James Herriot 1916–
(Pseudonym of James Alfred Wight) British nonfiction writer and autobiographer. Herriot is best known for his autobiographical accounts revolving around his simple life as a country veterinarian in the Yorkshire farmlands. He began writing about the personal rewards of his practice and life-style when he was in his fifties. The popularity of his books is widespread, but some critics question how well future works will be received if he continues along the same vein. Critics generally agree that his writing style is as simple and free as the life he lives, and often use words like "earthy" to describe it. Herriot confirms this, saying his aim is to write his stories as if they were being told at a country pub. In an age that celebrates country living, his love of life and nature is an appealing factor in his best selling books, such as All Creatures Great and Small, which was recently adapted into a film and a television series. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)
["All Creatures Great and Small"] shines with love of life. It is not surprising that James Herriot still ministers to his charges in the same location, for the reader soon feels that the man and his work should never be separated from Yorkshire and its people….
Herriot's portrayal of his mercurial and charming boss [Siegfried Farnon] and his boss's fey brother Tristan is delightful. Indeed, every character in the book emerges with force and clarity. There is humor everywhere, including the often futile attempts of a domineering woman to bring some order to Siegfried's slapdash bookkeeping….
However, Herriot's book is more than a collection of well-told anecdotes and sharply drawn personalities. Laced through it is the author's growing awareness that he is in the right place doing the right thing….
Herriot charms because he delights in life, embraces it with sensitivity and gusto and writes with grace. Reading him, one is reminded that there are still, nearly 40 years after the time of his story, country places where the wind blows clean, places where men and women find pleasure in hard work and simple living.
Nelson Bryant, "A Place Where the Wind Blows Clean," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1973 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 18, 1973, p. 10.
What the world needs now, and does every so often, is a warm, G-rated, down-home, unadrenalized prize of a book that sneaks onto the bestseller lists for no apparent reason other than a certain floppy-eared puppy appeal.
However, it is only partly because warm puppies—along with cows, horses, pigs, cats and the rest of the animal kingdom—figure as his main characters that James Herriot's [All Creatures Great and Small] qualify admirably….
Young Dr. Herriot is forever stripping to the waist in some drafty Darrowby barn and soaping up his arm to plunge it into one troubled animal orifice or another For Herriot, and the reader, the rewards of such expeditions range from delivery of little nibbling creatures who sometimes get stuck in the process of being born, to the periodic relief administered to Tricki Woo, a pampered little Pekingese constantly overfed by her mistress….
The author naturally dwells longer on his successes than his missteps, but even the latter provide moments of fine humor. Having refused to accept Herriot's expert diagnosis that his cow had a broken pelvis, one stubborn dalesman proceeded to apply an ancient cure used by his father…. The cow turned out to be suffering only from loose pelvic ligaments, which happened to cure themselves almost at the moment the useless home remedy was applied....
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For years thereafter—which the author would be well advised to cover in a sequel—the animal was triumphantly introduced far and wide by its owner as "the cow Mr. Herriot said would never get up n'more."
William R. Doerner, "How Now, Brown Cow?" in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc., 1973), February 19, 1973, p. 88.
[All Creatures Great and Small] is full of recalcitrant cows, sinister pigs, neurotic dogs, Yorkshire weather, and pleasantly demented colleagues. It continues to be one of the funniest and most likable books around. (p. 91)
Phoebe Adams, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1974 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), August, 1974.
All Things Bright and Beautiful continues the story of [James Herriot's] youthful practice in an earthy profession: with growing confidence and strong arms he learns to cope with calves that are strangling in birth and with complications like husk, grass staggers, calcium deficiency, or "wool ball on t'stomach." His courtship of Helen Alderson prevails despite her testy father and Herriot's undiplomatic judging of the Pet Show. The warmth which she brings into his life is as truly told as the admiration he feels for his gifted senior partner. His prose gives us the sound of sheep, the sight of lambs, the smell of spring in the Dales; perhaps the least successful chapters are those about the scamp Tristan, whose escapades border on the fictitious. But the laughter and fidelity in the writing arise from the fact that Dr. Herriot loves his work—and is still at it in Yorkshire. (pp. 114-15)
Edward Weeks, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1974 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), October, 1974.
Was it not W. C. Fields who claimed that a man could not be all bad if he disliked animals and young children? Allow me a suggestion: even if the reader dislikes animals and pets and children, he will like [All Things Bright and Beautiful]. It brings the world of animals and people into a ring of beauty, precisely because it touches the human often and with skill. The title is a first line from a hymn of Mrs. Cecil Alexander whose second line is the title of James Herriot's first book: All Creatures Great and Small. As that work was received with enthusiasm, so should this be. It's a joy. (pp. 304-05)
Eugene J. Linehan, S.J., in Best Sellers (copyright 1974, by the University of Scranton), October 1, 1974.
