Enjoyed a great evening at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake on Thursday, for an on-stage conversation with Eric Robson about classic Keswick author Hugh Walpole.The Theatre will be premiering its new dramatisation of Walpole’s novel Rogue Herries on 23 March (full details from http://www.theatrebythelake.com/) and they kindly invited us over to talk about Walpole, his work, and why the reputation of this once leading novelist has faded, so that he’s now remembered, if at all, almost entirely for his Cumberland tetralogy.
Eric is a Walpole enthusiast and expert, with an impressive collection of rare volumes of his work. He has made a fine film, Herries Lakeland introducing Walpole by way of the Cumbrian places he wrote about and lived in. Eric has also written the introductions to the recent reprints of the novels. He suggested that Walpole’s death in 1943 had been badly timed: writers who died during the war tended to be quickly forgotten and the paper shortage meant books weren’t reprinted. Walpole was also ridiculed in Maugham’s novel Cakes and Ale as a selfish social climbing opportunist – an unfair caricature of a far more complex (and generous) man.
I made the suggestion too that Walpole, as above all a teller of rattling good stories, doesn’t fit in with the Modernist narrative of the English novel – even though Virginia Woolf and Henry James were both his close friends. Walpole is a descendant of Scott and akin to Buchan – unpretentious but highly readable, a storyteller above all, with a cinematic imagination that made him a natural when he went to Hollywood in 1934 for a spell as a successful screen writer.Read the witch-drowning episode in Rogue Herries, the burning of Fell House in Vanessa or the bleakly terrifying duel between Uhland and John Herries in The Fortress if you want to see Walpole at his dark and terrifying greatest. Or order Tarnhelm: The Best Supernatural Stories of Hugh Walpole from Tartarus Press.
I think we gave a lively and balanced view of Walpole, and we had great fun doing it, and meeting old friends and new upstairs in the Theatre bar afterwards. Do come if you can to see Rogue Herries at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake. And if anyone from BBC or Granada TV is reading this, why don’t you think about a full-scale dramatisation of the Herries novels? The world’s best locations are there waiting for you, and you could have a Lakeland Downton on your hands.