Wednesday, May 07, 2014


THE DEAREST AND THE BEST

It was with much sadness that I learned today of the passing of the author Leslie Thomas and although I don`t intend for this to be an obituary (others more skilled in that art will do that) I wanted - felt the need really - just to jot down a few thoughts about Leslie Thomas, as he is someone with whom I have identified over the years.  Here`s why.....

Like me, he did his National Service, mainly in the far east, on which he based his first best selling novel, The Virgin Soldiers and its sequels, Onward followed by Stand Up Virgin Soldiers.  But from the bawdy raucousness of those beginnings, he developed a style which became more wry, more reflective of the times in which he lived - Tropic of Ruislip just caught the social atmosphere and turmoil which we lived through.   He produced travel books about this country - I still have The Hidden Places of Britain which includes an evocative portrait of the north Kent marshes not far from where I live and an account of the deep midwinter in Cape Cornwall and St. Just in Penwith.

He may not have produced great literature in its truest sense but he produced stories about people and places that he clearly held dear - the delicate harshness of Chloe`s Song set largely in and around Southampton, for example.   Now my choice of illustration shown above might appear odd in the context of this ramble - it shows a hidden corner of the New Forest but it might also be a subtle tribute to his best work.   One of my best loved English composers is Gustav Holst, of Planets fame, and his uplifting homage to Jupiter The Bringer of Jollity includes the haunting melody that became I Vow to Thee My Country.  Cecil Spring Rice`s lyrics include the lines:-


The love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test
That lays upon the alter the dearest and the best

......and I can well imagine Leslie Thomas using these lines and the sentiment they express as the inspiration for his novel based on wartime in the New Forest with all its barely disguised settings of Beaulieu, Lyndhurst and others and all the anguish that wartime brought to the Forest villagers and their sacrifice and horror as they lost The Dearest and the Best of their own.

Now and again Mrs. Snopper encourages me to `have a sort out` of my eclectic bookshelves and I admit that almost all of my Leslie Thomas collection has gone to deserving charities over the years and it is only today, with the news of his passing, that I appreciate them even more.   I make a habit of visiting book shops and lately I have been looking to replace two or three of my favourite Thomas novels but sadly he seems to have gone out of fashion.   More`s the pity, for he beautifully and faithfully captured the essence of those times, those places and those people which he held with such true affection, in return for which he was himself held with affection and admiration by those of us of a certain age who cherish the same things as did he.  I am so sorry that he is no longer with us.

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