Herbert Ernest Bates was born on May 16, 1905, in Rushden, Northamptonshire, England’s center of shoe and boot manufacture. His father, employed in the boot factories since boyhood, vowed that his children would never follow the same career; accordingly, Herbert and his brother and sister, Stanley and Edna, were reared in strict Methodist respectability and educated at local schools. In his early years, Bates reacted strongly against the red-brick ugliness of his hometown, preferring country life with his maternal grandfather, George Lucas. Lucas was by far the most significant influence on Bates’s life and fiction, instilling in him a passion for nature and a lifelong interest in rural affairs.
A bright student, Bates won a scholarship to nearby Kettering Grammar School, where he performed indifferently until he met Edmund Kirby, an English master lately returned from World War I. Inspired and encouraged by Kirby, Bates resolved to become a writer, and though he could have attended university, he chose not to, electing instead to try newspaper writing and then clerking in a warehouse. There in his spare time he wrote a sprawling novel that Kirby advised him to burn. Undeterred, he tried a second, The Two Sisters, which traveled to ten publishers before being read by Jonathan Cape’s great discoverer of new talent, Edward Garnett. Garnett recognized, where others had not, the sensitivity, feeling for character, and gift for nature writing that are the hallmarks of all Bates’s fiction.
Having no university connections and never comfortable in London, Bates stayed in Rushden and continued his literary apprenticeship under Garnett and Kirby. Even before this, he had discovered in the Continental masters, especially Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Guy de Maupassant, the models for his own short fiction. Other influences were Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, and W. H. Hudson. Reading...
(The entire section is 797 words.)