Authors: H. E. Bates

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Seekers, 1926

Day’s End, and Other Stories, 1928

Seven Tales and Alexander, 1929

The Black Boxer: Tales, 1932

Thirty Tales, 1934

The Woman Who Had Imagination, and Other Stories, 1934

Cut and Come Again: Fourteen Stories, 1935

Something Short and Sweet: Stories, 1937

Country Tales: Collected Short Stories, 1938

The Flying Goat: Stories, 1939

My Uncle Silas: Stories, 1939

The Beauty of the Dead, and Other Stories, 1940

The Greatest People in the World, and Other Stories, 1942

How Sleep the Brave, and Other Stories, 1943

The Bride Comes to Evensford, and Other Tales, 1943

Dear Life, 1949

Colonel Julian, and Other Stories, 1951

The Daffodil Sky, 1955

The Sleepless Moon, 1956

Death of a Huntsman: Four Short Novels, 1957 (pb. in U.S. as Summer in Salandar, 1957)

Sugar for the Horse, 1957

The Watercress Girl, and Other Stories, 1959

An Aspidistra in Babylon: Four Novellas, 1960 (pb. in U.S. as The Grapes of Paradise, 1960)

The Golden Oriole: Five Novellas, 1961

Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, and Other Stories, 1961 (pb. in U.S. as The Enchantress, and Other Stories, 1961)

Seven by Five: Stories, 1926-1961, 1963 (pb. in U.S. as The Best of H. E. Bates, 1963)

The Fabulous Mrs. V., 1964

The Wedding Party, 1965

The Four Beauties, 1968

The Wild Cherry Tree, 1968

The Good Corn, and Other Stories, 1974

The Yellow Meads of Asphodel, 1976

Long Fiction:

The Two Sisters, 1926

Catherine Foster, 1929

Charlotte’s Row, 1931

The Fallow Land, 1932

The Poacher, 1935

A House of Women, 1936

Spella Ho, 1938

Fair Stood the Wind for France, 1944

The Cruise of the Breadwinner, 1946

The Purple Plain, 1947

Dear Life, 1949

The Jacaranda Tree, 1949

The Scarlet Sword, 1950

Love for Lydia, 1952

The Feast of July, 1954

The Nature of Love: Three Short Novels, 1954

The Sleepless Moon, 1956

Death of a Huntsman: Four Short Novels, 1957

The Darling Buds of May, 1958

A Breath of French Air, 1959

When the Green Woods Laugh, 1960

The Day of the Tortoise, 1961

A Crown of Wild Myrtle, 1962

Oh! To Be in England, 1963

A Moment in Time, 1964

The Distant Horns of Summer, 1967

A Little of What You Fancy, 1970

The Triple Echo, 1970


The Last Bread, pb. 1926

The Day of Glory, pb. 1945


Through the Woods, 1936

Down the River, 1937

The Modern Short Story: A Critical Survey, 1941

In the Heart of the Country, 1942

Country Life, 1943

O More than Happy Countryman, 1943

Edward Garnett, 1950

The Country of White Clover, 1952

The Face of England, 1952

The Vanished World: An Autobiography, 1969

The Blossoming World: An Autobiography, 1971

The World in Ripeness: An Autobiography, 1972


Herbert Ernest Bates was one of the most prolific British writers of the twentieth century. He published dozens of novels and novellas, but his reputation rests primarily on his first love: the short story. Bates was born in the Midlands shoemaking center of Rushden, England; both of his grandfathers had been shoemakers, and his father, a stern Methodist, owned his own shoemaking business. Yet as a young man Bates did not look upon the trade with fondness, and he tried to escape the factories through education. He was a good student, but not quite good enough to win a scholarship to the public school at Wellingborough. Bates was so discouraged by this early failure that he eventually forfeited an opportunity to attend Cambridge University and instead embarked on a series of odd jobs.{$I[AN]9810001385}{$I[A]Bates, H. E.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Bates, H. E.}{$I[tim]1905;Bates, H. E.}

Bates stole time from one of these jobs, as a warehouseman, to write stories and poems. These early works were rejected by journal after journal until, in 1926, he finally had a novel published by Jonathan Cape. The book, The Two Sisters, received warm reviews but was not a financial success. In 1931, Bates married Marjorie Helen Cox and purchased a converted granary in Kent, where he lived with his wife and children until his death in 1974. To support himself and his family, he wrote more than one volume of fiction every year, in addition to producing reviews, essays, monographs on country life, and a column for The Spectator.

This massive output did not always bring critical or commercial success; indeed, for Bates the two seem almost to have been mutually exclusive. With only a few exceptions, his finest work in both the short story and the novel was written in the 1930’s. Fame did not come, however, until the 1940’s, when, under the pseudonym “Flying Officer X,” Bates wrote two collections of stories about the military air force. (The collections had been commissioned by the British Air Ministry.) During the next decade, Bates wrote a series of commercially successful novels set in World War II, of which the first, Fair Stood the Wind for France, became the best known. These novels were harshly reviewed by critics, who, ironically, tended to ignore the much finer efforts written in the same period (among them Dear Life, which may well be Bates’s most undervalued novel).

