Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wainwright Letters - Edited by Hunter Davies - Frances Lincoln

Alfred Wainwright has always been a source of fascination to the thousands of devotees his idiosyncratic guidebooks have attracted and first up I have to admit to being one of those devotees and perhaps somewhat obsessive about him. I believe I own every book he ever wrote, yes including all those treasured little fell walking guides, as well as all titles written about him. So of course I just had to get this latest addition to the Wainwright oeuvre.
It arrived safely in the mail from the UK last week and I have spent many a happy hour nosing into Wainwright's private life via this truly fascinating collection of letters selected  by his biographer Hunter Davies (Wainwright:The Biography).

Who is this man then?
Alfred Wainwright, known to all and sundry as AW, the legendary fell walker and author of the incomparable and unique Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells was also a fluent, eloquent and diligent correspondent. Writing to old friends and to the many new ones gained through his books, and to his love, and later second wife, Betty, his letters display a much warmer, more sensitive and emotional character than his gruff popular image would suggest.
Hunter Davies, Wainwright's biographer, has here collected a selection of letters that range from his early years in Blackburn to his established position as Borough Treasurer in Kendal, and cover all aspects of his professional and personal life, as well as the voluminous correspondence that was a consequence of writing and publishing the Pictorial Guides. The latter vividly illuminate many aspects of that turbulent but ultimately triumphant process, while the former present a picture of a dedicated public servant whose personal life had been deeply unhappy until late in life he found unexpected but transcendent love and happiness.
In turn business-like and comic, wonderfully well informed and remarkably innocent, deeply moving and yet tough-minded, the letters present a vivid and unforgettable picture of one of the great but eccentric creative geniuses of the twentieth century.
This 416 page hardback is an absolute must for every Wainwright nut like me. Not sure how many such folk there are in NZ (?) but they are legion in the UK and on the few times I have walked parts of his famous Coast to Coast Walk I have had the pleasure of getting into conversation with some of them.
My thanks to Hunter Davies and publishers Frances Lincoln for another view into the life of this extraordinary man.
Published by Frances Lincoln on 6 October - 20 pds.

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