Bottengoms Farm, Little Horkesley Rd, Wormingford, Colchester CO6 3AP, UK
Ronald George Blythe CBE (born 6 November 1922) is a British writer, essayist and editor, best known for his work Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village (1969), an account of agricultural life in Suffolk from the turn of the century to the 1960s. Until recently he wrote a long-running and considerably praised weekly column in the Church Times entitled Word from Wormingford. Blythe recalled how when Arthur Lett-Haines and Cedric Morris lived in Newlyn, there was a feeling of Cornwall in the colour of the house and a definite whiff of the Mediterranean in the food and wine. The atmosphere was one of intellectual freedom. Everything was discussed. It was Bohemian in the best sense. Lett and Cedric were open about their homosexuality at a time when it was illegal to have such a relationship and they also conducted a fight against the phlistinism of their day. The whole atmosphere was exciting and liberating.
Blythe was born in Acton, Suffolk; he was to be the eldest of six children. His father, who had seen action in the First World War at Gallipoli and in Palestine, came from generations of East Anglian farmers and farm workers. His mother was from London and had worked as a VAD nurse during the war. Blythe can remember as a child seeing the sugar beet being farmed by men in army greatcoats and puttees. He was educated at St Peter's and St Gregory's school in Sudbury, Suffolk, and grew up exploring churches, architecture, plants and books. He was, he said, "a chronic reader", immersing himself in French literature and writing poetry.
Blythe briefly served during the Second World War and spent the ten years up to 1954 working as a reference librarian in Colchester, where he founded the Colchester Literary Society. Through his work at the library he met Christine Nash, wife of the artist John Nash; she was looking for the score of Idomeneo. Christine Nash introduced Blythe to her husband, inviting him to their house, Bottengoms Farm near Wormingford on the border of Essex and Suffolk; he visited first in 1947. She later encouraged his ambitions to be a writer, finding him a small house on the Suffolk coast near Aldeburgh. For three years in the late 1950s Blythe worked for Benjamin Britten at the Aldeburgh Festival, editing programmes and doing pieces of translation. He met E. M. Forster, was briefly involved with Patricia Highsmith, spent time with the Nashes, and was part of the bohemian world associated with the artists of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing at Benton End near Hadleigh, run by Cedric Morris and Arthur Lett-Haines. "I was a poet but I longed to be a painter like the rest of them," Blythe told The Guardian. "What I basically am is a listener and a watcher. I absorb, without asking questions, but I don't forget things, and I was inspired by a lot of these people because they worked so hard and didn't make a fuss. They just lived their lives in a very independent and disciplined way."
In 1960 Blythe published his first book, A Treasonable Growth, a novel set in the Suffolk countryside. His The Age of Illusion, a collection of essays exploring the social history of life in England between the wars, appeared in 1963. That book led to his being asked to edit a series of classics for the Penguin English Library, beginning with Jane Austen's Emma and continuing with work by Hazlitt, Thomas Hardy and Henry James. There were short stories and book reviews, and Blythe later prepared a number of anthologies, including The Pleasure of Diaries (1989) and Private Words: Letters and Diaries from the Second World War (1991). In 1969 he published Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village, a fictionalised account of life in a Suffolk village from 1880 to 1966. Blythe based his book on conversations with the people of the community in which he lived. "When I wrote Akenfield," Blythe said, "I had no idea that anything particular was happening, but it was the last days of the old traditional rural life in Britain. And it vanished." The book is regarded as a classic of its type and was made into a film, Akenfield, by Peter Hall in 1974. When the film was aired it attracted fifteen million viewers; Blythe made an appearance as the vicar. "I actually haven't worked on this land but I've seen the land ploughed by horses," Blythe told The Guardian in 2011. "So I have a feeling and understanding in that respect – of its glory and bitterness."
In the 1970s Blythe nursed John Nash in ill health. His book The View in Winter is a consideration of old age. In 1977 Blythe inherited Bottengoms Farm from Nash, who had bought the Elizabethan yeoman's house in 1944. He later published a book, First Friends (1999), based on a trunk of letters he found in the house that recorded the friendship between the Nash brothers, John's future wife, Christine Külenthal, and the artist Dora Carrington. His life at Bottengoms and the landscape around his home became the subject of Blythe's long-running column, Word from Wormingford, in the Church Times. These meditative reflections on literature, history, the Church of England, and the natural world were subsequently collected together in a number of books, including A Parish Year (1998) and A Year at Bottengoms Farm (2007). A compilation of his work, Aftermath: Selected Writings 1960–2010, appeared in 2010. Blythe continues to live and work at Bottengoms. He never learned to drive and does not use a computer.
Blythe is a lay reader in the Church of England and a lay canon at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has been president of the John Clare Society since its foundation. His book, At Helpston, is a series of essays on the poet John Clare. In 2006 Blythe was awarded a Benson Medal for lifelong achievement by the Royal Society of Literature. Blythe was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 Birthday Honours for services to literature.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE
Bachelors of a Different Sort, Queer Aesthetics, Material Culture and the Modern Interior in Britain, by John Potvin