The Old and the Young
English literature has a fine tradition of rural writing, and one of this century’s greatest exponents was Margiad Evans (1909-1958). Although born in Uxbridge, she was brought up near Ross-on-Wye, and it is the south Herefordshire borderlands, its farmsteads, hamlets and towns, which are the setting for The Old And The Young, her brilliant collection of short stories first published in 1948.
These fifteen stories are a distillation and refinement of all that is best in Evans’s writing. A close observer of nature, her descriptions of trees, water, rocks, the movement of air and the interplay of light and darkness, are both exact and fluid. She was equally attendant to the subtleties of the human world. Her child’s-eye narrations are remarkably empathetic, coloured and informed by memories of an idyllic year spent with her sister on her aunt’s farm near the Wye. But the countryside, though treasured, is not romanticised. A rose-covered cottage could mean isolation, poverty and back-breaking physical labour, as Evans herself experienced. Her sympathies with the old, the infirm, the lonely and the careworn are a constant strand.
In many of these stories, all but one written during the Forties, the hardships of rural living are exacerbated by the war. Men are absent, families are separated, women have to shoulder added burdens. This collection is testament to the quiet heroism of the home front, to the stoic resourcefulness of those who have no cenotaph. Indeed, in war or in peace, it is Evans’s ability to delineate the defining nature of small incidents, and to uncover in a precise locality moments of profound spirituality, which raise The Old And The Young to the level of a classic.