BHD On the Tracks

I had been reading about A.E.Coppard. H.E.Bates had made the point that Coppard had suffered from being influenced by Henry James. I hadn’t read any Henry James. (It’s always a good method of excluding people – by making allusions they might not understand, instead of saying directly what you mean, the wrong sort of people that is!) So, I thought, I’d better read some Henry James. It was that hot weekend a week or so ago. I was in Shropshire, and took a trip to the local second-hand bookshop, and found three slim Henry James novels, and lay in the sun and read ‘em. Somebody’s got to do it! Washington Square, The Europeans, & The Spoils of Poynton, in case you’re interested. A week on and I can’t recall the damnedest thing about the first one, but I can remember thinking, about all of them, that Mr James writes a long sentence, and he spends an awful lot of time telling you, not what his characters are doing, but what they are thinking about as they decide what to do! I enjoyed the novels. When I got home I looked through my collection of short story anthologies, which has got a bit out of hand lately – I had that scheme last year to read one short story a day and so ended up collecting a few – to see if I had any Henry James stories. I found one. The Beast in the Jungle, or something. Friends, I never made it to the end of that short story. I lost the will to live. I lost the plot. I lost all sense of reason. I lost all perspective. I lost my sense of proportion. I lost a copy of The Field of Mustard, A.E.Coppard’s 1926 collection, too, and I still haven’t found it, but that’s another story. But, I think I might have found what it was that Mr Bates was carping about when he criticised Coppard’s later writings: a tendency, perhaps, to stray off the subject a little, and spend too many words on too little happening. I haven’t worked my way through all Coppard’s later stories yet. I’m up to about 1933 (so about fifteen years to go), but that’s what I’ll be keeping an eye open for.

This afternoon I read The Little Farm, by H.E.Bates. I was at Gatehouse of Fleet yesterday, and took a crawl around the lower shelves of the second-hand bookshop in the Mill on the Fleet! I thought there might be some Coppard lurking around the ‘C’s in ‘Fiction A to Z’. I didn’t want to crawl too long. Hey, I was wearing my Ted Baker trousers! What’s a guy to do? But I found a copy of Bates’ ‘Colonel Julian and other stories’ for £1.50! The Little Farm opens the collection. It’s a wonderful story, of trust, and betrayal, and it’s one of the stories in ‘Country Matters’ – a nineteen seventies Granada TV series of adaptations from Coppard and Bates, recently re-issued in America (2008) on dvd. If you can play Region One dvds without compromising your machine, I recommend it. The stories are great, and The Little Farm (in either version) one of the best. For the films, check out those yet to be famous faces, Michael Elphick, for example, in The Little Farm.

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