Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Eden Phillpotts

My father grew up in a village on the edge of Dartmoor, and knew parts of the moor intimately. He always said that Eden Phillpotts described the moor as it really was; the people too. I only have a few of his novels, but I am always on the lookout for more. Of course, he was writing largely at the beginning of the 20th century and his novels seem very melodramatic in this day and age, but are worth reading for the picture of Dartmoor they paint, a Dartmoor of a byegone age. He can be compared with Thomas Hardy with his faithful depiction of the countryside of his youth. Dad always said when he was a lad everyone spoke still using "thee" and "thou". With the advent of radio, I feel it must have had a big impact on dialect and for the worse, I fear, although I realize that languages are always developing.

Eden Phillpots was born on 4th November 1862 and nearly made his centenary, as he died on 29th December 1960. What a breadth of living that must have been - starting in the high Victorian period, when even bicycles were something of the future, and ending with the start of the space age. Although born in India, he was educated in Plymouth and had Dartmoor in his blood. During the space of his lifetime, he spent ten years as an insurance inspector, before studying for the stage and becoming the author of over 200 books, . The subject of one of his novels, from the Dartmoor cycle, Widecombe Fair, was also produced as a comic play, The Farmer's Wife and was also a silent movie of that name directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927.

It is not surprising to learn that such a man of Dartmoor was for many years President of the Dartmoor Preservation Society. He was a friend of Agatha Christie and Arnold Bennett, who once remarked, "You have chosen a damn fine theatre for your work". He was a keen field naturalist and took careful notes of anything that he found interesting, so no wonder his descriptions of the Dartmoor I know and love cannot be faulted.

I will end this with one of his descriptions, to whet your appetite for his writing. This is from The River (1902):

"To Crockern Tor he passed along, where nightly rains under a morning of pure azure glittered around him. It was as though a mist had been caught out of the air, spread upon the waste and woven thereinto with sunbeams. The dawn light mellowed many a league of sere grasses until earth's habit shone like cloth of gold upon the shoulders of the hills against blue gloom and rosy fore-glow in the western sky. Opulence of tonem intense purity of each great colour-wave marked that crystal hour; only the granite, peeping grey from red fern and rusty heath, lifted prisms of quartz to the direct sun-rays and, discovering their rainbow secrets, scattered them seperately."

Amongst his Dartmoor novels are:

Children of the Mist (1898)
The River (1902)
The American Prisoner (1904)
The Whirlwind (1907)
The Mother (1908)
The Virgin in Judgement (1908)
The Three Brothers (1909)
The Thief of Virtue (1910)
The Beacon (1911)
The Forest on the Hill (1912)
Orphan Dinah (1920)


Rowan said...

This extract is lovely, I've heard of Eden Philpotts but never read any of his books.

Nan - said...

I found you by typing in Eden Phillpotts into google's blog search. I had just read his name in the wonderful book I'm reading called Springtime in Britain by Edwin Way Teale, and I wondered who he was. This was a beautiful piece, and now I'll be back to visit. What are codlins?

Bovey Belle said...

Hi Nan. I hope you can find some Eden Phillpotts books, as he writes so beautifully of the Dartmoor he knew and loved. The book you're reading sounds my cup of tea too. Codlins are an old sort of apple, but codlins and cream are the flower at the top of the page, which is the Greater Willow Herb, there growing wild in my garden. I forgive it the exuberent growth - totally in the wrong place - because it is so beautiful. Haste ye back.

MammyT said...

More Treasures! Thank you Jennie. I will also look for him. I love the portion you quiote today. If you've reading this kind of stuff all your life, no wonder your own writing is a marvel of the descriptive phrase.

Bovey Belle said...

Well Nancy - I have only been reading Eden Phillpotts for about 8 yrs, when I find a new book . . . I had a flair for descriptive writing even when I was in junior school. In senior school, I was top in English all the way through - never beaten! I can just write descriptive pieces. . . I love words I guess. I love to read though, and I think any talents I have come through having read so avidly all my life.