The Birdcage Archives

Monday, 16 January 2023

Ronald Blythe, Dies Aged 100

Hello Gentle Reader,

The English countryside remains one of the most pastoral and romanticized landscapes in the world, becoming an infinite fountain of inspiration. One can only wonder how many roses have been endowed with odes adoration and tossed at lovers’ feet; how many daisies confessed the love me not and endured the love me; or how many trees have shaded poets, haunted painters, inspired scientists, or assaulted mathematicians. The English countryside remains the ideal. The portrait of pastoral perfection. It exists in cinematic nostalgic tinted dreams which is affirmed through such cinematic portrayals as the Dens in “All Creatures Great and Small,” or the picturesque, lush detail in “Downton Abbey,” and affirmed by many literary adaptions of Jane Austen or the Brontës. The most recent adaption of “Jane Eyre,” in 2011, provides wonderful homage to the windswept moors so beloved by Emily Brontë. The English countryside remains an eternal remark of beauty, an image, dream, and ideal ascended into the heavenly principles of the idyllic. Many writers have provided reflections and commentary on the English countryside, affirming its status as impeachable beauty, including W.G. Sebald, Beatrix Potter, Virginia Woolf, and of course the remarkable farmer and nature writer John Lewis-Stempel. Yet, sadly amongst them is the overlooked sleeping green giant of Ronald Blythe, whose career was formulated around the English countryside and nature, and in turn celebrated it. Though Blythe wrote fiction including the novel “A Treasonable Growth,” a collection of short stories, Blythe preferred to think of himself as a poet and an essayist above all else. His crowning achievement “Akenfield,” remains a classic and quintessential book celebrating English rural and village life and has vastly overshadowed all of Ronald Blythe’s other achievements. His columns and reflections deserve special attention though as they are perhaps most representative of Blythe’s work, grasping the full potential of essay as prose for art form and exploration, rather than academic edicts, or didactics. Perhaps unfortunately his later work was published by smaller independent presses, who valued his insight and personal form, while larger publishers were more interested in reissuing his earlier works, especially “Akenfield.” In addition to his literary career and prodigious column writing, Ronald Blythe was an editor, curator, and reference librarian. All in all, not to bad for a man whose formal education ended when he was 14 years old, but a love reading, voracious unquenchable hunger for the written word and a tutelage in the sanctuary of nature, provided him all the material he needed to fashion himself a literary corner. It didn’t of course hurt that Blythe came into company and tutorship of some of the more bohemian writers and artists of the 20th Century, including an aged EM Forster. More interestingly, he had a one-night stand with the famous poet of apprehension Patricia Highsmith, and the two had a mutual acquaintanceship during Highsmith’s stay in the English country. Future nature writers such as the rugged Robert Macfarlane and environmentally conscious Roger Deakins came to befriend Ronald Blythe. Despite all of this, Ronald Blythe remains an intensely private figure. One whose relationships were never gossiped about or hinted in his work.

As a writer, Ronald Blythe remains a singular vision of the rural English countrymen writer. One whose preoccupation for the natural landscapes is both at odds with the increasingly urbanized world, and yet completely celebratory in what maybe mistakenly defined as simple living. An admiration for the natural and celebration of the mundane remain noteworthy and are in need of a greater audience. Truly a marvelous giant of quiet and passionate literature.

Rest in Peace Ronald Blythe.

Thank-you for Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read

M. Mary

I must say, I look forward to finding your work in the near future and reading it with anticipation and pleasure.

For further reading, please see this wonderful article by The Guardian, and two wonderful celebrations by the BBC and The Daily Mail

The Guardian: Ronald Blythe Obituary

BBC: Suffolk nature writer Ronald Blythe dies aged 100

The Daily Mail: Beloved Author of Akenfield Ronald Blythe Celebrates his 100th birthday and appeals for the world to 'slow down'

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