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on 29 October 2012
I enjoyed this book very much. I too was intrigued by the contrast between the suave friend we encounter in the great books and the `flawed` reality. We are all flawed and Morton lived through a time when it was particularly difficult to know what values could be trusted. It doesn`t diminish his great charm as a writer for me at all, but it is a fascinating portrait.
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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 Bartholomew's research amongst Morton's own diaries and unpublished memoirs produced evidence that Morton's character was quite deeply flawed and difficult to sympathise with.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.
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on 11 October 2016
Nice book - useful for my coming visit to England and my project "In Search of England 2017"
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on 14 August 2014
Superb biography of a not especially admirable man but fine writer and traveller. A man to be judged by the mores of his time
and not those of today
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on 20 September 2014
Excellent book.
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on 28 July 2008
I've bought,read and enjoyed many of H.V.Morton's travel books so I was naturally interested in buying and reading this biography. I have to say I enjoyed this book and Michael Bartholomew has done a good job in bringing the man back to life so we can understand what sort of man H V Morton was. The problem is he was absolutely not a nice man at all. It would appear this biography was written with the full support of Morton's family who gave Michael Bartholomew full access to Morton's unpublished papers. Why did the family do this ? - it's a mystery to me.Morton turns out to have been anti-semitic,a rascist of the worst kind,defeatist,hypocritical,and a serial adulterer with an addiction to bought sex. Did I really want to know all this? I don't think so.The reality is that the narrator of Morton's travel books is a fictional character with none of these faults so I think in retrospect it's better to leave this biography and stick to Morton's excellent travel books.I keep coming back to my central question - why on earth would the Morton family (who must have been well aware of the man's many and varied faults) have authorised this book? Very strange
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on 13 April 2017
"When I drew back the (hotel) bedroom's curtains, the moonlight printed itself green on the floor. It ran over the bed and lay slantwise upon a grim wardrobe that stood in the shadow of the ancient oak-beamed room. A proper Puckish night, with the green wash over hill and field, a night for elfin horns and mushroom rings and strange scurryings in thicket and copse. Somewhere near, a dog, unable to sleep and not knowing why - poor little lost wolf - whimpered restlessly." ‒ from In Search of England, the author in Shrewsbury

”Many a wild Highlander at that time in Edinburgh with his chieftain must have heard stories about (Mary, Queen of Scots), how she bathed her body in wine, how you could see her riding her horse full tilt for the gates with her court far behind scattered like a hunting field over the 'Royal Mile'; how sometimes on dark nights you might meet her stealing through the streets hiding her beauty beneath a manly cloak ... Perhaps a curtain would be pulled aside and this Highlander would see her for a second against the candlelight, with pearls shining in her hair. And he would ride his shaggy pony north through wild gorges, thinking of this queen, taking with him something of her beauty, her strangeness, her remoteness from anything Scotland had ever known, home to a lonely stone hut in the heart of the hills. So she became a legend at the age of eighteen ..." - from In Search of Scotland, the author in Edinburgh

"But always will I remember Old Edinburgh in the evening ... I like to linger on the hill in the dark, where winds whistle like swords and darkness creeps with an air of conspiracy." - from IN SEARCH OF SCOTLAND

“During and since the War the steps of the Fountain have been occupied by an untidy fringe of foreigners, provincials, soldiers, sailors, and their lady friends ... The centre of Piccadilly Circus, which used to look so lovely with its baskets of primroses and violets in spring, its roses in summer and its dahlias in autumn, is now, in my opinion, one of the most depressing and regrettable spectacles in the capital. I have an idea that sitting around Eros began during the War with the Americans, who chewed their gum there and mournfully smoked their cheroots, wondering why the heck they were in London." ‒ from in In Search of London

First off, it should be emphasized that one who’s not read any of the travel books by H.V. Morton, perhaps the Bill Bryson of his time and place, should not read IN SEARCH OF H.V. MORTON by Michael Bartholomew; it would mean nothing. Personally, I’ve read the three volumes quoted above plusIn Search of Wales. Morton’s prose, at times, reaches the sublime and I needed to know more about the author who wrote with such flair.

