Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas

(photo: Edward Thomas Fellowship)

Edward Thomas was the subject of my MPhil and DPhil theses at Oxford University.  I have been working on Thomas’s prose and poetry ever since.  He was the subject of my Chatterton Lecture for the British Academy.  I am currently editing The Icknield Way and In Pursuit of Spring for Oxford University Press.

‘Oxford University Press are currently issuing Thomas’s selected prose in six vast and superbly edited volumes. His writing continues to preoccupy literary critics and English students, but is also of increasing interest to cultural and human geographers, anthropologists, historians, conservationists and environmentalists.’ (Robert Macfarlane, Literary Review, 2012)

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The Wasp Trap

This moonlight makes 
The lovely lovelier 
Than ever before lakes 
And meadows were. 

And yet they are not, 
Though this their hour is, more 
Lovely than things that were not 
Lovely before. 

Nothing on earth, 
And in the heavens no star, 
For pure brightness is worth 
More than that jar, 

For wasps meant, now 
A star – long may it swing 
From the dead apple-bough, 
So glistening.

– Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

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‘There was nobody in the fields. The hay-waggon stood by the rick where it had arrived too late to be unloaded last night. To one bred in a town this kind of silence and solitariness perhaps always remains impressive. We see no man, no smoke, and hear no voice of man or beast or machinery, and straightway the mind recalls very early mornings when London has lain silent but for the cooing of pigeons. That silence of so many things that can and will make sounds gives some of its prestige to the country silence of very quiet things. Therefore when I have looked out of a strange window for the first time and seen nothing move but leaves on the earth and clouds in the sky, I have often for a moment felt as if it were dawn and have slipped into a mood of dawn; it might be possible on a cloudy day and in a new country to be deceived thus even at noon. Thus the innocence of silent London is transferred to the downs, the woods, the vacant fields, and the road without a wheel or a foot upon it for miles and miles.’  (The Icknield Way)

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My edition of Thomas’s Autobiographies was one of the ‘Books of the Year’ for 2011 in The Times Literary Supplement (‘Guy Cuthbertson’s splendidly edited Autobiographies promises well for the series’), and, in English Literature in Transition, Michel Pharand commented that ‘Guy Cuthbertson’s editorial apparatus cannot be faulted […] If Autobiographies is any indication, the other volumes are likely to become indispensable resources for the rediscovery of a large and neglected part of Edward Thomas’s oeuvre’.  Both this volume and England and Wales were praised in a long review in The Times Literary Supplement, and in The Observer Robert Macfarlane chose England and Wales as his summer reading. In The Literary Review, Macfarlane described the volumes as ‘superbly edited’.

 

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Edward Thomas, England and Wales, ed. Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn (Oxford University Press, 2011). Edward Thomas: Prose Writings: A Selected Edition. Volume II.
 
 – praised in a long review in the TLS by Paul Jarman, January 2012.  The introduction, written with Lucy Newlyn, is ‘excellent’.  ‘Prefaced with a biographical, contextual and thought-provoking critical introduction, and packed with footnotes which not only elucidate the text but also – and this is particularly strong – cross-refer the reader to related material elsewhere in Thomas’s poetry and prose, these volumes must plug some conspicuous gaps in university library holdings, and present Thomas scholars with the tools for a broader re-evaluation of his life’s work.’
 
The Year’s Work in English Studies (2013) recorded that ‘The year 2011 saw the publication of Cuthbertson, ed., Edward Thomas: Prose Writings, volume 1: Autobiographies and Cuthbertson and Newlyn, eds., Edward Thomas: Prose Writings, volume 2: England and Wales. These are handsomely produced and assiduously researched editions, and this reviewer was struck by the extraordinarily eclectic prose output of a writer who died at the age of only 39. As the editors acknowledge, while Thomas’s poetry has received subtle and extensive critical scrutiny, his narrative prose fiction, middlebrow journalism, and life-writing are only just receiving the acute analysis they deserve.’
 
