Francis Brett Young's first novel (1913) was written in collaboration with his brother Eric and inspired by the building of the Grywne Fawr dam in Wales. It anticipates his massive best seller House Under the Water written some 20 years later. Forsyth, a young civil engineer, travels to Wales to take command of the building of a dam. But what happened to the previous engineer? His disappearance is shrouded in mystery. Amid the gloomy atmosphere of the Welsh landscape and against the background of the deaths which are an inescapable part of the work, the mystery unfolds. Forsyth discovers the diaries left by his predecessor and, as he reads them, realises he is going the same way. The conclusion is dramatic and unexpected. A remarkable first novel by a newcomer was how Undergrowth was described at the time.
Deep Sea is set in a West Country fishing port and revolves around four people whose lives are inextricably intertwined: invalid Jeffery Kenar; fiery, frustrated wife, Nesta; fisherman lodger, Reuben Henshall; and little maid of all work, Ruth Parnall. While Jeffery and Ruth enjoy innocent, childlike companionship Nesta harbours an unrequited passion for Reuben. When he marries Ruth, Nesta hates all three. Though Reuben's mother had early warned him of the terrible power of the sea and Ruth fears it, by borrowing unwisely Reuben buys his own smack, “The Pilgrim”. When profits prove unpredictable distress and tragedy follow, until an unexpected visit replaces hatred with love and there is calm after storm.
From the heart of industrial England we quickly pass to the beauty and mystery of a land hardly changed over time immemorial - the Welsh Marches - which surround this story of little more than half a dozen characters. As the mountains and valleys blend together in their beauty throughout the seasons, so the brothers, Charlie and Alaric make their impact upon life in Trecastel - the home of the Grosmont family. The dark tower in which Alaric dwells dominates all around. It suggests the conflicting moods of the occupants. A local girl, Judith, charming but innocent, and taken there as a child bride links the characters. George Meredith, the local family doctor, and his wife, bring sanity and common sense to this fascinating and. gripping story. Francis Brett Young writing in the first quarter of the twentieth century inspires the reader in many ways to enter the magical setting of a unique area.
In Francis Brett Young's first Black Country novel published in 1916, Willis, Hacket and Willis is a substantial industrial conglomerate which grew out of an ironworks, a colliery and a brickworks in the Stour Valley. At the turn of the century the firm is drifting along, apparently comfortably, after doing well in several wars. Walter Willis brings in a brilliant young engineer, Stafford, who develops a special steel giving hopes that it will rejuvenate the company. Stafford, however, neglects his bored wife and the Willis's solitary son, Edward, also in the firm, completes a complicating 'triangle' which causes turmoil; but for the firm, one door closes and another opens. The author was born less than two miles from the novel's semi-rural setting and his grandfather was a director of the actual New British Ironworks on the site and lived in the “big house” there. The fine geographical and technical descriptions are authentic and the story line is gripping.
Mysticism, intrigue and love - all can be found in this novel set in a remote and largely unknown part of Africa at the outbreak of World War I. Two strangely opposite personalities are drawn together through danger and adventure against a background of devil worship. The author skilfully weaves his plot punctuated by the rhythmic drumbeat which heralds the appearance of the new moon. Mysterious and frightening, it is the signal of evil to the simple, browbeaten natives and takes over the mind of the naive missionary who seeks to conquer the spirit of evil by faith in the power of goodness. Over all there is the dominant figure of Godovius, part German, part Jew settler in the home of the Waluguru tribe, whose evil nature is revealed in lust and desire.
The Young Physician focuses on the public school and medical student days of the central character Edwin Ingleby in the years before the Great War. Born in Halesby [Hales Owen], the son of a chemist and with an ailing mother ambitious for her son, Edwin experiences the ups and downs of school life and subsequently the rigours of the five-year training at the medical school of North Bromwich [Birmingham]. Brett Young explores in a gentle tolerant way what forms Edwin’s character - his mother’s Welsh background, his father’s Somerset relations - and provides insights into the range of people he encounters in Halesby and North Bromwich, from the rich to the poor, the self-centred to the humble and appreciative. Edwin’s education is set against the background of North Bromwich’s development as a city and the recognition of the new University’s medical school.