Bartholomew’s biography of Morton strove to distinguish Morton the travel writer from Morton the man, if indeed such was possible. His primary sources were incomplete diaries kept over the decades by his subject, as well as Morton’s unpublished (and incomplete) memoirs. The biographer appears to have stitched these inconstant sources together admirably to paint a reliable depiction of Morton the man against a backdrop of Morton the popular travel writer. It’s not very flattering to the former while giving due credit to the business acumen of the latter for penning books designed to appeal to his fans in the reading public.

I must assume that Bartholomew, in order to embark on this biography, initially regarded Morton with some amount of admiration and respect and perhaps bought into Morton’s myth of England at least a little. But, as his search evolved, Bartholomew became disappointed in his subject (to say the least) for the latter’s rampant infidelity to his two wives, his anti-Semitic and racist views, and his admiration of fascism and contempt for democracy. About the myth of England which served as the working basis for IN SEARCH OF ENGLAND, Bartholomew writes:

“Has my study of Morton purged me of the myth of an essentially arcadian England? Do I now see it plainly as an elaborate artifice, a myth constructed and manipulated by writers as skillful as Morton undoubtedly was … Obviously, yes, but I still cycle around the English lanes, and trudge the footpaths, faintly haunted by a residual shred of belief that I’ll pedal around a bend, or plod over a horizon, and suddenly find myself in the England for which Morton searched, and which – because it is, after all, a myth – he never found.”

But, let Morton speak for himself:

“I often ask myself why I love England so much. There is so much I detest about her: our Labour leaders, the crude, uneducated, spoilt lower classes, the Jews. And yet how small a thing this is compared with the grand sweep of history which is England, the green fields, the quiet rivers, the dark woods and the chalk downs, a lovely country inhabited by a race that is true and good at heart, brave and resolute, and, as human beings go, honest.”

I can assert with confidence, after having personally driven by car over England, Scotland and Wales to a greater extent than Morton ever did and perhaps Bartholomew ever has, that the myth can indeed be realized by one who usually lives so far from it across the sea. Perhaps Bartholomew is too close to it. England has not the magnificent grandeur of, say, the western United States or Switzerland, but it’s a green and pleasant realm with a fascinating history – a perfect mix of towns, villages, cathedrals, little churches, castles, hills, seashores, rivers, forests, and walled fields that makes my heart ache for it when I cannot be there. For all his many damning faults, Morton, for me, got it right on.
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on 26 April 2013
One of Bartholomew's interests behind the writing of this book was to examine the widespread and powerful belief that the real England, the soul of Englishness, was encapsulated in the architecture, moral values and disappearing working practices of Ye Olde English country village. H V Morton's `In Search of England', that went through 29 Editions between 1927- 43, interested Bartholomew as both an encapsulation of that myth and possibly one of the means by which it was actually shaped for a readership traumatised by WW1 and increasingly living in industrial cities. Unfortunately this argument has got rather lost in examining the methods of Morton's book production and the marked discrepancy between the portrayed character of the narrator of Morton's journeys and that shown in his personal life and private writings. Which is not to say that these are not interesting topics, well, but not exhaustively examined.

People do not want to know whether their idols have feet of clay should beware biography.

Personally, this book has sent me back to re-reading Morton's travel books on the Middle East; `In the Steps of the Master',' In the Steps of St Paul' and `Through the Lands of the Bible', which are still a vivid picture of an area now changed almost beyond recognition.
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on 3 July 2013
Having read 'In Search of England' I was expecting H V Morton to be an entirely different person than this book shows him to have been, so I haven't kept it in my library
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on 25 May 2009
So now I know: the HVM of the books is not the HVM of real life. I have been reading HVM's books since I was a boy and never thought to question how autobiographical (or otherwise) his books were. "In Search of HV Morton" sheds a whole new (and in places unpleasant) light on his life. But the abiding impression is that HVM was a surprisingly clever journalist who wrote exactly the sort of slightly nostalgic literature his post-WW1 readers wanted to read, did so in smooth-as-oil-on-silk English, did his homework (mainly historical) thoroughly (journalistic training under Beaverbrook!), and - quite deliberately - hid his real self almost completely.
HVM-lovers might hate this new book because it destroys "HVM" myth and reveals him as an egocentric and male chauvinist adulterer, but are also just as likely to gain new respect for HVM's other talents.
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