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4.5 out of 5 stars
The Feast of July
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on 14 May 2015
I love this story, so funny & clever. Except it is not a "story", it is true!
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 14 December 2016
Set in the late nineteenth century, H.E. Bates' 'The Feast of July' focuses on Bella Ford, a young working-class woman, who is abandoned by her lover, Arch Wilson, and finding herself pregnant, leaves her home with the intention of finding Arch and making him face up to his responsibilities. After an arduous journey, during which she is caught in the snow and forced to find shelter in a stone hovel, Bella loses her baby, and feeling very unwell and extremely embittered by her ordeal, she arrives in the town of Nenweald where Arch Wilson is supposed to be living, now filled with hatred for him. At Nenweald, Bella meets Ben Wainwright, a 'Good Samaritan' of sorts, who realizes that all is not well with Bella and takes her home to his family, where he informs her that no one by the name of Arch Wilson lives locally. The Wainwright family, which consists of Ben's wife; his three sons: Con, Jedd and Matty; and his daughter, Nell, welcome Bella into their home and as she recovers her beauty and interest in life, all three of the sons become very attracted to her. And Bella finds herself becoming drawn to the three Wainwright men, who are all quite different to one another, and whose differing personalities she responds to in various ways. Con, however, the most passionate and quick-tempered of the three, appears to make the most headway with Bella, but when Arch Wilson finally makes a reappearance, a series of events are set in motion that have significant and lasting consequences - not for just Bella and Con, but for the whole Wainwright family.

Although a brief novel (just under 200 pages) and there is much that the reader does not know about these characters and about their inner thoughts and motivations, H.E. Bates is able to conjure up in a few words and sentences what some writers may need paragraphs to portray, and by focusing only on what the reader needs to know, the author is able to keep the momentum of his story moving swiftly to its climax. In addition, his descriptions of the English landscape are beautifully accomplished, and his writing of the changing seasons and of the effect the weather has on his protagonists, is vividly and evocatively executed. Although I have never been interested in reading the author's 'Pop Larkin' series of novels and I was unsure about whether this particular novel was my sort of book (it was given to me as a present), I enjoyed it much more than I initially thought I would and I am now interested in reading and reviewing the author's 'Love for Lydia' .

4 Stars.
2 people found this helpful
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on 5 June 2003
H E Bates is an author whose reputation has declined somewhat in recent years. During his lifetime, and for about two decades after his death in 1974, he was one of the most popular authors in Britain. Interest in him reached a peak in the early 1990s when his “Larkin Family” novels were serialised on television. In my view, those are far from being his best works, but the series was a huge success, tapping as it did into a vein of rural nostalgia and introducing to public view the most beautiful young actress that Britain has produced for many years. Since then, however, that interest has declined and, apart from the Larkin books and one or two wartime stories, his works are now largely out of print.
“The Feast of July” is one of those neglected works. Its setting is a small town in the East Midlands, probably during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. The mood, however, is not one of nostalgia. Like Hardy’s “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, the book deals with a young unmarried mother who is abandoned by her seducer and whose child dies in infancy. While searching for her lover, the heroine, Bella Ford, arrives as a homeless and friendless stranger in town, where she is rescued and befriended by Ben Wainwright, a shoemaker, and his family. (Shoemaking is the principal industry of the area). Bella is welcomed into the family and becomes like a daughter to them, especially after their own daughter dies. Ben and his wife have three sons, and, after brief dalliances with the two younger boys, she eventually finds love with the eldest, Con. The climax of the story comes on the Feast of July, a traditional festival in the area, celebrating the first crops of the new season. Bella’s lover Arch Wilson reappears in her life, provoking a confrontation that ends tragically.
The novel is reminiscent of Hardy in more ways than one. There is the book’s late Victorian/Edwardian setting (although it was not written until the 1950s). There is the triangular relationship between Bella, Con and Arch, which parallels that between Tess, Angel and Alec. Most importantly, there is Bates’s deep love of the countryside, which he shares with the earlier writer. Although the Wainwrights live in an industrial town, it is small enough for the surrounding countryside to be an inescapable presence in the lives of its inhabitants. The Feast, second only to Christmas in importance in the area, is celebrated by town and country dwellers alike, and the townspeople are expected to set aside their normal work to join in the harvest. Throughout the book we are made aware of the changing of the seasons; most of the chapters start with a reference to the time of year, to the weather and to the changing landscape. (Winter, when the demand for shoes is depressed, is a time of hardship even for industrial workers). As in many of Bates’s other novels, the beauty of countryside in its changing moods is described with what the Times Literary Supplement described as “lyrical intensity”.
It would be wrong to see this novel as merely a pastiche of Victorian writing. Bates’s style is terse and urgent, rather than the more discursive style favoured in nineteenth century literature. As a result, this is a brief novel of about 200 pages; a Victorian novelist dealing with this theme would in all likelihood have done so at much greater length. This brevity of style has its drawbacks. The characters are less developed than they would have been in a longer work; Arch Wilson, in particular, is a two-dimensional figure, a plot device rather than a believable character (whereas Alec d’Urberville emerges as a complex and credible human being). Nevertheless, brevity has its advantages as well. By concentrating on the essentials, Bates develops his plot with a speed and urgency that gives the impression of events rushing to a headlong climax and makes the culminating tragedy seem all the more terrible and inevitable.
This, then, is a fine piece of writing, evidence that Bates deserves to be remembered as more than the creator of the dreary Larkin clan and as the man who unwittingly gave her big break to Catherine Zeta Jones. Let us hope that the recent decision by ITV to repeat The Darling Buds of May will lead to a revival of interest in Bates generally. The publishers could help by reissuing this and some of his other novels (Love for Lydia, The Distant Horns of Summer and The Jacaranda Tree are examples that come to mind).
35 people found this helpful
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on 23 April 2009
Betrayed by her lover, Bella Ford sets out on a journey to find him and exact her revenge. Instead, however, her arduous search brings her to the home of the Wainwright family: the pious and good-natured Wainwright, his tough and uncompromising wife, their daughter, Nell and their three very different sons, sensitive Matty, quick-tempered Con and sedate Jedd. Slowly, and in their individual ways the Wainrights restore Bella's trust and, sharing the hardships and pleasure of their lives, she again finds happiness and love. Then, at the traditional Feast of July, the past comes crashing back into Bella's life, and with it, violent and terrible tragedy.
4 people found this helpful
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on 20 August 2008
A wonderful book - admittedly the author is one of my all-time favourites - and its warmth and human understanding are beautiful and timeless. Bates' portrayal of the countryside is perfect as usual. I read it avidly, unusual for a slow reader like me. I felt so close to the 'heroine'.

The plot has been described in the synopsis and by other reviewer, so I wont repeat here.

I fully agree with the other reviewer, except in his criticism of the Larkin series. They were my introduction to Bates at the age of 13, and nearly 50 years later I still think they were / are wonderful. They are meant to be fun, and I think the reviewer takes them too seriously. They represent an urge in many of us to (successfully) buck the system - represented here by the tax man Charlie - and also are a lovely evocation of life in the fifties (my childhood days !). Okay - maybe a bit ott and unrealistic in parts, but dreary ?. Never.
10 people found this helpful
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