 
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Edward Thomas, Autobiographies, ed. Guy Cuthbertson (Oxford University Press, 2011). Edward Thomas: Prose Writings: A Selected Edition. Volume I.
 
 – ‘Guy Cuthbertson’s splendidly edited Autobiographies promises well for the series’ – Peter McDonald, ‘Books of the Year’, TLS, December 2011
 
 – ‘Useful and fascinating’; with an ‘excellent introduction’ – Paul Jarman, TLS, January 2012
 
– this book was also the subject of the TLS blog.
 
– ‘When I reviewed the first volume of O.U.P.’s ambitious project to produce six substantial volumes of the prose of Edward Thomas I remember being struck by the meticulous and engaging introduction by the editor Guy Cuthbertson.  That review appeared in The English Association’s Journal The Use of English in the autumn of 2011. The same held true for the second volume edited by both Cuthbertson and his partner in the whole project, Lucy Newlyn.’ – Ian Brinton, Tears in the Fence, May 2017.
 
– ‘invaluable […] the main achievement here is that we come away from this first volume with a deeper appreciation for Thomas the prose writer […] Cuthbertson’s volume is an act of recovery […] careful and admirable’ – David Farley, Britain and the World, 7:1 (March 2014).
 
– ‘Cuthbertson has traced and annotated [the echoes and allusions] scrupulously, revealing for the first time the rich backdrop of Thomas’s extensive readings and showing how they inform his fictional and nonfictional works. […] Guy Cuthbertson’s editorial apparatus cannot be faulted.  […] If Autobiographies is any indication, the other volumes are likely to become indispensable resources for the rediscovery of a large and neglected part of Edward Thomas’s important oeuvre.’  – Michel W. Pharand, English Literature in Transition, 2012
 
 
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Guy Cuthbertson and Lucy Newlyn, eds, Branch-Lines: Edward Thomas and Contemporary Poetry (London: Enitharmon, 2007).  New edition, 2014.
 
 – Branch-Lines was praised in a long review by Adam Newey in The Guardian
 
 
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Recent talks on Thomas include ‘Edward Thomas’s England’ at Rewley House, University of Oxford, and ‘”Work, Not Words”: Edward Thomas and the War Against Writing’ at the Cardiff Edward Thomas Centenary Conference.
 
Short articles on Thomas include the following:
‘Dymock Poets’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
‘Edward Thomas’s “Words” and the Worthies of Dymock Country’, Dymock Poets and Friends (2005).
‘Leonard Bast and Edward Thomas’, Notes & Queries (March 2005).
‘“Bredon Hill” and “Adlestrop”’, The Housman Society Journal (2004).
‘Back to the Oxford Country’, Oxford Magazine (2003).
 
 
From the Oxford University Spring School, a podcast recording of a talk on Thomas is available online, which is also available at Oxford University’s Great Writers Inspire site.
 

 

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(photo: Edward Thomas Fellowship)

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Recommended reading:

Richard Emeny, Edward Thomas: A Life in Pictures (Enitharmon, 2017).

Matthew Hollis, Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas (Faber and Faber, 2011).

Helen Thomas, Under Storm’s Wing (Paladin,1990).

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Edward Thomas, Letters from Edward Thomas to Gordon Bottomley, ed. R. George Thomas (Oxford University Press, 1968).

Edward Thomas, The Annotated Collected Poems, ed. Edna Longley (Bloodaxe, 2008). 

Edward Thomas, The Happy-go-lucky Morgans (Duckworth, 1913).

Edward Thomas, The Heart of England (J. M. Dent, 1906).

Edward Thomas, The Icknield Way (Constable, 1913).

Edward Thomas, Walter Pater: A Critical Study (Martin Secker, 1913).

 

Also see:

Edward Thomas Fellowship

Lucy Newlyn

Edward Thomas Prose Writing Selected Edition

Friends of the Dymock Poets

Edward Thomas archive, Cardiff

First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Enitharmon

Helen Thomas recording

 
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Edward Thomas

by Ernest Henry Thomas
pencil, 1905
NPG 2892

© National Portrait Gallery, London