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Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man (1928)

by Siegfried Sassoon

Other authors: Paul Fussell (Editor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston (1)

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7281331,295 (3.81)46
George Sherston develops from a shy and awkward child, through shiftless adolescence, to an officer just beginning to understand the horrors of trench warfare. The world he grows up in, of village cricket and loyal grooms, had vanished forever by the time Sassoon wrote this book, but he captures it with a lyricism and gentleness that defy nostalgia. A bestseller on publication in 1928, this superb evocation of the Edwardian age has remained in print ever since. It was the first volume of a classic trilogy, completed by Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress, that charted both the destruction of the world for which Sassoon fought, and his own emergence as one of Britain's finest war poets.… (more)
  1. 00
    Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: These two books are best read along with Sassoon's third in the triology, Sherston's Progress
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» See also 46 mentions

English (12)  Dutch (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I agree with Sir Geoffrey Keynes, who wrote the introduction to my edition, that there’s something a little immature about this poet’s first attempt at a novel. But that plays to the book’s advantage by coming across as the authentic voice of its young protagonist. The subject matter is typical English-pastoral turn of the 20th century stuff: fox hunting, cricket, tea and sandwiches, and so forth. Its overall effect is superbly evocative of the era and a disappearing way of life. The pace of the novel is quite slow, but this is a book of the sort one reads for its characters rather than plot. Eventually, and inevitably, the storm of war arrives and the careless days of fox hunting that fill the first two-thirds of the novel throw the tragedy of conflict into a striking and, indeed, moving contrast.

I take a close look at my (Limited Editions Club) edition on my book blog: https://ubiquitousbooks.wordpress.com/2020/08/01/memoirs-of-a-fox-hunting-man/ ( )
  ubiquitousuk | Jun 30, 2022 |
MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN is the first volume of a trilogy, THE COMPLETE MEMOIRS OF GEORGE SHERSTON, Siegfried Sassoon's thinly-veiled fictional autobiography. It chronicles the early life of Sassoon's fictional alter ego. Sherston parents died "before I was capable of remembering them," and he was raised by his maiden Aunt Evelyn. He was home-schooled by a private tutor until he was twelve, then attended a private boarding school before going to university at Cambridge. But he dropped out of college and went back home to live the life of a country gentleman, supported by a generous trust fund. Much of his practical education comes from his aunt's hired man and groom, Tom Dixon, who instructs young George in the intricacies of cricket (a sport which still mystifies this Yank reader), horsemanship and the hunt. I must confess that I found much of this less than interesting and skimmed much of it.

I was much more intrigued by the final two chapters: "In the Army" and "At the Front." Sherston, at 28, through his fox-hunting connections, managed to secure a commission, went through some perfunctory officer training, and, shipped over to France, and ended up on the Somme, where he lost a few close friends and learned some very hard lessons. This volume ends there. The real story of Sassoon's war comes in the next book, MEMOIRS OF AN INFANTRY OFFICER, which I hope to read one day soon.

I became interested in Sassoon's life through Pat Barker's fictional WWI REGENERATION trilogy, which featured Sassoon as a central character, along with Dr William Rivers, the psychiatrist who treated him. Loved the Barker books and will recommend them highly. This book I would recommend only as an introduction to Sassoon and his early pre-war life.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Nov 30, 2017 |
This fictionalized memoir was interesting, but assumed a vocabulary and contextual knowledge of pre-World War 1 England that few today have. I was able to deduce or ignore some of the fox-hunting terms, but references to now forgotten British popular authors escaped me. The real interest for me begins when Sasson's alter ego enlists in the army. ( )
  nmele | Mar 8, 2016 |
Unless, as most likely, Memoirs of a fox-hunting man was conceived as the first volume in the planning of the writing of the trilogy, the other two volumes to follow, being Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress, the first volume is quaintly unbalanced. It seems that the first part of the novel takes up too much, while the second part is relatively short.

However, it is this odd structure which lends Memoirs of a fox-hunting man its exceptional power. The first part of this autobiographical novel, which describes the early life of George Sherston (i.e. Siegfried Sassoon) appears as an endlessly long Indian Summer. Sherston is described as a young, upper-middle class, but not quite aristocratic boy who grows into adolescence, and quite apparently not bothered by schooling or the need to look for employment. Instead, he spends his time horse-riding. In the first 230 pages, or thereabout, social life in the English countrside is described from the point of view of the landed gentry. The purchase and learning to ride a horse, participating in a fox hunt, and the first steps of entering the social class just above his own level, George Sherston lives a laid-back life through the ever sunny summers of the Edwardian era. It was the backdrop to the life style that would be obliterated and completely disappear after World War I.

As young George Sherston reaches maturity he enlists in the army, and following mobilization finds himself at first under arms in England before being sent over to the front. This part of the book takes barely 50 pages, two chapters, of which only the last is about the experiences at the front. This chapter, however, still very much describes the experience of the Great War as a comradely, upper-class affair, with few gruesome details and room for poetry. Although it forms a grim contrast to the preceding part of the novel, in a way, it is still an extension of the priviledged life style of the upper classes.

