Ralph Bates (writer)

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Ralph Bates in 1938. Photo by Carl Van Vechten.

Ralph Bates (3 November 1899 – 26 November 2000) was an English novelist, writer, journalist and political activist. He is best known for his writings on pre–Civil War Spain.[1]


Bates was born in Swindon, England in 1899 and as a teenager worked at the Great Western Railway factory. In 1917, he enlisted in the British Army and served in World War I, training soldiers to prepare for poison gas attacks.

After returning from the war, he began to travel, to France and then, in 1923, to Spain, where he had wanted to visit since boyhood (his great-grandfather, a steamer captain, was buried in Cadiz). He stayed in the country permanently from then on, traveling and doing odd jobs. He published his first work, Sierra, a collection of short stories, in 1933; in 1934, a novel, Lean Men.

When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936, Bates enlisted with the government forces and made rank of political commissar. He helped to organize the International Brigade. Later that year he traveled to the United States to raise awareness of the plight of the Spanish Republic.

The year also saw the publication of Bates's best-known work, The Olive Field, about olive workers in southern Spain. The book received good critical notices in the United States. For such writing, Bates has been hailed as a master of the "proletarian novel", alongside Tressell, MacGill and Grassic Gibbon, a genre offering "a new set of narrative concerns and characters".[2]

Bates was briefly arrested for arms smuggling when traveling through France back to Spain in February 1937. Upon his return, he moved to Madrid and founded the International Brigade's newspaper, The Volunteer for Liberty. He frequently traveled to the United States and Mexico in 1937 and 1938, meeting his future wife, Eve Salzman on one trip.

He joined the British Communist Party in 1923. After the Soviet invasion of Finland in November, 1939, he publicly condemned the Communists in an article for The New Republic.[3] During the investigations of suspected Communists in the 1950s, he refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.[4]

After the end of the Spanish Civil War, Bates moved to Mexico, where he lived for a number of years, publishing The Fields of Paradise in 1940. In 1947, he became a professor of creative writing and English literature at New York University, a post he would hold until his retirement in 1966. He published his last book, The Dolphin in the Wood, in 1950, although he would continue to work on several unfinished writings up to his death 50 years later.

After his retirement, he moved with his wife to the Greek island of Naxos, where he pursued his lifelong hobby of mountain-climbing well into his 80s. He died in Manhattan in 2000, aged 101, and his cremated remains were scattered in Naxos.



  • The Lean Men (1935)
  • The Olive Field (1936)
  • Rainbow Fish (1937)
  • The Undiscoverables (1939)
  • The Fields of Paradise (1941)
  • The Dolphin in the Wood (1950)

Short Stories[edit]

  • Sierra (1933)
  • The Miraculous Horde and Other Stories (Jonathan Cape,1939)(Expanded United States edition as Sirocco and Other Stories, 1939)


  • Franz Schubert (1934)


  1. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/dec/12/guardianobituaries
  2. ^ Fowler, Bridget. The Obituary as Collective Memory, London: Routledge, 2007
  3. ^ http://www.theralphbatesproject.co.uk/ralph-bates-the-1930-s
  4. ^ Martin, Douglas (4 December 2000). "Ralph Bates, Novelist Who Evoked Spain and Then Fought Franco, Dies at 101". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 28 September 2011.

External links[edit]