Study Guide

James Herriot

James Herriot Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Herriot (HEH-ree-uht), the pseudonym of James Alfred Wight, is one of the best-loved animal storytellers of the twentieth century. He was born on October 3, 1916, the son of James Henry and Hannah Wight, both professional musicians. He was reared in Glasgow, Scotland, and attended Glasgow Veterinary College. He had intended to set up practice in his hometown after qualifying, but veterinary jobs were scarce during the Great Depression. Thus in 1937 he went to work in the Sinclair Veterinary Office in Thirsk, Yorkshire. Except for service in the Royal Air Force during World War II, he was to practice general veterinary medicine in rural Yorkshire for the next fifty years. He married Joan Catherine Danbury in 1941, and they had two children, James and Rosemary.{$S[A]Wight, James Alfred;Herriot, James}

For thirty years, Herriot’s keen eye and sense of humor had alerted him to the possibility of writing humorous stories based upon his experiences as a country veterinarian, yet it was only after his wife noted that people past fifty did not do such things that he determined that he would. He published in England his first books, If Only They Could Talk and It Should Happen to a Vet, both modest successes. He used pseudonyms for himself (James Herriot was actually a goalkeeper for a soccer team) and the other characters because English veterinary etiquette did not permit any form of advertising. Herriot also created a town, Darrowby, a fictionalized composite of several Yorkshire towns, for his locale.

The first volume of the work for which he is most famous appeared in 1972. The tetralogy, which consists of fictionalized memoirs of the life of a country veterinarian, was to be a best-seller. Taking his titles from an old Anglican hymn, Herriot in All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Bright and Beautiful tells the story of his first years in veterinary practice with Tristan and Siegfried Farnon. All Things Wise and Wonderful deals with the World War II years, with many flashbacks to his civilian experiences. The Lord God Made Them All covers the postwar years and the many changes in England and in veterinary...

(The entire section is 900 words.)

James Herriot Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Alfred (“Alf”) Wight, better known by his pen name, James Herriot (HEH-ree-uht), was born on October 3, 1916, in Sunderland, England. He was the only child of James Henry Wight, a musician, and Hannah Bell Wight, a singer. Three weeks after his birth, his family moved to Hillhead, a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland.

When he was thirteen years old, Herriot read an article in Meccano Magazine that made him decide to become a veterinarian treating small animals. However, when he graduated from Glasgow Veterinary School in 1938, jobs were scarce. He took a position as assistant to J. Donald Sinclair, who had a rural veterinary practice in Thirsk in the Yorkshire Dales in northern England. Donald’s brother, Brian, also worked for the practice. Finding himself treating mostly large rather than small animals, Herriot quickly realized that he loved working with farm animals, loved the rugged countryside in which the practice was located, and greatly admired most of the farmers and farm workers with whom he interacted. When he first began practice, the draft horse was in widespread use. Gradually, the tractor replaced the horse, and his practice of veterinary medicine changed accordingly.

On November 5, 1941, Herriot married Joan Catherine Danbury, and on the same day he was made a partner in Donald Sinclair’s practice. In 1943, during World War II, he joined the British Royal Air Force. In 1944, he went absent without leave (AWOL) for a brief period to be present at the birth of his first child, Nicholas James Wight, who later became a veterinarian and practiced with his father. Herriot was not caught while he was AWOL. He was discharged from the air force in 1945 because of health problems that kept him from flying.

He then returned to practice in Thirsk. According to his biographers, it was when he was in the air force and away from the Dales that he realized how much he loved that area of England and loved being a rural veterinarian there. His daughter, Rosemary, was born on May 9, 1949. She, too, wanted to become a veterinarian, but Herriot considered that life too physically difficult for a female, so she became a physician and practiced in Yorkshire. When Nicholas and Rosemary were young, they used to make rounds with their father, visiting the remote farms with him on the Yorkshire Dales.

Herriot made several trips abroad, one to the Soviet Union in 1961 as a...

(The entire section is 989 words.)

James Herriot Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Herriot’s books are a basically optimistic account of his work as a veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales. Although he encounters some unpleasant people and sometimes has to watch helplessly as good people are hurt when their animals die, he remains optimistic about human nature and nature itself. What he considers the miracle of birth always delights him.

From Herriot’s point of view as the narrator of his tales, he recognizes how poorly equipped the pre-World War II veterinarians were to handle some of the cases they treated. However, he also recognizes the good veterinarians do with the limited resources available to them.