Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man

by Siegfried Sassoon

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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1542

First published: 1928

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Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social chronicle

Time of work: 1895-1916

Locale: England and France

Principal Characters:

George Sherston, the fox-hunting man

Aunt Evelyn, the woman with whom he lived

Tom Dixon, Aunt Evelyn’s groom

Denis Milden, George’s friend and master at Ringwell, later at Packlestone

Stephen Colwood, George’s schoolmate and friend

Mr. Pennett, George’s trustee

Dick Tiltwood, George’s friend in the army

The Story:

George Sherston was orphaned so early that he could not remember when he had not lived with his Aunt Evelyn at Butley. At the age of nine, he became the possessor of a pony, bought at the urgent request of Aunt Evelyn’s groom, Tom Dixon. Aunt Evelyn would not let George go to school until he was twelve years old, and his early training was given to him by an incompetent tutor, Mr. Star. Dixon, however, taught him to ride, and he valued this training more highly than anything Mr. Star taught him. Because George’s early life was often lonely, he welcomed the diversion of riding.

At last, Dixon thought George was ready to see some fox hunting. Since there was no hunting in the Sherston neighborhood, they had to ride about nine miles to the Dumborough Hunt, where George was thrilled by the color and excitement of the chase. He saw a boy of about his own age who carried himself well and was obviously one to be imitated. The next Friday at a dance, George saw the boy again and was pleased that the boy, Denis Milden, remembered seeing him at the hunt.

After his first year in school at Ballboro’, George was happy to be back at Aunt Evelyn’s. Dixon met him at the station with the word that he had secured a place for George on the village cricket team, which would play next day at the Flower Show Match. George had played good cricket at school, but he did not know how he would show up facing players of long experience. The next day he learned that he was to be last at bat, and he spent the afternoon trying to forget his nervousness. Once in the game, he suddenly gained confidence and brought his side to victory.

George’s trustee and guardian, Mr. Pennett, was disturbed when his ward quit Cambridge without a degree. George settled down with Aunt Evelyn at Butley. He played some cricket and some golf. He ordered a great many books from London. Dixon began to revive George’s interest in hunting, but Mr. Pennett would not give George the full amount of his annual income and so George could not afford the kind of horse he wanted. Dixon, however, soon found a suitable horse within the limits of George’s budget, a hunter named Harkaway. The season was well on, and George was out only three days. Later in the spring, he attended the Ringwell Hunt Point-to-Point Races, where Stephen Colwood, a friend whom he had known at Ballboro’, won the Heavy-Weight Race.

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The following autumn, George made one of his rare trips to London. There he heard a concert by Fritz Kreisler and bought some clothes suitable for a fox-hunting man. His first hunting was with the Potford Hunt, an experience he found much more exciting than that he had known with the Dumborough. He also went down to Sussex to stay with Stephen at his father’s rectory. While visiting Stephen, George bought another horse, Cockbird, in defiance of Mr. Pennett. When he returned to Butley with his new horse, his Aunt Evelyn, realizing that he could not afford the hunter, sold one of her rings and gave George the money for Christmas.

Cockbird was more than a satisfactory horse. Riding him with the Ringwell Hounds, George qualified for the Colonel’s Cup Race. One of his competitors was riding a horse owned by Nigel Croplady, a noisy young braggart liked by very few people. Another competitor was his friend Stephen. During the race, Stephen was forced to drop back, but he encouraged George so much that George came in to win. As the afternoon came to a close, someone drew his attention to the new master of the Ringwell Hounds. It was Denis Milden.

That summer, George played in a number of cricket matches. Stephen, now in the artillery, spent a weekend at Butley. As autumn drew on, George became impatient for the hunting season to begin. Stephen, now stationed near his home, asked George to spend some time at the rectory and ride with the Ringwell Hounds. Nothing could have pleased George more, for he was a great admirer of Denis. The two became good friends, and George sometimes stayed at the kennels with Denis. Denis proved to be an excellent master; he was skillful in the hunt and careful and patient with his hounds.

Early in the following season, however, Denis resigned to become master of the Packlestone Hunt, and he insisted that George go up to the Midlands with him. George knew that he could not afford to ride with the Packlestone Hounds, but he went for the first season. He was always embarrassed, for he knew that his new friends were unaware of his economic limitations. The year was 1914.

War was declared. Aware of his incompetency as a soldier, George had turned down two opportunities to be an officer and was serving in the army as a cavalryman. It made him feel silly to have to salute Nigel Croplady. One day the horse George was riding threw him, and he broke his arm. Two months later, he was sent home to allow his arm to heal. One afternoon he went to see his neighbor, Captain Huxtable, and asked to be recommended for a commission in the infantry. The commission came through. George proceeded to his new camp. There he made friends with Dick Tiltwood, a pleasant young man not long out of school.

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Latest answer posted July 30, 2019, 3:07 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

They crossed the Channel together and were assigned to a battalion coming back from the front for a rest. Dick and George spent many hours sightseeing, talking, and reading. George took Dick out riding frequently. They would pretend they were fox hunting. George, assigned to headquarters, felt rather shaken when Dick was sent to the trenches without him. Word reached George that Stephen had been killed. Dixon, who was also in service and who wanted to be transferred to George’s company, died of pneumonia. Then when George learned that Dick had died of a throat wound, he asked to be transferred to the trenches. There he served bravely, always angry at the war that had taken away his best friends.

Critical Evaluation:

MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN is the scarcely concealed autobiography of the author, Siegfried Sassoon. The tone of the book is nostalgic. The passages concerning cricket and the more technical passages about fox hunting are somewhat tedious; for the most part, however, this sensitive record of a young man’s quiet, well-ordered life in prewar England is interesting and illuminating. The class distinctions may be difficult for an American reader to understand, but Sassoon indicates that later in life he came to be more liberal in his feeling about people of lower social ranks.

The novel is a detailed picture of a faraway place and time, of a leisurely and safe world in which neighborhood cricket matches and fox-hunting afternoons provide the only excitement. Two world wars have since put an end to the trivial way of life described so lovingly by the author, but perhaps the class structure (he seems to imply) on which that world so precariously balanced was bound to perish. Reading Sassoon’s meticulous descriptions gives the reader somewhat the sensation of peering into an old stereopticon at a frozen and dusty scene from long ago. George Sherston’s values are certain but are rooted in a previous century. Neither Sherston nor any of the other characters develop or grow; like stuffed animals in a museum, they simply continue being what they are, propped up in front of their occasionally changing backgrounds.

The descriptions, however, are detailed and interesting, and an atmosphere of civilized charm spreads over the pages. There is little excitement—even in the section dealing with the war—not much character analysis, and no plot to speak of, yet MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN is a small classic of mood; a gentle irony that stops short of real satire adds an occasional tartness to the narrative without disrupting the even tone. Sassoon’s understated prose is clean and graceful and a pleasure to read.

Sherston deliberately limits his memoirs to certain aspects of his life; the reader learns almost nothing about his emotional life and little about his intellectual existence. Even many of his nonsporting activities are omitted from the narrative. At times, Sherston probably seems more shallow than he actually is. He is a sensitive man, sharply aware of the beauty around him, and dedicated to decency and honor. He says that he is tempted to write the mental history of his life in the war, but the reader ends the book still wondering what lies beneath the smooth surface of this man.

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