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Fair Stood the Wind for France
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Michael Joseph
Saturday Evening Post
Woman's Journal
Publication Year
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Film & Television
Radio Dramatizations
available as ebook
War, Youth

London: Michael Joseph, 1944 (November); Boston: Little, Brown and Company (An Atlantic Monthly Press Book) 1944 (May).

The novel was serialized weekly in the Saturday Evening Post from March 18 to May 6, 1944, in Woman's Journal (May-July 1944), and later reprinted in Complete Bestsellers (1982, v. 1, no. 7), Heroic War Stories (1983). It was included in Country and Other Matters, The Best of H.E. Bates: A Selection of Novels and Short Stories and Fair Stood the Wind for France with Two Short Stories. The book was followed by three other war novels (The Purple Plain, The Jacaranda Tree, and The Scarlet Sword), all set in Asia.

This novel, Bates's seventh, was a turning point in his career in three respects: his professional contacts and status, his popularity and financial rewards, and lastly, his literary focus and subject matter. Working for the first time with an agent, Laurence Pollinger, and following negotiations that freed Bates from his long-term publisher Jonathan Cape, Bates was propelled to a series of contracts for the novel, with new publisher Michael Joseph, with the Saturday Evening Post for American serial publication, and with producer Alexander Korda for film rights that included advances or fees that Bates would later describe as "unbelievably fat" and leaving him "almost for the first time in my life, free of financial anxiety" The World in Ripeness, p. 33).

Building on the wide distribution, exposure, and popularity of the "Flying Officer X" stories, Bates could report a year after publication that Fair Stood the Wind for France had world sales of about 400,000, had been translated into four languages, had been twice serialized, and was both a Book of the Month and Book Society choice (Bates, quoted in Baldwin, 1987, p. 161).

On referral from one of his officers, Bates interviewed a pilot, shot down over France, who dramatically escaped and returned to his squadron. "The seed given me by the Wellington pilot was seed only; it now had to be sown and nurtured in the soil of imagination...I saw the entire story as one epitomising the youth of two countries, on the one hand England almost alone in battle, on the other France alone in humiliation and defeat. I wanted to extract from this, if possible, the beauty, the pride, the courage and, if the word is not now too suspect, the patriotism of the young of two civilised countries..." Bates remembers writing "very nearly half the novel" at his home on a fortnight's leave from service, then completing it "at week-ends, in odd moments, in a few days of leave" (The World in Ripeness, pp. 23-24). Although sworn to secrecy regarding his initial conversation (due to security regulations concerning escapes from the Continent), by the time the book was completed, none of Bates's concerns regarding clearance for the book or about a possible government claim for the profits (as it was written during Bates's Air Ministry service) materialized.

The story is told through the eyes of the downed pilot, Franklin, as he and his men find refuge with a French family, as he falls in love with the daughter, as his injured arm is amputated, and as the lovers escape together through Vichy France to Spain. Bates would later say that he always strove to "keep the style of the novel...clear and vivid in its pictorial simplicity" (The World in Ripeness, p. 31). He took pride in the accuracy of his descriptions of southern France, which he had never seen, and of the amputation, noting that "I met admirers of the book who took one look of astonishment at me and marvelled that I still possessed both of my arms" (The World in Ripeness, p. 33). The title is derived from the first line of "Agincourt," by Michael Drayton.

A four-part television adaptation by the BBC, produced by Colin Tucker and directed by Martyn Friend, was aired in September, 1980. Eads (1990) notes that a play based on the novel, dramatized by Gregory Evans and Michael Napier Brown, was premiered at the Royal Theatre, Northampton, 10 April-3 May 1986. The novel was again dramatized by Gregory Evans (in three parts) in 1991, this time for BBC Radio in a production starring Sean Pertwee, Ady Allen and Robert Glenister, under the direction of David Benedictus. Another dramatisation by Maddy Fredericks was broadcast by BBC Radio in 2009 starring Rory Kinnear, Tom Goodman-Hill and Louise Brealey. It was directed by Jonquil Panting.

The literary manuscript indicates that the original ending to the novel was tragic, and thus consistent with much of Bates's previous fiction. The ending however was revised, according to Bates family sources, at the behest of Woman's Journal editor Peggy Sutherland, who told Bates that her readers would dislike an unhappy ending, and it is the revised ending that appeared in both serialized and book publication.

The Times Literary Supplement criticized the novel as "too frankly popular...the extended short story which he has given us on this occasion is disappointingly close to the magazine variety." The New York Times says that "the book is so uneven, so confused and obscure in purpose, that it falls sadly flat. It is unworthy of Mr. Bates...But there are so many passages of skill and even beauty in this book that it would be unjust to dismiss it too brusquely." Kate O'Brien in The Spectator comments that "the thing is done with great care and in close detail, and many people will read it with interest; but admirers of Mr. Bates's earlier work may be puzzled by the laboriousness and the dull texture of the writing." Richard Church, writing in John O'London's Weekly (as quoted by Eads, 1990) wrote that "Ever since he was discovered by that genius-diviner Edward Garnett, I have found Bates' work a source of pleasure. His candour of personality, his honest craftsmanship in the handling of prose, his knowledge of nature, even his occasional touches of spleen; these have been my meat. And, above all these, some element of sheer poetry...Therefore I have never ceased to predict that one day, as the tree ripened, Bates would write a masterpiece. Here is that masterpiece."


  • John O'London's Weekly (date to be determined, Richard Church)
  • New Statesman and Nation (December 2, 1944, p. 374, Henry Reed, attached)
  • New York Herald Tribune (May 22, 1944, p. 11A, Lewis Gannett, attached)
  • New York Times (May 22, 1944, p. 17, Orville Prescott, attached)
  • New York Times (May 28, 1944, p. BR6, Fowler Hill, attached)
  • Saturday Review of Literature (May 20, 1944, p. 18, Ben Ray Redman, attached)
  • The Spectator (November 24, 1944, p. 488, Kate O'Brien, attached)
  • Times Literary Supplement (November 4, 1944, p. 533, R.D. Charques, attached)
  • Virginia Quarterly Review (Fall 1944, p. 629, Maxwell Geismar)
  • Sociology & Social Research (September-October, 1944, p. 82, attached)
  • Best Sellers (June 1, 1944, p. 46, James Edward Tobin, attached)