Devastated by the death of his wife, Sir Jocelyn Hewish neglects his tomboy daughter, Gabrielle, who grows up in the evocative Connemara landscape, cared for by the superstitious Biddy Joyce and educated by Rev Marmaduke Considine, “a gentleman of small domestic experience”. Outgrowing her wild years, Gabrielle is taken by her father on a trip to Dublin where she is attracted to a young naval Second Lieutenant, an encounter which is shattered by tragedy and ensuing mystery. Persuaded into a loveless marriage with Considine, twenty years her senior, Gabrielle moves to Devon where her husband establishes a boys’ school. Here she takes an interest in one of his pupils, a boy with no sense of right or wrong. The possibility of scandal is averted by a determined midnight battle of wills between Gabrielle and the boy’s mother. The story ends with further tragedy and the enigma of Gabrielle Hewish unresolved.
First published in 1921, this absorbing tale has all the ingredients of a 21st century best seller: infidelity, sex, drunkenness, violent death, football corruption, urban and rural poverty, explicit coverage of human frailties and desires. Abner Fellows, a miner and semi-professional footballer, is found a surface job to ensure that industrial injury does not impede his football. Abner's stepmother is only a little older than himself and when his hard-drinking miner father is hospitalised he becomes the breadwinner. Just as his father returns home Abner is sacked for refusing to 'throw' a cup match for his boss. Fellows senior unjustly accuses his son of impropriety with his stepmother, a fight ensues and Abner leaves home. He tramps west and after several skirmishes finds lodgings with a casual acquaintance. Again he finds himself the breadwinner of a small family. His landlady keeps him at arm's length but just before the release of her husband from gaol, succumbs. After another fight Abner leaves and in Shrewsbury while intoxicated accepts an offered panacea for all his problems.
In this story of conflict between love and friendship, Robert Bryden, a Chelsea art student, admires and befriends communist agitator Enrico Massa. When Bryden learns that Massa has succeeded with a revolution in the Mediterranean country of Trinacria, he joins a ship bound for Trinacria, forces the blockade and puts himself at Massa’s service. His task is to spy on the aristocratic Farrace family. Complications arise when Bryden is attracted to Maddalena Farrace and realises that he must either betray Massa, or the woman he has come to love, whose family has been victimized by Massa’s regime. His solution may be heroic, but the book may also be seen as strangely prophetic. The atmosphere of intrigue and violence prevailing in Trinacria reveals the corruption of power, how a sincere leader is turned into a dictator, how revolution degenerates into oppression and ultimately involves the destruction of all concerned.
High in the Drakensburg Mountains lies South Africa’s first gold-mining town, Pilgrim’s Rest, where Brett Young set this tale of gold lust, gentle romance and the violent industrial unrest which shook the Rand in 1913. Prospector Jack Hayman discovers in a dead man’s pocket book rough details of an unregistered goldfield. Armed with this knowledge, Hayman sets out for Johannesburg and work in the mines where he will raise the stake to seek the field. An address in the pocket book leads him to Mrs Wroth and her daughters with whom he lodges, soon discovering that Beatrice, the elder daughter had been loved by the dead prospector. Stubbornly independent, Hayman refuses to join the union, is branded “scab” and injured in a dubious mine accident. As the unrest escalates, the Wroth’s house is endangered by his presence. When calm follows the strike, Hayman realises that the goldfield no longer attracts him.
The action begins in Mombassa where stolid and uncomplicated Captain Jimmy Antrim of the King’s African Rifles is hired by Mr & Mrs Rawley to escort them on safari into German East Africa. The Rawleys are an unlikely couple: she the daughter of an obscure Cornish peer, loyal but ineffective, he new rich (Rawley’s Chemical Dip), awkward, jealous and (it later emerges) prone to outbursts of drunken violence. In the heat and confusion of the bush the drama, into which this unpromising trio are launched, unfolds. The native porters run away; tensions and fears increase; relationships strain and break; allegiances alter. Woodsmoke convincingly evokes the sights, smells and mysteries of East Africa, which Francis Brett Young experienced during his war service in the Tanga campaign of 1916.
