Henry William Williamson (1 December 1895 – 13 August 1977) was an English naturalist, farmer and prolific author known for his natural and social history novels. He won the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1928 with his book Tarka the Otter.
Henry Williamson was born in Brockley, southeast London, and attended Colfe's School. The then semi-rural location provided easy access to the Kent countryside, and he developed a deep love of nature throughout his childhood.
In January 1914 he enlisted in the London Rifle Brigade and, after World War I was declared, he was mobilised on 5 August. He was commissioned into the Machine Gun Corps, was promoted Lieutenant and, from 1917, was attached to the Bedfordshire Regiment. The Christmas truce of 1914 affected him greatly. He became disgusted with the pointlessness of the war and was angry at the greed and bigotry he saw as causing it. He became determined that Germany and Britain should never go to war again.
He told of his war experiences in The Wet Flanders Plain (1929), The Patriot's Progress (1930) and in many of his books in the semi-autobiographical 15-book series A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (1951-1969).
After the war, he read Richard Jefferies' book The Story of My Heart. This inspired him to begin writing seriously. In 1921, he moved to Georgeham, Devon, living in a small cottage. He married Ida Loetitia Hibbert in 1925. Together they had six children.
In 1935, Henry Williamson visited the National Socialist Congress at Nuremberg and was greatly impressed, particularly with the Hitler Youth movement, whose healthy outlook on life he compared with the sickly youth of the London slums. He had a "well-known belief that Hitler was essentially a good man who wanted only to build a new and better Germany." He subsequently joined Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in 1937.
In 1936 he bought a farm in Stiffkey, Norfolk. The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1941) is his account of his first years of farming here.
At the start of World War II Williamson was briefly held under Defence Regulation 18B for his political views, but was released after only a weekend in police custody. Visiting London in January 1944, he observed with satisfaction that the ugliness and immorality represented by its financial and banking sector had been "relieved a little by a catharsis of high explosive" and somewhat "purified by fire." And, "in The Gale of the World, the last book of his Chronicle, published in 1969, Williamson has his main character Phillip Maddison question the moral and legal validity of the Nuremberg Trials".
After the war the family left the farm. In 1946 Williamson went to live alone at Ox's Cross, Georgeham in North Devon, where he built a small house in which to write. In 1947 Henry and Loetitia divorced. Williamson fell in love with a young teacher, Christine Duffield and they were married in 1949. He began to write his series of fifteen novels collectively known as A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. In 1950, the year his only child by this marriage Harry Williamson was born, he edited a collection of poems and short stories by James Farrar, a promising young poet who had died, at the age of 20, in the Second World War. From 1951-1969 Williamson produced almost one novel a year, while contributing regularly to the Sunday Express and The European, a magazine edited by Diana Mosley. This put great strain on his marriage and, in 1968, he and his wife were divorced after years of separation.
In 1974 he began working on a script for a film treatment of Tarka the Otter. but it was not regarded as suitable to film, being 400,000 words long. Filming went on, unknown to him, and the film, narrated by Peter Ustinov, was released in 1979. On his eightieth birthday he hoped for some honour from the British government. After a general anaesthetic for a minor operation, his health failed catastrophically. One day he was walking and chopping wood, the next day he was unrecognisable and had forgotten who his family were. Suffering from senile dementia, he died on the very day the death of Tarka was being filmed, and was buried in the churchyard of Georgeham. The Henry Williamson Society was founded in 1980.
- The Flax of Dream - a tetralogy following the life of Willie Maddison
- The Beautiful Years (1921)
- Dandelion Days (1922)
- The Dream of Fair Women (1924)
- The Pathway (1928)
- A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight - a series of 15 novels following the life of Phillip Maddison from his birth in the late 1890s till the early 1950s, based loosely on Williamson's own life and experiences.
