Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man
Faber’s first bestseller reissued as the perfect Christmas gift for lovers of classic, bucolic literature.
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I can hear the creak of the saddle and the clop and clink of hoofs as we cross the bridge over the brook by Dundell Farm; there is a light burning in the farmhouse window, and the evening star glitters above a broken drift of half-luminous cloud… It is with a sigh that I remember simple moments such as those, when I understood so little of the deepening sadness of life, and only the strangeness of the spring was knocking at my heart.
In the 1920s, a young man, grappling with the horrors of the war from which he had just returned, decided to write about a happier time. A time of cricket matches and fox-hunting, the busyness of village life and the shyness of youth.
That man was Siegfried Sassoon, and this is his book. Originally published anonymously, it went on to become Faber & Faber’s first bestseller. A classic depiction of pre-First World War Britain, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man tells two mirrored stories, about a boy coming of age and a country losing its innocence.
To most readers, a book about fox hunting is hardly an enticing proposition. Hearty, red-faced country types in tight trousers boring on about their dogs and horses? No thanks. However, Siegfried Sassoon’s sensitive, elegiac memoir will appeal even to sensitive metropolitans who wouldn’t so much as tickle a fox, let alone hunt one.
TE Lawrence once remarked that “if I were trying to export the ideal Englishman to an international exhibition, I think I’d like to choose Siegfried Sassoon for chief exhibit”. Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, published in 1928 and attractively reissued by Faber, is that ideal Englishman’s regretful (sometimes slightly cloyingly nostalgic) lament for an ideal, vanished England. The book ends with Sassoon heading off to the war that would inspire his famous poems.
The book’s greatest pleasures lie in Sassoon’s evocation of the English countryside, where he spent his “queer and not altogether happy” childhood living with his aunt. How about this for an English country morning: “The air was Elysian with early summer and the shadows of steep white clouds were chasing over the orchards and meadows; sunlight sparkled on green hedgerows that had been drenched by early morning showers.” Idyllic. Maybe I could grow to like the hunting life after all. I’ll be on the first train out of London — save me a fox.
In Siegfried Sassoon's novels, the war hero poet summons a lost England… Sassoon is an amazingly likeable prose writer, modest, observant, good company… everything he writes seems quietly and ordinarily and completely true.
A most delightful picture of English country life.
One of the most subtle and moving narratives of youth's education in life, of the gradual breakdown of an egocentric universe that is happy, innocent and hopeless.
One of the best books of its kind that has ever been written.
Not only a prose masterpiece, but also a picture of the England which was shattered by the War.
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