Reading in Devon: Eden Phillpotts

The Reader Organisation will be taking Read to Lead to Devon at the end of this month, but we’re already enjoying shared reading in an area which has lots of literary links. Get Into Reading South West Project Worker Emily Lezzeri has already introduced us to Robert Herrick’s presence in Devon, and now she shares with us a profile of another of the region’s most associated writers…

“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”- Eden Phillpotts – Scribe of the Moor (1862 – 1960)

Eden Phillpotts is to Dartmoor as Thomas Hardy is to Dorset: a writer firmly entrenched in geography. Phillpotts was born in India but moved to Devon as a young boy, his childhood holidays being spent exploring the wilds of the local area. His love of this wilderness eventually produced what has become known as ‘The Dartmoor Series’; eighteen novels all set in and around various nooks, crannies and villages of Dartmoor. Having grown up on the edge of Dartmoor myself, I was keen to explore some of my local, literary heritage.

Eden Phillpotts is not a well-known writer, I only recently came across some of his novels when visiting the house of a friend. The blue plaque at the front of the house announced that Eden Phillpotts had lived and died there; my friend admitted to not knowing much about him but she did show me their downstairs toilet which was full of his novels (“no reflection on him, we’ve run out of bookshelves”).

When visiting Dartmoor you cannot fail but bump into granite stones (often quite literally if the mists come up, as they frequently do). Phillpotts described the wonders of the stones in his novel ‘The Mother’:

Lifted here by the toil of a departed race, their mystery is hidden, their secret is shrouded perhaps for ever; yet those best skilled in prehistoric story judge that they stand for ceremonial, and suspect that within these circles the dead were brought for final rites of fire before they sank into their urns, to be deposited far from the homes of the living.

Much to my fascination and terror, stories of the dead filled my moor-based childhood; from Jay’s Grave near Manaton (where fresh flowers mysteriously appear every night), to the roaming, ghostly hounds of Richard Cabell of Buckfastleigh (the evil squire that inspired Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles) to the infamous Hairy Hands legend. These stories honed my fledgling imagination and have given me a life-long love of narrative with a twist; as a project worker for The Reader Organisation I recently read Poe’s “The Raven” at one of my Get Into Reading groups in Exeter. (I have to admit that the atmosphere was somewhat spoiled when one of the group members talked about the Simpsons episode based on the poem, the image of Bart in a velvet smoking jacket sent shivers of laughter not fear down our spines).

If you are coming to Devon for the Read to Lead course (or for any other reason) make sure you get up to Dartmoor and soak up the mysterious atmosphere. Why not read one of Eden Phillpott’s novels while you’re there? I’d like to end with my favourite Phillpotts’ quote (and anyone who has seen me trying to surf on some of Devon’s beautiful beaches will understand why!):

 “You never know what a fool you can be till life gives you the chance.”

Devon is indeed a place full of literary delights, which is why we’re taking Read to Lead to Dartington Hall from 29th-31st October. Some places are still available on the course; book now to make the most of shared reading somewhere perfect for doing so.

To sign up, or for more information on the course and booking, contact roisinhyland@thereader.org.uk or call 0151 207 7207.

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