It is good to welcome republication of this novel, which appears at a time when daily and weekly periodicals serve up regular doses of astrology, spiritualism and the occult and more and more people plan their lives on the movement of stars and constellations. Cold Harbour represents a new departure for Brett Young – unashamedly a ghost story that introduced one of his principal villains, Humphrey Furnival. A puncture-delayed motor trip brings Evelyn and Ronald Wake to a sinister enclave of a rural settlement: the country inn, manor house, parsonage and church of Cold Harbour (in reality Wassell Grove) some five miles from the author’s native Halesby (Hales Owen). The book tells of supernatural happenings at the manor house and the dreadful sufferings of Furnival’s wife. Reading Cold Harbour is a must. On a dark winter evening, with a roaring fire and a bottle of single malt, a sleepless night with the book finished by breakfast is guaranteed.
Captain George Glanvil, sombre, morose and embittered by a broken engagement, is master of the Vega, a tramp steamer bound for Panda, a fever-stricken settlement in East Africa. Much against his will he is required by his employers to give passage to Helen Salvia who, with her child, has been deserted by her drunken and dissolute husband. The voyage allows for the well-rehearsed problems of a beautiful woman isolated among rough and ready men, dependant upon their inherent chivalry for her safety and the well being of her child. On arrival at Panda, with its corrupt officials and sinister presence of the local agent, Glanvil, by now captivated by Helen, acts as her emissary and protector in her dealings with her husband, who scratches a disreputable living there. A gun fight in the bush, a night time rescue and the possibility of pursuit mean that the only escape lies in taking the Vega over the bar at Panda just as the treacherous tide begins to ebb…
After the death of her mother and her father's remarriage, Claerwen Lydiatt is sent to live at Pen House with her grandfather and Aunt Cathie. Although they love Clare, this rather austere pair does not know how to relate to a girl of her age; neither are they impressed to find that Clare has embraced the religion which they had so determinedly renounced. Thus Clare's life journey begins amidst the disapproval of her family, the attraction of their glamorous neighbours, the Hingstons, and the persistent presence of family friend Dudley Wilburn. Brett Young's Portrait of Clare tells the story of one woman's struggle to find happiness through the dramas and decisions that make up her story. The setting of Clare's life is the West Midlands countryside. Despite the changes it undergoes, this landscape remains a constant throughout Claerwen’s life that rushes and flows like the river after which she is named.
In Castel Ditches, a village in the Welsh borders which appear so often in Brett Young's novels, Ruth Morgan, returns to her cold, dismal home and jealous sister to find a team of archaeologists are digging nearby. One member of the team, handsome, young Hugh Bredon, falls ill. Ruth takes him in, and nurses him back to health. He falls in love with her, but his work takes him to Egypt. She follows him, as they are to marry. The archaeological digs are described with Brett Young's usual attention to details. Inspired by the then recent discovery of the tomb of Tut-ankh-amen, the unfolding story takes place against the background of the mysteries of ancient Egypt which seem ever present. And who is the strange Hendrik Bezuidenhout and what, exactly, is he doing there? Love, mysticism and drama are here in plenty.
Jonathan is a hero in the tragic mould, his life dogged by inexorable fate. Physically unattractive but endowed with a selfless, loving spirit, he is despised by his parents and overshadowed by his indulged younger brother, Harold. When his father is accidentally killed Jonathan supports the penniless family renouncing dreams of a distinguished medical career to become junior partner in a rundown general practice. Meanwhile Harold, old Harrovian and Cambridge cricketing blue, is welcomed into the homes of the cream of local society, particularly those with eligible daughters, including Edie Martyn, with whom Jonathan falls madly in love. The outbreak of the Great War triggers a series of dramatic events at the culmination of which Jonathan finds requited love at last in a final twist of fate.
Paul Ritchie, of mixed English and Italian blood, had spent his childhood and youth in Italy. As a mature painter of sixty, during a cruise on the Mediterranean his ship calls at Naples and Ritchie recalls his days there as an art student when he made a livelihood by making caskets. He remembers his friend Pietro Viva, a medical student, and their landlady Cristina with whom he had shared a heart-breaking passion, which had blossomed during a cholera epidemic in Naples. The disease had struck all three friends, but Paul alone had survived. When his boat leaves, Ritchie has not set foot on the land but he has managed to exorcise the ghosts of the past. The story is based on a Naples cholera epidemic remembered by Brett Young’s Capri neighbour, Edwin Cerio, whilst Paul Ritchie may well have been based on another Capri resident, D.H. Lawrence.
