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But we are concerned here with Williamson and the Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. I read it about ten years ago and at the time I had the feeling I was reading THE English novel of the first half of the twentieth century. It has no ambition to present a very wide ranging picture of everything happening in England at the time but it seemed to me that Phillip Maddison, with his despair over the destruction as he sees it of the natural world, his inability to make sense of the war he has lived so intensely, his conviction that Mosley is the man who can restore dignity to Britain while at the same time preventing a new European war, and his continued loyalty to that idea through the Second World War and its aftermath - which was indeed one of the main motivations for writing the book - all that has a symbolic quality - symbolic in the proper etymological sense of the word of bringing a large number of elements together in a single image, or, as in this case, a single person.

Williamson of course, best known as author of the 'animal sagas', Tarka the Otter and Salar the Salmon, hardly corresponds to the usual caricature of a 'Fascist'. He was indeed a born hero-worshipper but his heroes, apart from Mosley, were Blake, Shelley, Francis Thompson and above all the nature writer Richard Jefferies, the model and inspiration for his own career as a writer. His biographer and daughter-in-law, Anne Williamson, who maintains the very impressive website of the Henry Williamson Society, tends understandably enough to downplay his Fascism. In an essay on 'Henry Williamson's Credo', she says, describing his visit to Germany in 1935 when he was deeply impressed by the Nuremberg Rally:

'It may be considered quite extraordinary that a man of HW’s personality and standing should fall for any of the propaganda with which he was bombarded. But HW was indeed naive and gullible – and the German propaganda was very cleverly presented ... HW was like a horse with blinkers on: he could not see the dangers lying all about him.' (2)

(2) In Search of Truth – Henry Williamson’s credo, accessible at

But as we shall see, Williamson never repudiated the joy he felt during the German visit in 1935. He described it at the time in his 1937 book Goodbye West Country  and again, after the war, with no apparent diminution of his enthusiasm, in The Phoenix Generation. It hardly does credit to Williamson's quality as a thinker to say that having been duped in 1935 he never realised he had been duped over the next thirty years of his life (despite all the pressure he was under to admit to having been duped).

On the other hand, in a short book - Henry Williamson - The Artist as Fascist, Guy Yeates (3) stresses that Williamson was quite serious in his commitment to the British Union of Fascists (difficult reading the Chronicle to believe he wasn't) but tries to fit him into the caricature Fascist mould (product of an unresolved psychological disturbance):

'What, then, was the psychological condition which caused Williamson to embrace the fascist solution to social and economic problems facing the world between the wars, what blinded him to the truth? That, it seems to me, is the real puzzle about this artist. Without any attempt at what would be a wholly inexpert psycho-analytical investigation, I should like to suggest that insoluble tensions arising from his unbearable relationship with his father appear to have been the major influence in his adult life ...

'Williamson’s complete failure ever to establish a loving relationship with his father is, quite probably, fundamental to an understanding of his character; partly because, as I suggested earlier, it may have caused him to seek a compensatory father-figure; but it may also have been this that led him to adopt authoritarian attitudes himself, sub-consciously to expiate his own feelings of guilt about his part in this failed relationship. These attitudes allowed him to support an authoritarian regime whilst at the same time his effective withdrawal from general society, as an artist, meant that he could claim either to be unaware of or not responsible for the grosser behaviour of the political systems he supported ...'  (p.41)

'Possibly this disastrous relationship caused him as an adult to seek a father-figure whom he could admire, love even. If this were so, the significant point is that it was a Hitler/Mosley icon that he chose, rather than a liberal humanist.' (p.10)

(3) Independently published in 2017. One wonders if Guy Yeates is related to Victor Maslin Yeates, Williamson's boyhood friend, First World War fighter pilot who published an account of his wartime experiences, Winged Victory, with an introduction by Williamson, in 1933. Victor Maslin's understanding of the causes of war rather resembles Williamson's: 'a state living by finance must always have neighbours from which to suck blood, or it is like a dog eating its own tail.' He had a son (obviously not the author of this book) called Guy.

Both these approaches presuppose that 'Fascism' is a known quantity, that it is something very wicked - unlike 'liberal humanism'. It would of course not occur to Guy Yeates to think that 'liberal humanism' might have been responsible for the First World War.