For some reason, I have always associated HE Bates with such comic writers as PG Wodehouse and EF Benson. This notion was without having read him, mind. But the stories in The Woman Who Had Imagination are not at all what I expected.
Most of the stories in this collection are set in rural localities and are about ordinary country people. Many of them are closer to character sketches than plotted stories. “The Lily,” for example, describes Great-Uncle Silas, a lively, vulgar old man who likes his jokes and his “mouthful of wine.” A later story describes the circumstances of his death.
Many of the stories depict characters caught in their environments, such as “The Story Without an End,” which describes the life of a boy working in a restaurant who is terrified of his boss, or the title story about a bored young man on a church choir expedition who meets a young woman unhappy in her marriage.
Although the descriptions of rural settings are beautifully written, many of the stories in this collection depict the lives of people who are depressed by the limitations of their lives. However, that is not always the case. In “Sally Go Round the Moon,” a man helps his niece by marriage escape the life she hates in London and then decides to leave himself.
To give you a flavor of the lushness of these stories, here is part of the description of great-uncle Silas’ house from “The Lily”:
On summer days after rain the air was sweetly saturated with the fragrance of the pines, which mingled subtly with the exquisite honeysuckle scent, the strange vanilla heaviness from the creamy elderflowers in the garden hedge and the perfume of old pink and white crimped-double roses of forgotten names. It was very quiet there except for the soft, water-whispering sound of leaves and boughs, and the squabbling and singing of birds in the house-thatch and the trees.