Jim Redlake was Francis Brett Young’s favourite novel because it contained so much of himself: his childhood memories; his grand-father, “the hunting doctor” in High Leicestershire; his medical experience both in the Black Country and during General Smuts’ epic march on Tanga in 1916, for which he used material that had been censored from his war book Marching On Tanga; his love for the green hills and rivers of the Welsh Marches; and, in the final section, his experience as a landlord and gentleman farmer. The different sections of the novel trace Jim’s development from childhood to adulthood; from innocence to experience; from idealized first love to selfless mature love and the end of his slightly snobbish dreams, This is a story of ordinary people, who are not always happy and who face divided loyalties, love, friendship and family relationships which have to be worked out against constantly changing fortunes.
Susan Lorimer, pretty, intelligent and 19 years old, was not short of admirers; Mr. Feilden was flattered by her interest in his lectures; war-scarred Captain Small adored her for her sympathy; Mr. Bulgin, the scheming Halesby (Hales Owen) industrialist, thrice her age, wanted to marry her, not merely for good financial reasons. But it was on holiday at ‘Bracing, Brinton-le-Sands’ that young, naive Dick Pennington fell in love with her at first sight. A fortnight’s courtship on his unreliable motorcycle was enough time for her to accept his offers. This novel is the story of their first year of marriage. Their hideous, jerry-built bungalow at Tilton (Quinton), a growing suburb of North Bromwich (Birmingham), the nearby countryside of Worcestershire and Shropshire, so much associated with Francis Brett Young, the uncertainties of life in the Midlands after World War I, and the temptations of the 'flapper' culture of the 1920's all have a part to play in this fascinating tale.
The House Under the Water recounts the completion of a complex and amazing engineering feat: the building of the Elan Valley dams and the pipeline to carry the waters of the Elan and Claerwen rivers from Radnorshire to storage reservoirs in Birmingham. The house of the title was once occupied by the poet Shelley and can still be seen below the water’s surface in times of drought. Virtually all of Brett Young’s Mercian novels refer to towns and villages on the pipeline’s course, and in a moment of rare autobiography the author explained, “As a boy I had seen the vast work in progress. Here was the unifying factor that I wanted. The Midlands novels were to be strung out along that pipeline as beads are threaded on a string.” The real power and charm of this book lies in the graphic account of the dams’ construction and those moving passages describing the ultimate flooding of the Elan Valley, which are at the zenith of Brett Young’s writing.
The book traces a few months in the life of a picturesque, quintessentially English village with its roots in the Middle Ages. On the surface idyllic, the author strips bare its underlying tensions, prejudices, rivalries, tragedies, successes and failures. Set in the early l920's on the threshold of social change, some village inhabitants still bear the scars, physical or emotional, of the Great War. The old, impoverished gentry, with their time-honoured ideals of duty and paternalism, are challenged by the arrival in their midst of a rich, retired manufacturer whose well-intentioned but inappropriate aspirations threaten the way of life of the whole village. This Little World is a rural saga which follows the activities and relationships of a variety of characters, and includes several budding romances. All takes place under the scrutiny of old Miss Loach, the self-appointed guardian of village morals. Add to this some lyrical descriptions of the Worcestershire countryside and you have a skilfully woven, thoroughly readable and delightful book.
When young Jasper Mortimer journeys out of Shropshire to Hayseech seeking his fortune, he takes possession of the first Arabella Tinsley and her family's land. With ruthless determination he goes on to create a great industrial concern, the profits of which come to his granddaughter, Arabella III. Arabella also inherits his steely, obstinate will. We follow Bella through a variety of formative phases and encounters which culminate in her obsession with “White Ladies”, a beautiful Elizabethan manor house. Her efforts to obtain the house and, later, to maintain it for her son, Jasper, end in disaster. The story is played out against a skilfully told background of the fluctuations in fortune of the great Black Country iron industries of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The book contains some of Francis Brett Young's most powerful evocations of the region, contrasting with the deep, rural beauty of the Worcestershire countryside.
