Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In 1938, at age thirty-three, fearing that the incipient world war would bring about his death, Henry Green felt the necessity to create a written record of his life. He could not see that he had the time left to use his material in the less personal and, to him, better form of the novel. So he wrote this autobiography, which takes him from his earliest memories at home through his education, culminating in two years at the University of Oxford. The autobiography concludes with a brief description of his work in 1927 as a laborer in his family’s foundry in Birmingham. As Henry Yorke, rather than the pseudonymous Henry Green, the author subsequently became managing director of the company. This book provides no account of the period between 1927 and 1938, during which the author was rising in the family business and publishing his second novel, Living (1929). He does write about the earlier composition and publication of his first novel. Blindness was published in 1926, while Green was still an undergraduate at Oxford.

Divided into seventeen unnumbered chapters, the autobiography is most heavily devoted to Green’s years in an unnamed boarding school in Kent and to his period in preparatory school at Eton College, which he also does not name as such. A chapter detailing his life before school opens the book, and the concluding three chapters concern his two years at Oxford and his work in Birmingham. The book begins with Green admitting that he was born into money. He is living on the family estate, called Forthampton, located in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. His earliest memories seem to be primarily about servants: Poole, the gardener, who spoke against the author’s mother but could not alter his love for her; a young maid with bad breath who played vigorous physical games with him; and Lydia, the last maid who could remember his great grandmother and whose retirement cottage he often visited. In contrast, he can remember only two contacts with his grandfather.

Green’s prose in this...

(The entire section is 830 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

North, Michael. Henry Green and the Writing of His Generation, 1984.

Odom, Keith C. Henry Green, 1978.

Russell, John. Henry Green: Nine Novels and an Unpacked Bag, 1960.

Ryf, Robert. Henry Green, 1967.

Stokes, Edward. The Novels of Henry Green, 1960.

Weatherhead, Andrew Kingsley. A Reading of Henry Green, 1961.