Henry Williamson and the Lives of Animals
Bunten, Peter John
Date: 18 May 2018
University of Exeter
PhD in English
The nature writings of Henry Williamson deserve revaluation. The qualities of Williamson’s work have never been fully acknowledged, in part because of the disproportionate attention given to the flawed and uneven novel sequence A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951–1969). His controversial involvement with extreme right-wing politics ...
The nature writings of Henry Williamson deserve revaluation. The qualities of Williamson’s work have never been fully acknowledged, in part because of the disproportionate attention given to the flawed and uneven novel sequence A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951–1969). His controversial involvement with extreme right-wing politics has also adversely affected his reputation. This thesis will suggest that Williamson’s nature writings, in particular his animal biographies – Tarka the Otter (1927), Salar the Salmon (1935) and The Phasian Bird (1948) – represent his greatest literary achievement, and that these three major works merit a prominent place in any critical survey of the development of the twentieth-century English novel. Williamson’s use of the novel form to represent the lives of animals involves the complex task of conveying the experience and consciousness of non-human subjects. The degree to which this necessarily leads to an anthropomorphic approach will be addressed. In addition, it will be argued that his writings represent an early, and often ground-breaking, example of how narrative fiction can draw attention to environmental issues. His treatment of these issues also illustrates one of the ways that elements of fascist ideology influence his nature writing. Williamson’s narratives are characterised by a complex combination of realism and allegory, through which the lives of animals and humans are shown to be interconnected. Hunting functions in his work as an important means of exploring this connection; his development of an allegorical relationship between hunting and war establishes parallels between the experiences of hunted animals and soldiers on the battlefield. This study will chart his development as an animal biographer. The approach will be chronological. It will first identify those features of his early sketches and short stories that established the foundations for his later novels and then explore in detail the narratives of Tarka, Salar and The Phasian Bird. It will closely examine the drafts and source materials held in the Henry Williamson Archive Collection at the University of Exeter. Such a detailed examination of his work has never been carried out before; the intention is to establish the significance of Henry Williamson’s contribution to nature writing and to literature more generally.
Item views 0
Full item downloads 0