Bates was so embittered by the critics’ attacks that he more than once threatened to stop writing novels. Nevertheless, for the last two decades of his life his production continued unabated, and he even found two new genres in which to work, film scripts and novellas. Bates’s last major published work, the novella The Triple Echo, may well be his finest piece of fiction.

Bates is best known for his mastery of the familiar modernist short-story devices: indirection, psychological penetration of character, and an unadorned style. Not only do his finest stories demonstrate these characteristics but so, too, do such apparently atypical efforts as the often comical Uncle Silas tales. His novels are hardly daring technically but rely instead on a rich evocation of time and place–most frequently the Midlands of the early twentieth century–and a colorful cast of characters.

Regardless of the genre, setting, or characters involved, one theme appears repeatedly in Bates’s fiction: freedom versus constraint. Constraint comes in many forms, physical and spiritual, and includes poverty, religious fanaticism, class consciousness, government bureaucracy, and soulless urban sprawl. Freedom to Bates means individuality, sexual liberation, and, always, nature.

Bates’s reputation suffered after World War II. Out of economic necessity he wrote continually, but the aesthetic quality of what he wrote suffered. He repeated his themes, settings, and character types until they lost their effectiveness, especially in the novels. Even in his strongest genre, the short story, it can hardly be argued that Bates grew much after his achievements in the 1930’s. Those achievements are, however, distinctive enough to earn for Bates a place as a major figure in modern British literature.

BibliographyAlderson, Frederick. “Bates Country: A Memoir of H. E. Bates.” London Magazine 19 (July, 1979): 31-42. Presents a personal account of Alderson’s friendship with Bates, including their times together in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Comments on Bates’s writings, calling his style “impressionistic.”Allen, Walter. The Short Story in English. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1981. Part of this comprehensive commentary on short-story writers explores the short stories of Bates, whom Allen credits with “consist excellence.” Contains extracts from Bates’s work to illustrate his range of social types and scenes, with particular emphasis given to The Cruise of the Breadwinner.Baldwin, Dean R. “Atmosphere in the Stories of H. E. Bates.” Studies in Short Fiction 21 (Summer, 1984): 215-222. Discusses Bates’s naturalistic and romantic stories, focusing on how Bates uses atmosphere; argues that Bates’s stories seem simple on the surface, but deserve more attention than they have received for the subtlety of their technique.Baldwin, Dean R. H. E. Bates: A Literary Life. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1987. Biography has proved to be a more reliable source of information about Bates than his own three-volume autobiography. Includes extensive commentary on his novels and short stories.Baldwin, Dean R. “H. E. Bates: The Poacher.” In Recharting the Thirties, edited by Patrick J. Quinn. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1996. Discussion of Bates’s 1935 novel The Poacher is included in an essay collection that seeks to refamiliarize readers with British authors who have been largely ignored since their major works first appeared in the 1930’s. The essay is preceded by a brief biographical sketch of Bates.Beachcroft, T. O. The Modest Art: A Survey of the Short Story in English. London: Oxford University Press, 1968. Beachcroft discusses Bates numerous times in the context of the modern English short story. Most interesting is his discussion of the author’s use of Midland characters and themes.Eads, Peter. H. E. Bates: A Bibliographical Study. 1990. Reprint. London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2007. Provides a good collection of bibliographical material on Bates and offers full details of first editions of all Bates’s works, adding comments from reviews and the writer’s autobiography.Evenson, Brian. “H. E. Bates.” In British Novelists Between the Wars, edited by George M. Johnson. Vol. 191 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Group, 1998. Essay on Bates provides biographical information, analysis of his work, and a bibliography.Frierson, William. The English Novel in Transition, 1885-1940. New York: Cooper Square, 1965. Discusses the influence of Anton Chekhov, Thomas Hardy, and D. H. Lawrence on Bates’s work and argues that pessimism is the most fundamental connective thread in his fiction.Hughes, Douglas. “The Eclipsing of V. S. Pritchett and H. E. Bates: A Representative Case of Critical Myopia.” Studies in Short Fiction 19 (Fall, 1982): iii-v. Complains that Pritchett and Bates have been allowed to slip into oblivion by editors and critics; argues that editors and groups of professors should not presume to dictate which story writers can or cannot be written about.Miller, Henry. Preface to The Best of H. E. Bates, by H. E. Bates. Boston: Little, Brown, 1963. Miller discusses Bates’s use of nature imagery and themes, plus his humor and “obsession with pain.”Vannatta, Dennis. H. E. Bates. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Good introductory work provides less biographical information than Baldwin’s biography (cited above) but more critical commentary. Includes useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
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