More than just pleasant-looking I mean; she was quite enchanting

A Month in the Country

In the summer of 1920, a shell-shocked war veteran comes with a battered greatcoat and an old bag to a small church deep in the English Yorkshire country. There, news of world events is scarce, and whole villages meet for Sunday picnics. He has been hired to restore a “Doom” painting of Christ’s last judgment, concealed for hundred of years on the church wall.

He is deeply scarred by grief and the horror of his experiences in the trenches, but as the summer moves on, he becomes a part of the local life; a young married woman warily – and playfully – draws him out of his isolation. He relaxes into the slow and comforting rhythms of the English countryside. The month in the country becomes a glorious summer.

– from the publisher’s blurb, The Folio Society.


During any prolonged activity one tends to forget original intentions. But I believe that, when making a start on A Month in the Country, my idea was to write an easy-going story, a rural idyll along the lines of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree. And, to establish the right tone of voice to tell such a story, I wanted its narrator to look back regretfully across forty or fifty years but, recalling a time irrecoverably lost, still feel a tug at the heart.

And I wanted it to ring true. So I set its background up in the North Riding, on the Vale of Mowbray, where my folks had lived for many generations and where, in the plough-horse and candle-to-bed age, I grew up in a household like that of the Ellerbeck family.

Novel-writing can be a cold-blooded business. One uses whatever happens to be lying around in memory and employs it to suit one’s ends. The visit to the dying girl, a first sermon, the Sunday-school treat, a day in a harvest field and much more happened between the Pennine Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. But the church in the fields is in Northamptonshire, its churchyard in Norfolk, its vicarage London. All’s grist that comes to the mill.

Then, again, during the months whilst one is writing about the past, a story is coloured by what presently is happening to its writer. So, imperceptibly, the tone of voice changes, original intentions slip away. And I found myself looking through another window at a darker landscape inhabited by neither the present nor the past.



She was quite enchanting

More than just pleasant-looking I mean; she was quite enchanting. Her neck was uncovered to her bosom and, immediately, I was reminded of Botticelli – not his Venus – the Primavera. It was partly her wonderfully oval face and partly the easy way she stood. I’d seen enough paintings to know beauty when I saw it and, in this out of the way place, here it was before me. – p47

In London, I shouldn’t have known them

In London I’d sometimes exchanged a word with the family next door on one side and nodded to the couple on the other, but, if I’d passed whoever lived beyond that, I shouldn’t have known them. Yet here, within twenty-four hours of my performance at Barton Ferry, word had got round about tea at the Sykes’s.

‘Hear you’re haring round the countryside looking over the girls. Thinking of settling down in Oxgodby then?’ Moon said slyly. ‘Better keep it quiet that you’re wed: every second chap round about has a shot-gun.’ – p85

Not a deeply religious people

The English are not a deeply religious people. Even many of those who attend divine service do so from habit. Their acceptance of the sacrament is perfunctory: I have yet to meet the man whose hair rose at the nape of his neck because he was about to taste the blood of his dying Lord. Even when they visit their church in large numbers, at Harvest Thanksgiving or the Christmas Midnight Mass, it is no more than a pagan salute to the passing seasons. – p108

It was that kind of day

I should have lifted an arm and taken her shoulder, turned her face and kissed her. It was that kind of day. It was why she’d come. Then everything would have been different. My life, hers. – p116

How does one know that a house is empty

How does one know that a house is empty? That house was and I knew it. I knew it even before my knocking was unanswered, even before I stooped to raise the flap of the letter-box to peer into a darkness so concealing that only memory led me back along the stone-flagged corridors, into shuttered rooms, up uncarpeted staircases.

They’re not here, I thought. They’ve gone. And I turned away. – p118

The way things were

We can ask and ask but we can’t have again what once seemed ours for ever – the way things looked, that church alone in the fields, a bed on a belfry floor, a remembered voice, the touch of a hand, a loved face. They’ve gone and you can only wait for the pain to pass.  – p121

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