Henry Williamson, revisions and Hitler

Realising that the book I’m reading at the moment (Henry Williamson’s The Sun on the Sand, of 1945) re-hashed some of the material included in The Pathway of 1931, I decided to take another look at that book, of which my memory was rather vague. I was surprised by what I found.
This time I looked, not at the 1969 Faber paperback that I read before, but at the nearer-to-hand version included in the 1936 collection of the four early autobiographical novels as The Flax of Dream (also published by Faber).
What surprised me was this (supposedly said by a character in 1924):

The lies that were told in the war, and are still being told about the Germans! The humiliation of their Rhineland being occupied by the conquerors who knock of the hats of civilians who forget to raise their hats to the French and Belgian officers! The agents provocateurs who arrange clashes between the rival political parties, in order to proclaim martial law! There is an ex-corporal with the truest eyes I have ever seen in any man, now rousing the young men and the ex-soldiers, to save the nation from disintegration; a man who doesn’t smoke or drink, a vegetarian, owning no property, living for the sun to shine on the living. Of course he is persecuted and vilified by the pre-war-minded. I have just been walking through Germany […] It is terrible to see how that proud and truthful nation is brought low.

I knew about Williamson’s admiration for Hitler, but had not realised it could be so blatant, or so crass. I was sure I had never read this before, and checked in the paperback. The two sentences about the corporal are not there. Whether the snipping was done by Williamson or by his publishers, one can’t tell. The paperback’s publishing history says:

First published by Faber and Faber, 1931

(which oddly ignores the Jonathan Cape, 1928 edition and does not mention The Flax of Dream).
Williamson, of course, kept on revising and rewriting his life story throughout his career, not just by producing two separate autobiographical sequences, but by rewriting these in for different editions. A while ago I blogged about how the 1924 A Dream of Fair Women was tweaked in 1929 to conform more to the lions-and-donkeys attitude of the times.
What I’d like to know is when this piece of Hitler-worship was added. I’ve found the American first edition (published by Norton) in Google Books, and (as far as I can tell from the snippets I’m allowed to view) the whole sequence seems to be missing from that. So it was added either in 1931 for the Faber edition, or in 1936 for The Flax of Dream (whose foreword notoriously salutes “the great man across the Rhine, whose life symbol is the happy child.” – Yuk!)
Since it’s a Faber book, I wonder what T. S. Eliot thought of all this. The anti-Semitic lines in his own early poetry are notorious, but after the rise to power of Hitler, he seems to have kept his prejudices in check, criticising the blackshirts in The Rock and objecting strongly to the idea of Faber’s publishing Paul Douglas’s pro-Nazi God among the Germans.
The big edition of the Eliot letters will eventually reach the 1930s, I suppose, and then we may find out more.
As for Williamson, has anyone tried to sort our the maze of his rewritings and revisions? It would make a good Ph.D topic for someone – though they’d have to be pretty hardy characters. Williamson would be a more than somewhat depressing character to spend three or more years of your life with.

3 Comments

  1. Posted November 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Blunden and Sassoon would have mentioned Williamson’s shifting versions in their letters?

    http://www.pickeringchatto.com/titles/1105-9781848933545-selected-letters-of-siegfried-sassoon-and-edmund-blunden-1919-1967

    According to this, Blunden had lots to say about Williamson:

    http://www.robertgraves.org/issues/36/7282_article_13.pdf

    • Posted November 21, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the reference. The Hugh Cecil article about Blunden is excellent. I like Blunden’s verses about ‘The Wet Flanders Plain’.

  2. Posted November 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    There’s a 1928 letter from T.S.Eliot to Henry Dakers, who had sent him an article by Williamson:
    ‘I have a great respect for Mr Williamson’s work, and although I do not think this is one of his best, i should be glad to publish it’
    His assistant editor, Herbert read was less enthusiastic: ‘It seems good of its kind (village idiot school – but not quite so bizarre as Powys).


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