Siegfried Sassoon is mostly known for his poetry, including his war poetry. Memoirs of a fox-hunting man is an autobiographical novel, and as such offers a first-hand experience of an author, and exceptionally brave soldier, who lived through the ordeal of the trench war. It describes a life style that was destroyed through the event of the Great War. ( )
2 vote edwinbcn | Nov 9, 2014 |
Hard to believe it's been ten years since Britain banned traditional fox hunting. I was working for the BBC when the ban came in, and I remember going up to spend a day with one hunt in the midlands, filming them as they defiantly flouted the act, and then following them down to London for yet another huge tweed-clad protest outside Parliament. It was widely bruited about that animal welfare was just a smokescreen for a more sinister attack on country life by the urban classes.

The ban marked the formal end to an era that was, I suppose, in practice already long gone – the time of local hunts that brought small country communities together, ruddy-faced farmers doffing their caps as the squire rode past in hunting pink, everyone knowing everyone else and everyone knowing their place. Nowadays these same picturesque little villages are more likely to hold bankers on weekend retreats, adulterous retirees, and women pulling in six figures selling gold lamé tea-towels on Etsy.

Anyway, it's that lost world of rural Britain that is evoked in this affecting memoir – fictionalised memoir, I should say, because Sassoon also wrote some ‘straight’ non-fiction versions of his childhood, which most critics seem to think were less interesting than this putative novel. It is full of very beautiful Hardyesque descriptions of the English countryside:

To watch the day breaking from purple to dazzling gold while we trotted up a deep-rutted lane; to inhale the early freshness when we were on the sheep-cropped uplands; to stare back at the low country with its cock-crowing farms and mist-coiled waterways; thus to be riding out with a sense of spacious discovery – was it not something stolen from the lie-a-bed world and the luckless city workers – even though it ended in nothing more than the killing of a leash of fox-cubs? (for whom, to tell the truth, I felt an unconfessed sympathy).

Many of these descriptions are shot through with a generalised melancholy (‘It is with a sigh that I remember simple moments such as those, when I understood so little of the deepening sadness of life…’), whose source looms up through the text although it is rarely mentioned. Instead we just have an uneasy sense that everything we read about has somehow been lost, and this gave the detailed explanations of fox hunting an interest that they wouldn't otherwise have had for me.

I knew Sassoon as a war poet, of course, but this book showed me a completely new side to him – dry, witty, full of a kind of naïve and faux-pompous enthusiasm that allows for some admirable characterisations – of hens (‘the providers of that universally respected object, the egg’), for instance, or a local churchwarden (‘his impressive demeanour led us to suppose that, if he was not yet on hat-raising terms with the Almighty, he at any moment expected to be’). Supporting characters have cartoonish names like Nigel Croplady, Fred Buzzaway, Joe Barless, and Sir Jocelyn Porteus-Porteous (‘note the majestic variation in spelling’).

All of this Edwardian badinage only makes it the more painful when he sees his cosy world come crashing down with the outbreak of the First World War, a narrative intrusion that is carefully held off until near the end of the book. It's consequently quite horrific to head off to the trenches with such a jovial narrator after endless chapters of cheerful rural pranks – like seeing Bertie Wooster given a rifle and thrown in a dug-out.

Our narrator's natural Conservatism and patriotism evaporate on exposure to the realities of trench warfare. And the measured judgements of this cheerful innocent are much more powerful than any number of angry denunciations from other quarters.

To him, as to me, the War was inevitable and justifiable. Courage remained a virtue. And that exploitation of courage, if I may be allowed to say a thing so obvious, was the essential tragedy of the War, which, as everyone now agrees, was a crime against humanity.

This is the first of three volumes, the second and third of which focus more closely on Sassoon's wartime experiences. But he clearly wants to root their power in this long, dreamy remembrance of pre-war country life, so that we all understand what was lost. For me it worked well. (And if you're one of those ‘humanitarian cranks’ who worry about animal cruelty, I'm pretty sure they barely catch a single fox in the whole book.) ( )
6 vote Widsith | Apr 27, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Siegfried Sassoonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fussell, PaulEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Derville, GeorgeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hogarth, PaulIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnston, ArnridIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lamb, LyntonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lascelles, AlanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nicholson, WilliamIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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George Sherston develops from a shy and awkward child, through shiftless adolescence, to an officer just beginning to understand the horrors of trench warfare. The world he grows up in, of village cricket and loyal grooms, had vanished forever by the time Sassoon wrote this book, but he captures it with a lyricism and gentleness that defy nostalgia. A bestseller on publication in 1928, this superb evocation of the Edwardian age has remained in print ever since. It was the first volume of a classic trilogy, completed by Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Sherston's Progress, that charted both the destruction of the world for which Sassoon fought, and his own emergence as one of Britain's finest war poets.

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