Shop H.E. Bates Online
My Uncle Silas
Story Collection
Page Count
Jonathan Cape
Publication Year
Document Types
Film & Television
Comic Fiction
Character: Uncle Silas

London: Jonathan Cape, 1939 (October 27). 192 pp.
Drawings by Edward Ardizzone.

In the preface (pp. 9-11, attached), Bates says that the character of Uncle Silas as well as a number of the stories are firmly based on real events in the life of Joseph Betts, 'late husband of my maternal grandmother's sister Mary Ann.'

Bates claims some of the stories to be "so near to reality that they needed only the slightest recolouring on my part" (namely The Lily, The Wedding, The Revelation, Silas the Good, and Death of Uncle Silas). Others he says "have been inspired by that sort of apocryphal legend which is the inheritance of every country child who keeps his ears cocked when men are talking." He says that the publication of "Death of Uncle Silas" produced a "larger volume of correspondence than any full-length book of mine has done before or since," in which the "resurrection of Uncle Silas" was demanded.

In the stories Silas relates escapades of his past to his nephew, who he calls 'boy', although he is in fact a young man. In some stories, such as The Wedding, the narrator recalls a story relating to his uncle that took place when he was a young boy. Two stories show Silas winning an athletic match through trickery, several simply show Silas as a teller of outrageous tales. Several poke fun at social or religious customs, and some are more poignant than comic.

John Mair in New Statesman and Nation predicted correctly that the book "may well become a minor classic", while the Spectator review noted that "it is Mr. Bates's most enviable gift as a writer that even when he is frankly amusing himself with light exercises the astonishing sensibility which is his particular merit never flags; he shows the commonplaces of country life more clearly, freshly and delicately than they have been shown before...No other living writer, given an ancestor like Joseph Betts, could have contrived out of his reminiscences such a consistently lively and evocative creation."


  • New Statesman and Nation (December 2, 1939, attached)
  • The Spectator (November 3, 1939, p. 628, attached)
  • Times Literary Supplement, (November 18, 1939, p. 617, Geoffrey West, attached)

Contains: Preface; The Lily; The Revelation; The Wedding; Finger Wet, Finger Dry; A Funny Thing; The Sow and Silas; The Shooting Party; Silas the Good; A Happy Man; Silas & Goliath; A Silas Idyll; The Race; The Death of Uncle Silas, The Return.


The below reviews and articles are available in PDF format.