Eric Knight Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The title of Eric Mowbray Knight’s best-known work, The Flying Yorkshireman, might well be taken as figuratively descriptive of himself. He grew up in Yorkshire, where, at the age of twelve, he went to work in a textile factory. After various industrial jobs he joined members of his family who had emigrated to the United States. Intending to pursue an artistic career, he studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and elsewhere. He served in the Canadian Army during World War I and afterward wrote for newspapers in Philadelphia, eventually specializing in dramatic criticism. In the early 1930’s, a film-writing assignment took him to Hollywood; later with his wife he settled in Pleasant Valley, Pennsylvania, to do freelance writing. He revisited Yorkshire in 1938.

Knight’s beloved Yorkshire provides the setting for his Lassie Come-Home (a children’s novel later adapted for film) and the tales of Sam Small, the artful, irrepressible Yorkshireman who mastered levitation. His best-selling novel was This Above All, which some called the first significant novel of World War II; it was adapted for film by Robert C. Sherriff.

In 1942, Knight was commissioned a major in the film unit of the Special Services section of the U.S. Army. On January 15, the following year, he was among those killed when a U.S. military transport plane, bound for Africa, crashed in the Surinam jungle.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Born on April 10, 1897, in Menston in Yorkshire, England, Eric Mowbray Knight was the third of four sons born to Frederic Harrison and Marion Hilda (Creasser) Knight. Harrison and Knight both were Quakers. His father was a rich diamond merchant who took his family on exotic foreign trips. When Knight was two years old, his father, who had left his family to move to South Africa, was killed during the Boer War. Because Frederick Knight had depleted the family's financial resources, Marion Knight moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to work as a governess for the royal family, and Eric and his brothers remained in Yorkshire but were separated to stay with different relatives.

After living at several places, Eric Knight settled in with his temperamental uncle, who was a carter (a cart driver), and studied at the Bewerly School in Yorkshire where he became familiar with working-class concerns, speech patterns, and behaviors that he would later chronicle in his books, particularly Lassie Come-Home. Knight reminisced that this period was one of the happiest times of his life. By 1905, Marion Knight relocated to the United States. Eric Knight, however, stayed in England. His uncle died when Knight was twelve, but Knight remained in Yorkshire where he worked in mills and a glassblowing factory. Here Knight participated in a labor strike, and developed an affinity for working people.

In 1912, his mother asked him to join her in America. Homesick for Yorkshire, Knight did not feel close to his mother or brothers, who seemed more like strangers than family. Knight was employed as a copy boy for the Philadelphia Press. He attended several schools including the Cambridge, Massachusetts, Latin School before enrolling at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School, New York's National Academy of Design (receiving its Elliot Silver Medal for drawing), the Art Student's League, and the Beaux Arts Institute. Despite his talent, Knight was more interested in industry than art, although he carved wooden dogs and oil painted, including a self portrait.

When World War I began, Knight traveled to Toronto, Canada, to enlist at the rank of private in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, serving as a signaler in France. He married Dorothy Noyes Hall in 1917. The couple had three daughters. Knight's older brothers, Fred and Ed, joined the United States Army and died in France on the same day in June 1918. His younger brother Noel had previously died in England as a child. After the war, Knight attempted to resume his art career in the United States but realized that he was color blind. He worked...

(The entire section is 1,773 words.)