Herbert Ernest Bates was one of the most prolific British writers of the twentieth century. He published dozens of novels and novellas, but his reputation rests primarily on his first love: the short story. Bates was born in the Midlands shoemaking center of Rushden, England; both of his grandfathers had been shoemakers, and his father, a stern Methodist, owned his own shoemaking business. Yet as a young man Bates did not look upon the trade with fondness, and he tried to escape the factories through education. He was a good student, but not quite good enough to win a scholarship to the public school at Wellingborough. Bates was so discouraged by this early failure that he eventually forfeited an opportunity to attend Cambridge University and instead embarked on a series of odd jobs.
Bates stole time from one of these jobs, as a warehouseman, to write stories and poems. These early works were rejected by journal after journal until, in 1926, he finally had a novel published by Jonathan Cape. The book, The Two Sisters, received warm reviews but was not a financial success. In 1931, Bates married Marjorie Helen Cox and purchased a converted granary in Kent, where he lived with his wife and children until his death in 1974. To support himself and his family, he wrote more than one volume of fiction every year, in addition to producing reviews, essays, monographs on country life, and a column for The Spectator.
This massive output did not always bring critical or commercial success; indeed, for Bates the two seem almost to have been mutually exclusive. With only a few exceptions,...
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