The West Country’s rich history is reflected in the number of books about local heritage that you find in its public libraries. Budleigh Salterton Library on Station Road is no exception. In the 400th year of Sir Walter’s death it’s good to see that there’s a fair number of titles on the shelf, which now carries a helpful poster as well as the following.
Not surprisingly, Raleigh’s tumultuous life has inspired a fair bit of fiction, so novels are included as well as history studies.
Anna Beer - Bess: The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter
Constable 2004 287 pp
Anna Beer’s book, it’s been said, aimed to show that Bess was ‘the hidden force behind Sir Walter Ralegh's spectacular public achievements, the stable point in his turbulent private life and the shrewd creator of his reputation after his death’. The result is ‘a perceptive and immensely enjoyable biography’.
One review complained that the book ‘is seriously flawed by what appears to be a personal bitterness’ on the part of the author, suggesting that for Raleigh she has ‘little but scorn’. I am not finding that to be the case.
Anna Beer’s particular interests as a biographer are ‘the relationship between literature, politics and history’ which she has explored in her 2008 life of John Milton and her 2016 study of the lives and work of female composers, Sounds and Sweet Airs: the forgotten women of classical music. She was Lecturer in Literature at the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford between 2003 and 2010, and remains a Fellow of Kellogg College.
The author is a professor emeritus of the University of Southampton and a visiting professor at the University of Reading. A barrister with a PhD in law and economics, he has worked at N. M. Rothschild, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Bank of England and written for the Financial Times. He is the author of Napoleon is Dead. ‘This is not only a thoughtful and precisely written work, but also an adventure story that sweeps the reader into another world,’ Elisabeth Stevenson in The Law Society Gazette.
This book was written as ‘a brief history of Exmouth, East Budleigh, Otterton, Bicton, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Topsham and Lympstone, with ‘a short life story of that great Englishman, Sir Walter Raleigh’.
Eric Raymond Delderfield was well known for his writings about West Country topics. He moved with his family to Devon in 1923, when his father, William James Delderfield, became editor of the Exmouth Chronicle. His brother Ronald became a well-known novelist. Eric published over sixty books and guides, plus a series of Brief Guides, condensed versions of his books ranging from regionals to churches and inn signs. He knew Exmoor and Devonshire well but also wrote about Yorkshire, the Lake District and the Cotswolds.
George Garrett – Death of the Fox: a novel about Raleigh Barrie & Jenkins 1971 739 pp Described as ‘a meticulous re-creation’ of Elizabethan and Stuart England, the novel forms a trilogy with The Succession and Entered from the Sun. Here the author delves into the story of Sir Walter Raleigh's fall from favour for alleged conspiracy against James I, transporting the reader, in one words of one review, to ‘a world of cunning, intrigue, and colorful abundance’.
George Palmer Garrett (1929-2008) was an American poet and novelist. He was the Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2002 to 2004. His other novels include The Finished Man and Double Vision. He worked as a book reviewer and screenwriter, and taught at Cambridge University and, for many years, at the University of Virginia.
Stephen J. Greenblatt – Sir Walter Raleigh: The Renaissance Man and his Roles. New Haven, CT Yale University Press 1973 209 pp
Based on the author’s doctoral thesis, the book is described by an American reviewer as ‘seeking to explore the ways in which Raleigh attempted “to fashion his own identity as a work of art”’.
Greenblatt, in the review’s words, ‘focuses on the contradictions within Raleigh’s life, his complex relation to the world he inhabited, and the inadequacy of the distinction between life and art in thinking about Raleigh’s life’.
Stephen Jay Greenblatt is a Pulitzer Prize winning American literary critic, theorist and scholar. He is Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. He is the author of many books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, Hamlet in Purgatory, Practicing New Historicism and Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Vermont.
Shaun McCarthy – Sir Walter Raleigh Heinemann Library 2002 48 pp
The book is described as presenting an account of Raleigh's life and explorations, and examines their impact on history and the world.
Author Shaun McCarthy has written books on a variety of subjects, many of them forming part of a series published for primary school children and students. On a similar subject was his book about James Cook, exploring how he got his start as a sailor and why he was chosen to lead an expansion to the South Pacific. Shaun McCarthy has also written study notes for students, including exam-focused analyses of texts ranging from the poems of Seamus Heaney to Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.
Local writer Lilian Sheppard described her book as ‘Historical Jottings of East Budleigh, Bicton, Salterton, Otterton and Withycombe’. It’s a useful chronicle of local places, buildings and people, written with the thought that the author is describing ‘scenes beloved of young Raleigh’. Here, as she writes in a Preface, ‘the first sixteen years of his life were spent wandering these lanes and fields and the wide, unspoiled beach at Salterton, where the Cliffs and grassy paths reached down to the water’s edge. Here, under his fascinated gaze, the laden ships made their way into the Otter-mouth to make harbor in Budleigh Haven. Thus, perhaps, the seeds of that indomitable spirit of adventure which came to rule his life, were sown irrevocably in that young heart.’
Andrew Sinclair – Sir Walter Raleigh and the Age of Discovery
Penguin Books, 1984 128 pp
This book was published to coincide with the launching of Operation Raleigh, after which two renovated ships - Sir Walter Raleigh and Zebu - carried 4,000 volunteers and almost 1,600 staff to take part in expeditions around the world until 1988.
So I find it very odd that there is no mention of Sir Walter on Raleigh International’s website at https://raleighinternational.org Its Patron, Sir Ralnulph Fiennes, was unable to give me any explanation for this.
The book, according to a description, ‘traces the life and accomplishments of the sixteenth-century British explorer, examines his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, and attempts to portray his complex personality’. Eton-educated Andrew Sinclair, born in 1935, is an amazingly prolific author, described as a historian, novelist, critic, filmmaker, editor and translator, and a founding member of Churchill College, Cambridge.
Alan Wall – The School of Night St Martin’s Secker & Warburg 2001 304 pp Described as ‘part scholarly mystery, part thriller, the plot of this novel opens when its narrator, BBC editor Sean Tallow, steals two Elizabethan-era tomes from a university library. In the ‘Hariot Notebooks’, as they are called, written by Sir Walter’s friend Thomas Hariot, he hopes to find reference to the enigmatic School of Night, a group of Elizabethans which possibly included the writer George Chapman and its reputed leader Sir Walter Raleigh.
Yorkshire-born Alan Wall studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford and is Professor of Writing and Literature at the University of Chester. His other novels include Bless the Thief and The Lightning Cage.
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