Jenny Hadley’s early years were spent in Mawne Heath, a barren, blighted environment on the verge of the industrial Midlands. Her father, a hard man given to drink and ‘womanising’, was a chain maker with his own forge behind the hovel in which the family lived. When her mother suddenly left home Jenny was sent to live with her grandfather and deeply devout Aunt Thirza in the depths of Werewood (Wyre Forest) in Worcestershire. Jenny was desperately lonely in the old cottage by the Gladden Brook but as the seasons passed she grew to love both her grandfather and the sprawling forest. Then in spring, when the cherry trees were thick with blossom, Uncle Jem came visiting with Cousin David. During the ensuing idyllic days Jenny’s heart was lost! A bond developed between the cousins but, apart from a second brief meeting, both cousins were to experience many twists of fortune before their paths crossed again.
Nail maker John Oakley was born in the town of Dulston, but his mother remembered happier origins in the rural village of Grafton Lovett. After her death John sets out to find his maternal grandfather. In 1836 the Enclosure Bill is about to be implemented in Grafton Lovett and John, returning, on foot, from a fruitless visit to Parliament meets some poachers, is arrested and sentenced to transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. John jumps ship off the coast of South Africa where he is befriended by the Prinsloos, a family of Dutch origin, who are about to leave their homestead to escape from English rule. Oakley, now known as Grafton, accompanies them. Throughout the story there is conflict: between nations, between families and within families, and yet a love affair develops between John Grafton and Lisbet Prinsloo.
Portrait of a Village is a social history of Monk's Norton, a Worcestershire village. It describes the streets, the buildings and the influences of country crafts. And where is this village? Francis Brett Young has purposely not identified the place. The picture is of a community with the interplay of the inhabitants cleverly painted. The characters of Monk's Norton such as Fred Perry, the publican at the Sheldon Arms; Mr Follows, the Rector; Sid Holmes, the policeman; Jabez Cantlow and his shop; Harry Hawley, the butcher; Mr Webber, the saddler; George Mason, the mechanic; are all vividly described in their trades and social relationships. The Portrait also includes Their Betters: the Sheldon-Smiths; Miss Abberley; and, as you would expect in Brett Young's writings, the Country Doctor. Dr Hemming, a typical product of the North Bromwich (Birmingham) Medical School, has practised at Monk's Norton for over seventeen years and is by far the most important person in the village. This is a book you will want to read more than once.
John Bradley, aged seventy-five in 1937, reflects on fifty years as a general practitioner in Sedgebury [Sedgley] in the Black Country, after being trained at North Bromwich [Birmingham] Medical School. He recalls his marriage to Clara Medhurst, their son Matthew, and the hopes and disappointments that go with family life. He remembers the characters he met in North Bromwich and Sedgebury, and the life-long friendships he began, especially with Martin Lacey. In the days before the National Health Service, he reveals how precarious the rewards of a practice could be and the parts played by chance and determination. John Bradley remembers sympathetically his range of patients and the importance of medical advancements, particularly the use of antiseptics in saving lives. The novel is surprisingly modern in the medical issues it deals with such as childbirth and the misuse of drugs. Undoubtedly, being a G.P. is a lifetime’s ‘noble calling’.
Set in South Africa’s Rand, The City of Gold is a sequel to They Seek a Country (1937). The history of the Grafton family, taken up thirty years after the ending of the first novel stretches from 1872 to 1896, i.e. from Burgers’ presidency to Jameson’s Raid. It is a story of the Annexation of the Transvaal; of Sekukuni’s wars; of the development of the mining industry of the Transvaal; and of Johannesburg, the city of gold. Historical figures such as Kruger, Joubert, the Rhodes brothers and Jameson are included in the fiction. The brothers and sisters of the Grafton family represent a variety of opinion: nationalistic; pro-Boer; pro English; moderate; and, in the case of Janse and Lena, South Africa as great nation in which all races and groups would be reconciled. This is a magnificent novel bringing to life the beauty of an immense and varied land, and of its people, written with the sensitivity of a born poet.
