Vian Smith (1919-69) is best remembered for his Portrait of Dartmoor, but before his tragically early death he wrote over twenty books for adults and children, radio and television plays and a vast amount of journalism. Born in Totnes, descended from generations of Dartmoor hill farmers, he spent his life in South Devon and wrote about its landscapes and people with rare authority and passion.
‘He told me a tale which need not be true in the way that textbooks are true, but which is true of the moor and the mystery there; part of the cottage firelight where memory moves and sees what has never been, part of the starlight when shadows move where no shadow can possibly be’.
This wide selection from his work, made and introduced by fellow Totnesian Bob Mann, contains many of his Dartmoor writings from the ‘Portrait’ and from newspapers, as well as colourful guides to his home town and the riverside village of Dittisham, where he lived briefly after the Second World War.
Enter Vian Smith’s green country, and rediscover the unique vision of a major twentieth century regional writer.
From Bob Mann`s introduction
‘Reviewing the Portrait of Dartmoor in the Mid Devon Advertiser, Bernard Barnett, a former colleague, stated that with its publication, Vian Smith was no longer “novelist and dramatist only,” but had earned “the wider and more honourable title of writer.” He went on to suggest that, in the future, Vian might be remembered, with even more honour, simply as a “Dartmoor writer.’
‘Dartmoor is certainly pivotal to his work, but so, too, are the gentler South Devon lowlands surrounding it. Growing up in Totnes, with its river and satellite villages, mellow old buildings, narrow streets and green lanes, not forgetting its infinitely graded social strata, was vitally important in forming his vision. Rather than seeing him purely as a Dartmoor writer, I prefer to think of his imaginative territory, his “green country,” as embracing both the high moors and the red-soil landscapes below. Essentially it is Dart country; the river is the central thread, from the streams that begin high up in the bleak northern wastes, to the broad estuary he was born beside, and never lived far away from. Significantly, one of his favourite places was Dartmeet.’
‘At its most characteristic, his writing expresses a deep understanding of this country and the experiences of human beings within it, living and working against an elemental environment that can never be a mere picturesque backdrop … Like all the best country and landscape writers, he combines an appreciation of beauty which is at times almost visionary, with a simultaneous awareness of the reality of the struggle to make a living in a particular place. This puts him in the company of those authors who, while remaining close to their native landscapes, manage to express something universal within the intensely local: R.S.Thomas in Wales, George Mackay Brown in Orkney, Ronald Blythe in East Anglia.’
From the reviews
‘His writings reveal a deep love and understanding of the countryside and its people … a book for all lovers of Dartmoor.’
‘One of Dartmoor’s greatest writers … 170 pages of sparkling prose … It is only a snapshot of Smith´s oeuvre – but what a snapshot!‘
‘Green Country is a perfect sampler of Vian’s economic and highly individual style.’
‘A real treasure.’
Fine style and alert interest in the curious and out-of-the-way … a man of broad sympathies which glint in his work like mica in the dark granite of the land he knew so well.