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Truthful Account of England's Finest Travel Writer
on 18 May 2004
Ever since I bought a battered copy of "In Search of England" from a second hand book shop on the Isle of Wight a decade ago, I've had a deep affection for the work of H.V. Morton.How I envied the freedom he had to clamber aboard a motor car to go exploring the country lanes of 1920s England... and how often I've dreamed about re-tracing his route, comparing his descriptions of the various locations to the realities of today.
Prior to the publication of this biography the most detailed resume of Morton's life and career I'd read was in an issue of "Book and Magazine Collector" so I was itching to get my hands on "In Search of H.V. Morton".
Of course there's always a danger that biographies will alter one's perspective on the character of the subject, and that's certainly the case with this book. I wanted H.V. Morton to be an old fashioned English gentleman, upholding the virtues of gallantry, decency and fair play for all that seem to be as difficult to find as Morton's own vision of a solid, unchanging rural England. Of course, the truth was somewhat different. Bartholomew's research amongst Morton's own diaries and unpublished memoirs produced evidence that Morton's character was quite deeply flawed and difficult to sympathise with. He was, apparently, a serial adulterer past the point of seediness. He seemed to have little genuine, selfless feeling for his wives or even for his children. His political views, such as they were, included sympathy for Nazism, anti-democratic feeling, white supremacy, racism and a decided dislike of the lower classes. Not the most pleasant of chaps, you might think. There is another view of the man though, and Bartholomew does a reasonable job of balancing Morton's profile. His political views were mostly confined to the private musings of his diaries and I suspect that its fair to say that his apparent bigotry was probably not too far removed from the general attitude of men from his background, born in the 1890s. His writing on Ireland and Turkey revealed a more liberal side to his nature and he is generally willing to acknowledge that Scotland, Ireland and Wales haven't always had the best of deals from his apparently beloved England. He was quite prepared to fight to the death with his Home Guard unit if necessary, despite apparent German sympathies and he suffered guilt attacks for his repeated infidelities ( and so he should !).
Michael Bartholomew has produced a determinedly truthful, informative and eminently readable account of a man who left behind a leagacy of truly excellent travel writing. That Morton's character doesn't meet the expectations of his readers shouldn't matter...as Bartholomew points out, it's the narrator who takes us out in a little motor car, not Morton himself. The tours may not have been as solitary and seamless as they often appear...they may have been written primarily for financial gain ... they almost certainly weren't as random in route as was claimed but they'll be remembered for as long as someone loves their subjects - that's the true measure of the man.