I bought my Penguin paperback of this "best of" selection in Blackwell's, Oxford, in 1980: 19 stories culled from half-a-dozen collections published in the Twenties. Coppard (1878 - 1957) was one of those tenacious autodidacts who arrive at a career in literature through a kind of intuition and whose grasp on the human situations that catch their interest is wholly unforced. The two "rural writers" to whom he is most often compared are Hardy and HE Bates, but he has none of the former's cosmic vengeance or the latter's sentimentality. Though any amount of bad things happen, none is strictly classifiable as tragedy: Coppard's philosophy is a shoulder-shrugging, sympathetic "That's how it is". Doris Lessing, who met him 50 years ago, noted "a sparrow's eye view, sharp, wry, surviving, and not one who can quarrel with the savage economies of the field of the hedgerow". One day there will be a Coppard revival, and it will start with Dusky Ruth's centrepiece, "The Higgler", 30 sparsely written pages about a rural love affair that might have been, and one of the best short stories in the language.
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