James Herriot is at it again with that easy, ingratiating way of telling a story. Readers of his best-selling "All Creatures Great and Small" are undoubtedly ready to devour its sequel in one gulp. Which may not be the best way to approach this supplementary collection of reminiscences of the Yorkshire country vet before World War II. It deserves more leisurely treatment, a few chapters at a time.
Again Mr. Herriot is evoking those faraway days when even veterinarians made house calls in the middle of the night…. And there is something about a succession of ewes' accouchements, horse castrations and teat stitching that, taken without a break, tends to neutralize narrative suspense.
Such technical items, of course, are not the point of the book. It does not confine itself to a specialist's account of his specialty. This, in today's fashionable cliché, is James Herriot's enthusiastic endorsement of a simple, unpretentious lifestyle. No wonder the earlier book was so popular. Here is a man who actually enjoys his work without worrying about the Protestant Ethic; he finds satisfaction in testing his skill against challenges of different kinds. Beyond that, he delights in the day-to-day process of living even when things aren't going too well…. It's reassuring to come across an affirmation of this sort every now and then, even though it seems to be inspired more readily by the remote past than the immediate present.
Paul Showers, "A Country Vet Remembers," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 3, 1974, p. 61.
[All Things Wise and Wonderful] is the third of James Herriot's remembrances of the quiet rural joys of practicing veterinary medicine in Yorkshire. It is cut from the same bolt of nubbly cloth as his previous books….
In "All Things Wise and Wonderful," we find the good animal doctor coping with R.A.F. training at the outset of World War II. Don't worry, Herriot-lovers, this is not a book about the service. Although Herriot is in the R.A.F., his heart is in the lovely Yorkshire moors and glens and fells. He is homesick for his new wife, Helen, and for his memories of the 1930's when, as a young man fresh out of vet's school, he worked for the fearsome older vet, Siegfried, and strove to prove himself to the crusty, laconic Yorkshire farmers….
The quiet sense of accomplishment Herriot takes in his homely labors and the honest descriptions of the veterinarian's life … give the books a reasonably sturdy keel. The sense of the beauties of the rural countryside is there, too, as well as rural humanity in colorful diversity—my favorite being the lord who works alongside his hired hands in the muck and manure.
What allays one's pleasure, though, is a sense of formula creeping into the stories, of mechanical plot-shifts, as though Herriot were straining to heighten and point up a diminishing store of materials; he also skirts close to Disneyization, i.e. rule by lovable animals. On the whole, "All Things Wise and Wonderful" is as ingratiating as the previous ones; niceness still triumphs, but this time around, it's a near thing.
Richard R. Lingeman, "Animal Doctor," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 18, 1977, p. 13.
Each chapter [of All Things Wise and Wonderful] is a separate vignette which is filled with drama and emotion, particularly the case of a beautiful collie—"mouth gaping, tongue lolling, eyes staring lifelessly"—which Herriot revives. All in all, this is another remarkable and engrossing view of humans and beasts, and YA's will look forward to the next which will surely be titled The Lord God Made Them All. (p. 131)
Jane Manthorne, in School Library Journal (reprinted from the October, 1977 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co. A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1977), October, 1977.
[All Things Wise and Wonderful is the] third of the delightful, autobiographical series by the Yorkshire veterinarian. [It] starts with his induction into the Royal Air Force in World War II and wisely interweaves flashbacks to his family and the country practice, now famous from the first two accounts. Compassion and humor prevail in his dealing with all creatures such as a tough drill sergeant, a home-loving cow sold to the market, a juvenile delinquent, and Oscar, the cat who attends local meetings. This installment ends as the young doctor, mustered out by a medical discharge, walks through the gentle hills of home toward his new son, his dear wife, and surely more adventures. (p. 30)
Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1978 by the Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 54, No. 1 (Winter, 1978).
James Herriot's account of his veterinary experience in Yorkshire … can give a higher boost to morale than alcohol, drugs, or a visit to the doctor. These books start in World War I and take place in Yorkshire, England, a harsh region of the country which produces hardy folk who endure. Herriot's understated and uncomplaining lot is ameliorated by his sense of humor and steered by his sensitivity. The author's matter-of-fact recounting of hardship, study, and practice displays courageous fortitude. He shows a sympathy and love for the animals he treats. This unusual vicarious experience helps the reader climb out of his or her own private Slough of Despond. The reader will be stunned by the amount of hardship encountered as a matter of course; one's own lot is bound to be better by comparison. Herriot's writings epitomize the process of bibliotherapy: they are written in love; they can be used to inspire, to nurture, to brighten and to help the reader endure. Nature, being neither kind nor unkind in this objective view, can be a balancer of thought. "Coping behavior" may generally be increased; this reading can patch up the human spirit. (p. 57)
Joy K. Roy, in English Journal (copyright © 1979 by the National Council of Teachers of English), March, 1979.