Owen Lucton is the senior partner of a respected firm of North Bromwich (Birmingham) accountants. He enjoys considerable wealth and a privileged position. Now of mature years he finds the demands of his life irksome. When he crashes his luxury car into the River Avon he realises that he can disappear, as it will be assumed he drowned. He adopts a new identity, yet his new freedom is precarious. He makes his way across the Malvern Hills to the quiet country of the Welsh border. His encounters with farmers, walkers, fishermen, and a cricket-loving vicar, all end with him taking flight to avoid his identity being revealed. Finally he finds contentment with two spinster sisters in the village of Chapel Lawn. But his idyll comes to an untimely end as he accidentally unseats a passing lady cyclist.
This story of places and relationships opens in ‘The Cedars’, a neglected North Bromwich (Birmingham) house, before moving to a villa in the Italian Riviera within sight of Capri. Two spinster sisters, dominant 'Miss Agnes' and compliant 'Miss Ellen' are left ‘The Cedars’ without means by their father a retired army colonel. In this cold and inhospitable house, the sisters need to live frugally. By fortune, an uncle leaves them an Italian villa, ‘Castello Inglese’, with a comfortable living in a sunnier scene, where Agnes and Ellen take up residence and suppressed emotions blossom into passion. But how is the “man about the house” involved and what other dark secrets are lurking at the “Castello Inglese”? Francis Brett Young qualified as a doctor and medical matters often feature in his novels – nor are they missing from this story. The book is compelling reading with unexpected revelations.
Richard Verdon, aspiring poet and Halesby (Hales Owen) doctor’s son, is invited by his cricketing friend, John Folliott, younger son of Viscount Crowle, to spend a weekend at Wistanslow, the family’s imposing country seat. Life here is far less formal than Richard anticipated and his admiration of the romantic Palladian pile is matched only by the easy-going acceptance of his presence and the polite welcome of the aristocratic family. But things are not what they first seem in the Crowle mansion. The story ends abruptly with the arrival of a telegram announcing the critical illness of Dr Verdon. Richard must leave the illuminating experience, congenial company and gracious surroundings of Wistanslow for the dreary prospect of following his father into the medical profession to earn his living. Many aspects of Brett Young’s last and unfinished novel resonate with his own youthful experience. Wistanslow was edited by his widow and published posthumously in 1956.
In the village of Pogerola, high above the Bay of Naples, Georgio Lembo falls in love with Anna Dangelo. Nowhere is the inherent enmity between these two families more evident than in the hatred between Georgio and Anna’s brother, Luigi. Determined to injure both his sister and her lover, Luigi plans to marry her to “Il Grosso”, who has made his fortune in Buenos Ayres and returned to Pogerola to corner the orange harvest. Hearing of the plan, Georgio plots revenge, but is saved from its dire consequences by the intervention of his brother Francesco, destined for the priesthood but also in love with Anna. Francesco’s action earns him ten year’s imprisonment, during which time Georgio first marries and then deserts Anna. Eventually Francesco is released from prison and inherits a fortune. The way is now clear for him to be with Anna and the story reaches its climax in a final ironical twist.
In this collection of thirteen short stories are settings as diverse as London, the Welsh Marches, Boulogne, Biarritz, Tunis, Egypt, Southern Africa and an aging packet steamer bound for Japan. There are early ideas destined for future development as a full-length novel (A Busman’s Holiday and A Man About the House) and plots which are obviously based on the author’s own experience (Brett Young had spent time in Egypt a decade before the publication of Glamour, whilst his own voyage as a ship’s doctor took him in the same direction that the “Chusan” sailed). Within this anthology will be found amusing stories, tales of intrigue, adventure, escaped convicts and unlikely liaisons – some bound for success and others for failure. All in all this is an entertaining collection by an author with a gift for telling a lively yarn, who could write as effectively of South Africa or an English village, the Egyptian desert or a London street.
