Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

In All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot, whose real name is James Alfred Wight, describes his first years of practice as a veterinarian in the Yorkshire region of England in the 1930’s. The work is composed of sketches that have some continuity but that are not arranged in strictly chronological order. Herriot begins with a compellingly detailed scene of a calf being born, and descriptions of such incidents from his practice make up much of the book. Animals become characters with roles that vary from the humorous to the tragic. He tells of puzzling and interesting cases, and he relates his mistakes and failures in treating cases as readily as he relates his successes. Herriot’s accounts convey the practice of a veterinarian in the 1930’s with accuracy. He presents cases which demonstrate the amount of luck that often combined with his medical training to produce triumphs, and he indicates the fine line between spectacular success and dismal failure. All Creatures Great and Small also serves to document advances in technology and knowledge in an age when many important discoveries were being made in the areas of both animal and human medicine. The excitement and frustrations of practicing veterinary medicine in an age of transition are quite evident. Sometimes Herriot is able to save an animal with a new drug or technique, and sometimes he loses an animal that could have been saved with a drug not yet discovered. Herriot balances the...

(The entire section is 554 words.)

Structural Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Fame came suddenly and unexpectedly to James Wight, who adopted the pseudonym James Herriot. It also came late; All Creatures Great and Small was published when he was in his mid-fifties. Wight had always wanted to write about experiences gleaned from his veterinary practice—to make an effort to fix, at least for himself, the character of his neighbors and the beauty of the land in which he had spent his professional life and which he had come to love intensely—but he never seemed to be able to get started. Finally, after his silver wedding anniversary, to show his wife that he meant business, he got started, writing his stories either before the television set at night or during small blocks of time between daytime calls.

In its format, the book reflects the manner in which it was written: a series of short episodes, many complete in themselves, devoid of any continuing plot line save that of the ongoing experiences of a dedicated professional on his rounds. If his chopped-up means of composition deprived Herriot of the opportunity to build a systematic, well-integrated narrative, it gave him the opportunity to return with freshness and new insight to his work, to infuse it with greater spontaneity.

Herriot confessed that the nervous frustration of constant interruption helped his style. He had begun with sentences worthy of an essay by Thomas Macaulay; eventually, however, he came to eschew most adjectives and developed a simple, proletarian...

(The entire section is 522 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Many of Herriot's techniques may have evolved while his observations germinated in his mind during the thirty years between writing his...

(The entire section is 360 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

James Herriot was one of the best loved authors of his time. His fans were — and are — passionately devoted to his writings. To say that...

(The entire section is 599 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As in his later books, Herriot writes in All Creatures Great and Small of his own experiences in the Yorkshire village of Darrowby...

(The entire section is 130 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brower, M. “Long a Success as ’James Herriot,’ Yorkshire Vet Jim Wight Says ’All Things Must Come to an End,’” in People Weekly. XXIII (March 18, 1985), pp. 91-92.

Del Balso, Suzanne. “Wise, Wonderful World of the Real James Herriot,” in Good Housekeeping. CLXXXVIII (March, 1979), pp. 148-149.

Freilicher, L. “Story Behind Book: All Creatures Great and Small,” in Publishers Weekly. CCIII (January 8, 1973), p. 53.

Green, Timothy. “Best-Selling Vet Practices As Usual,” in Smithsonian. V (November, 1974), pp. 90-97.

Herriot, James. Interview by Arturo F. Gonzalez, Jr., in Saturday Review. XII (May/June, 1986), pp. 56-59.

Kanfer, Stefan. “The Marcus Welby of the Barnyard,” in Time. CXVII (June 29, 1981), pp. 74-78.

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

All Creatures Great and Small uses many devices from both fiction and nonfiction. The complexity of the older narrator recalling his...

(The entire section is 190 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The five titles of Harriot's series about the Dales are taken from a nineteenth-century hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful (1974),...

(The entire section is 71 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The English television serial, often rerun on the Public Broadcasting System, carries over the spirit of the four books with attractive...

(The entire section is 128 words.)