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The Wainwright Letters
ISBN 978-0-7112-3133-7
Published by Frances Lincoln

Wainwright Letters - edited by Hunter DaviesHunter Davies’ new book, The Wainwright Letters, has just been published and, as he acknowledged at the recent Memorial Lecture, has caused some controversy regarding the inclusion of love letters from Wainwright to Betty.

It is a pity that only this aspect of the book has been seized upon for comment as there is so much more within the 400 pages of letters that adds to our knowledge and understanding of Alfred Wainwright. The content of the love letters is not entirely new as 33 of the 53 letters included were reproduced, in whole or in part, in Davies’ biography of AW, published in 1995. The years when AW was married to Betty was a time of great personal happiness and became the most creative in terms of the number and variety of books that were published. For this reason, it was right to include the story of their courtship in this book.

The letters are arranged in groups in, roughly, chronological order. In the main, these are collections of letters to one individual or other homogenous groupings, such as family, friends or fans. The letters have been linked together with a commentary to give the reader additional biographical details or as an explanation to references within the text of the letter. Even though I was well-versed with the content of the biography, I found this a useful feature of the book and, for newcomers, it is an essential aid as it sets each letter in its rightful context.

One disappointing feature of the published book is the number of typographical errors in the text that have been not been corrected. Wainwright would have been horrified if such mistakes had appeared in his later typeset books. Essentially, this is a book of Wainwright’s material and more care should have been taken to ensure that it met AW’s rigorous standards.

However, that criticism apart, this is a book that all Wainwright fans should read. Contained within its pages is a Wainwright not seen in his other books – a writer who demonstrates complete mastery of the art of communication in every situation. A whole range of human emotions are displayed: humour, anger, tenderness, love, and compassion. Given Wainwright’s perceived public persona, it is a surprising revelation.

For those who wish to know more about Wainwright, there are hitherto missing pieces of the jigsaw that all help to fill in some of the gaps: some extra details about his 1931 tour of the Lake District, the admission that he had not climbed a number of the Lake District’s fells before he started on his Guides and many other nuggets waiting for the reader to discover.

Through these letters, Wainwright is shown to be far more than a writer and illustrator of guidebooks. He is a man whose pen is able to convey the real power of the written word. It will be a wonderful resource for future writers to use when assessing Alfred Wainwright’s place within twentieth-century literature.

Derek Cockell – Blundeston
Member No. 13


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