It is Christmas Eve. Jim Higgins is woken by the pain in the stump of his leg – a constant reminder of his war service. Looking out of his window to the “brick desert” that is Lambeth, Jim recalls happy Christmases spent as a boy in Worcestershire. Since the war, Jim has lived in London with his wife Emily, a true Cockney, and their daughter Nellie. As a family man, Jim is torn between love and resentment of these two women who represent all that is post-war and modern: everything he resents about London. On this particular Christmas Eve, making his usual trip to the market, Jim’s past is brought into the present when he encounters an unusual reminder of his Worcestershire past and meets an old acquaintance from his army days. The Christmas Box is a gift to Jim from a friend and business associate at the market which he passes on to one who needs it more.
The early popularity of this collection is seen in the fact that eight of the stories appeared in magazines during the 1920’s and 30’s, whilst Blood Oranges was published separately in 1932. The last six stories are narrated by a ship’s doctor, hence the selection of The Ship’s Surgeon’s Yarn as the title story for the book’s American edition. The “SS Chusan” seen previously in Shellis’s Reef (one of the stories in The Cage Bird collection) reappears, as does the East African port of Panda, which played a vital role in Sea Horses. Other tales in this collection tell of English ex-patriots who keep the flag flying in Italy and a German composer who revisits an ex- POW camp at Chadcombe House, Fladbourne, which are thin disguises for Brett Young’s own home, Craycombe House at Fladbury. Cotswold Honey, which gives the collection its title, tells of a retired civil servant who revisits the scene of a youthful idyll, only to learn that he cannot recreate at whim a relationship which he had selfishly abandoned years before.
Francis Brett Young was commissioned into the Royal Army Medical Corps in January 1916. In May he became Medical Officer of the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment, which was part of the First East African Division led by Lieutenant-General Smuts. Their task was to clear the Germans from German East Africa. This book tells of their travails – of forced marches, often with little or no food, in dangerous but beautiful country close to the equator, attempting to bring the Germans to battle. Their most deadly enemies, however, proved to be the mosquito and the tsetse fly. Brett Young fell a victim to dysentery and fever and, by the time he was invalided out of the area towards the end of the year, the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment had been reduced from some 600 rifles to 50 and had lost all their transport animals. This is a classic account of a little-known campaign in World War I.
In South Africa gives a skilful account of the former Union of South Africa and of Southern Rhodesia in the eyes of an accomplished white author living in the Cape in 1952. Francis Brett Young wrote as a man of his time. On friendly terms with former South African premier, Jan Smuts, he shared the latter's hopes for gradual, but distinctly cautious reform, improving the lot of black and coloured peoples. However, this book is largely about the beauty to be found in arid as well as fertile landscapes. It is about climates and microclimates, about rivers, falls, mountains and cities. Prospective tourists bent on beach- lounging may be disappointed, but any with enquiring minds will explore with the author features ranging from the southern coastline of the great continent to the mysterious Zimbabwe ruins. Brett Young's interest in history, nature and the landscape renders this an exciting book, communicating as it does the author's great enthusiasm for a vast and lovely country.
The poems in this traditional “slim volume of verse” were written while the author was on active service in German East Africa during the First World War, and he specifically links them with his personal record of that period in his book Marching on Tanga. Mainly set in the tropics, there are strong echoes of the writer’s homeland and the firm hold it has on his affections. The popularity of these England-based poems is underlined by their inclusion in a number of anthologies in the years since their first publication in 1917. Despite the book’s rather restrained dedication – To My Wife – the author’s deep love for her shines through in many places, in particular in the poem Testament: You shined as steadfast as a star in my bleak night.” Although not written in the same vein as the work of Sassoon or Owen, these poems nevertheless are worthy of recognition amongst the literature spawned by the 1914-18 conflict.
It is intriguing that, although principally a novelist, Francis Brett Young turned his hand to poetry during times of war. This collection, while containing many of the poems already published in Five Degrees South, has a wider scope, a number of the verses having previously appeared in successive volumes of Edward Marsh’s Georgian Poetry. All the writer’s deepest feelings – patriotism, love and friendship – are dealt with not merely in abstract terms, but interwoven with scenes of natural beauty drawn largely from the English countryside. Brett Young’s love of ballet also finds a place here when he pays tribute to two of the greatest ballerinas of his generation: Lydia Lopokova and Tamara Karsavina. The former is represented by three sonnets and to the latter is dedicated the longest poem in the book, Thamar, not typical of the author’s writing and described by one critic as “heathenish and magical”. Although composed some ten years before Brett Young achieved popular recognition as a novelist, this collection is worth exploring.