- The Dark Lantern (1951)
- Donkey Boy (1952)
- Young Phillip Maddison (1953)
- How Dear Is Life (1954)
- A Fox Under My Cloak (1955)
- The Golden Virgin (1957)
- Love and the Loveless (1958)
- A Test to Destruction (1960)
- The Innocent Moon (1961)
- It Was the Nightingale (1962)
- The Power of the Dead (1963)
- The Phoenix Generation (1965)
- A Solitary War (1967)
- Lucifer Before Sunrise (1967)
- The Gale of the World (1969)
- Other Works
- The Lone Swallows (1922)
- The Peregrine’s Saga, and Other Stories of the Country Green (1923)
- The Old Stag (1926)
- Tarka the Otter (1927)
- The Linhay on the Downs (1929)
- The Ackymals (1929)
- The Wet Flanders Plain (1929)
- The Patriot’s Progress (1930)
- The Village Book (1930)
- The Labouring Life (1932)
- The Wild Red Deer of Exmoor (1931)
- The Star-born (1933)
- The Gold Falcon or the Haggard of Love (1933)
- On Foot in Devon (1933)
- The Linhay on the Downs and Other Adventures in the Old and New Worlds (1934)
- Devon Holiday (1935)
- Salar the Salmon (1935)
- Goodbye West Country (1937)
- The Children of Shallowford (1939)
- The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1941)
- Genius of Friendship: T.E. Lawrence (1941)
- As the Sun Shines (1941)
- The Incoming of Summer (undated)
- Life in A Devon Village (1945)
- Tales of a Devon Village (1945)
- The Sun in the Sands (1945)
- The Phasian Bird (1948)
- The Scribbling Lark (1949)
- Tales of Moorland and Estuary (1953)
- A Clearwater Stream (1958)
- In The Woods, a biographical fragment (1960)
- The Scandaroon (1972)
- Writings published posthumously by the Henry Williamson Society
- Days of Wonder (1987)
- From a Country Hilltop (1988)
- A Breath of Country Air (2 vols, 1990-91)
- Spring Days in Devon, and other Broadcasts (1992)
- Pen and Plough: Further Broadcasts (1993)
- Threnos for T.E. Lawrence and Other Writings (1994)
- Green Fields and Pavements (1995)
- The Notebook of a Nature-lover (1996)
- Words on the West Wind: Selected Essays from The Adelphi (2000)
- Indian Summer Notebook: A Writer's Miscellany (2001)
- Heart of England: Contributions to the Evening Standard, 1939-41 (2003)
- Chronicles of a Norfolk Farmer: Contributions to the Daily Express, 1937-39 (2004)
- Stumberleap, and other Devon Writings: Contributions to the Daily Express and Sunday Express, 1915-1935 (2005)
- Atlantic Tales: Contributions to the Atlantic Monthly, 1927-1947 (2007)
Books about Williamson
- Farson, Daniel, Henry: An Appreciation of Henry Williamson. London, Michael Joseph. 1982. ISBN 0-7181-2122-8
- Higginbottom, Melvyn David, Intellectuals and British Fascism: A Study of Henry Williamson. London, Janus Publishing Co. 1992. ISBN 1-85756-085-X
- Lamplugh, Lois, A Shadowed Man: Henry Williamson 1895-1977. 2nd revised ed., Dulverton, Somerset, Exmoor Press, 1991. ISBN 0-900131-70-5
- Matthews, Hugoe, Henry Williamson. A Bibliography. London, Halsgrove. 2004. ISBN 1-84114-364-2
- Murry, John Middleton, ‘The Novels of Henry Williamson’, in Katherine Mansfield, and other Literary Studies. London, Constable. 1959.
- Sewell, Fr. Brocard Henry Williamson: The Man, The Writings: A Symposium. Padstow, Tabb House. 1980. ISBN 0-907018-00-9
- West, Herbert Faulkner, The Dreamer of Dreams: An Essay on Henry Williamson, Ulysses Press, 1932.
- Williamson, Anne, Henry Williamson: Tarka and the Last Romantic, Sutton Publishing (1995) ISBN 0-7509-0639-1. Paperback edition (1997) ISBN 0-7509-1492-0
- Williamson, Anne, A Patriot's Progress: Henry Williamson and the First World War, Sutton Publishing (1998) ISBN 0-7509-1339-8
- Wilson, Peter (ed), T. E. Lawrence. Correspondence with Henry Williamson. Fordingbridge, Hants, Castle Hill Press. 2000. (Volume IX of T. E. Lawrence Letters, edited by Jeremy Wilson)
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