town of Oxford he was able to participate in the cultural and literary life. He went to free public lectures, given by such notables as Bertrand Russell and William Butler Yeats, and he made the acquaintance of the young Aldous Huxley, Robert Graves, Hugh Walpole, and others. Coppard also became interested in, and attended meetings of, the labor and social democratic movements of the day. When he was forty-one, he took the important and risky step of quitting his job and devoting all of his time to writing.

For three years, he lived alone in a cottage in a field near Oxford. It was the first leisure of his life, and some of his best stories were written there. In 1921, Harold Taylor, of the newly founded Golden Cockerel Press, offered to publish a volume of Coppard’s short stories. This was Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, a critical success which also afforded its author some economic comfort, though at no time was his situation ever one of affluence.

In 1927, Alfred Knopf became his American publisher. Coppard’s stories were winning respect. Later years found him the writer of an extraordinary number of books. He was considered one of the foremost short-story writers in England in the 1920’s and 1930’s. A summit had been reached as far as his artistic attainment went, however, and he lived the rest of his life in relative obscurity. Coppard married twice; his second wife was Winifred May de Kok, of the Orange Free State in Southern Africa. They had a son and a daughter. He could never afford to travel widely, but he took extensive hiking tours throughout England. Many years were spent at Dunmow, his home in Essex, and he died in London on January 13, 1957. Since then, Coppard’s work has experienced a resurgence of popularity as a result of the adaptation of several of his stories for television (they have been seen on Masterpiece Theater). For both his mastery of the short-story form and his sensitive portrayal of English rural life, Coppard is an important figure in the development of the short story as a serious literary form.

In appearance, Coppard was dark and gypsylike, with a rugged kind of outdoor handsomeness. He hated the pretentious, and though he could be a brilliant and arresting conversationalist, there was an undercurrent of reserve, with glints of witty sarcasm. When asked by Who’s Who what his favorite recreation was, the answer he gave was “resting.”

BibliographyAllen, Walter. The Short Story in English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Includes a brief analysis of Coppard’s “The Higgler,” suggesting that the story is as unpredictable as life itself, with nothing seemingly arranged or contrived by Coppard.Bates, H. E. “Katherine Mansfield and A. E. Coppard.” In The Modern Short Story: A Critical Survey. London: Evensford Productions, 1972. Coppard’s contemporary and fellow author of short stories discusses Coppard’s role in the development of the modern English short story. Bates discerns an unfortunate influence of Henry James on Coppard’s work, which is remarkable in its Elizabethan lyricism and its homage to the oral tradition. Includes an index.Beachcroft, T. O. The Modest Art: A Survey of the Short Story in English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Discusses Coppard’s two basic generic veins–the highly fantastic in such stories as “Adam and Eve and Pinch Me,” and the naturalistic in stories such as “The Higgler” and “The Water Cress Girl.”Cowley, Malcolm. “Book Reviews: Adam and Eve and Pinch Me.” The Dial 71, no. 1 (July, 1921): 93-95. Describes Coppard’s careful workmanship, his skillful narration, and his artful blend of fantasy and realism. Cowley notes Coppard’s emotional unity, his insight into characters, his animated landscapes, and his role in keeping the short-story form vital.Ginden, James. “A. E. Coppard and H. E. Bates.” In The English Short Story, 1880-1945: A Critical History, edited by Joseph M. Flora. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Compares Coppard’s and H. E. Bates’s treatment of rural life as well as their dedication to the short story as distinguished from other literary forms. Although both authors employed the techniques of the modern short story, Ginden does not consider them “modernists,” arguing that their work lacks the reliance on symbol or metaphor and instead stresses anecdote and description.Kalasky, Drew, ed. Short Story Criticism: Excerpts from Criticism of the Works of Short Fiction Writers. Vol. 21. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Research, Inc., 1996. A thoughtful collection of criticism of works by Coppard, Jean Rhys, William Sansom, William Saroyan, Giovanni Verga, and others.Lessing, Doris. Introduction to Selected Stories by A. E. Coppard. London: Jonathan Cape, 1972. Lessing attributes the general appeal of Coppard’s fiction to his exceptional talent for storytelling. Coppard was an expert craftsman, but it is the authentic growth of characters and events that involves the reader.O’Connor, Frank. The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story. New York: World Publishing, 1962. O’Connor examines Coppard’s themes of poverty, personal freedom, and women in the context of other modern short fiction by Irish, English, American, and Russian writers. The two great English storytellers, according to O’Connor, are Coppard and D. H. Lawrence. Though both authors share workingclass backgrounds, Coppard is a more deliberate, self-conscious artist, and he betrays feelings of social inadequacy.Schwartz, Jacob. The Writings of Alfred Edward Coppard: A Bibliography. 1931. Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1975. Features a biography by Schwartz and a foreword and notes by Coppard.
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