The Island is an epic story of Great Britain told in poetry, often through the eyes of imaginary characters from Worcestershire and elsewhere, recalling the great nation-forming events of their lifetimes. It is the product of years of painstaking historical research which positively exudes the fervent love which the author held for his native land. The narrative opens with a stirring appeal for his fellow countrymen to glory in their common heritage, before launching into the primeval stirrings which begat our Island Home. Era upon era is described in turn, culminating in the 1940 Battle of Britain with Spitfires and Hurricanes wheeling overhead. For all who love their native land, this is a book to be savoured - either by beginning at the beginning or by dipping into its pages. Either way it is an absorbing and nostalgic experience.
This is Francis Brett Young’s only venture into literary criticism. Although the introductory note is written in the first person and the author named as F.E. Brett Young, the book is, in fact, a collaboration between Francis and his younger brother, Eric. Despite being known to a comparatively small circle of readers, Robert Bridges was appointed Poet Laureate in 1913, the year before the publication of this book. He had trained as a doctor but poor health forced him to give up medicine. Perhaps it was this that attracted Francis to write about the poet. Biographical details are excluded and Brett Young seeks to explain why he finds so much pleasure in Bridges’ work and why he feels it has significance for the future of English poetry. The writer deals with the technical aspects of Bridges’ poetry and demonstrates his respect for him as a conscientious craftsman. Francis’s admiration for the shorter poems is revealed by the fact that one of his earliest published works was Songs of Robert Bridges Arranged for Voice and Pianoforte.
In Captain Swing Francis Brett Young and W. Edward Stirling have vividly brought to life a turbulent period of English domestic history when there was much distress in the countryside following the Napoleonic wars and the subsequent enclosures of common land. Machinery was being introduced that was replacing the agricultural labourer and harsh penalties were imposed for comparatively minor breaches of the law. Although striving to give a fair picture of both sides it is clear where the writers’ sympathies lie. Within the brief span of six hours covered by the three acts – the end of a November day in 1830 – there are sharply observed sketches of the chief characters in the drama and loyalties engendered by mutual service under Wellington are not allowed to stand in the way of what is perceived to be justice.
Enclosed between an African Preface and a Canadian Appendix, Crepe-de-Chine hinges on a series of foolish mistakes involving the nightdress of the title and a set of stock characters attempting to accommodate the changes of World War I. Jealous husband Robert Martin fails to appreciate that during his absence at war his wife Dora has become emancipated. She cannot grasp that her husband remains locked in a pre-1914 chauvinistic time-capsule. Billy Keppel, boyfriend of Dora's younger sister Monica, a courageous and respected officer in Mesopotamia, has reverted to the vacuity of his pre-war existence. Dora's parents, Mr & Mrs Meadows, are bewildered by the pace of change and the activities of the younger generation. The cast is completed by Dora's cousin, ex-suffragette Judith Gretton, and Jim McKee, a Colonial with primitive table manners, unable to see what his role in the new world will be. 'This room of apparently sane people were suddenly thrown into paroxysms of excitement simply because of a diaphanous piece of crepe-de-chine.'
Set in the summer of 1914 The Furnace is a dramatic adaptation, written in conjunction with William Armstrong (who produced and played in the first public performance of the play at Liverpool in May, 1928), of Brett Young’s earlier novel, The Iron Age. Edward Willis, heir to the family ironworks which is rapidly heading for bankruptcy, falls in love with Celia Stafford whose husband, a brilliant young engineer, has been employed to save the firm which will manufacture the special steel he has developed. Under pressure from his family to give up the relationship, as much to avoid alienating Stafford and further damaging the firm as for any moral consideration, Edward confronts Stafford and confesses the liaison. All seems lost until the outbreak of the Great War offers the climax which will conveniently resolve this domestic and industrial triangle which, as Edward clearly sees, will involve the lesser destruction being absorbed in the greater.
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