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Spella Ho
Page Count
Word Count
Atlantic Monthly
Jonathan Cape
Publication Year
Document Types
Social Commentary

London: Jonathan Cape, 1938 (September 1); Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1938.
Dedication: "To Frank Whitaker."
Serialized (in condensed form) in the Atlantic Monthly from August to November 1938.

The fourth and last of Bates's pre-war novels depicting the social and economic transformations in English rural life between 1873 and 1931 (preceded by The Fallow Land,, The Poacher, and A House of Women). The title derives from the abbreviated form of the name of a mansion on a Northamptonshire map, a mansion based on Knuston Hall near Bates's childhood home of Rushden.

The novel begins with the twenty-year-old impoverished Bruno Shadbolt stealing coal from an abandoned Spella Ho and ends with him owning it and much of the town, but a lonely man who has "become one with the stones of the house." As Bates would later write in The Blossoming World (pp. 123-126), the novel brings together two sources of fascination: "the grandeur of the Great House that seemed unassailable and unpossessable except to those privileged by right of birth and inheritance" and "the selfmade man, often virtually uneducated, often rough and crude, who through sheer force of native energy and character had bulldozed his way to the top." Bates conceived of the work as "not only a personal struggle but a piece of social history, a segment of the late Industrial Revolution that had marked my native landscape with so many soulless, hideous red-brick scars" and he wanted to create a main character who was "ruthless but also sympathetic and sensual. Set in a mould of extreme ugliness, he was to have in fact a compelling and fatal attraction for women."

The Atlantic Monthly offered him $5000, a figure that sent Bates for days into a "startling state of crazy disbelief" (The Blossoming World, p. 127). Bates made his first trip to the United States to work with the editors on a serial abridgment; again in The Blossoming World (pp. 133-134) he would complain of the "infantile nature of American insularity" that required him each day to "delete or adapt for the American ear...some simple, nearly always unobscure English phrase." Baldwin (1987, pp. 128-129) however notes that there are no differences between the American and English book publications, and no alterations for serial publication of the type mentioned by Bates (although there are many cuts, and other minor changes); he suggests that later anger at American rejections of his work were at the core of the complaint.

While John Mair in The New Statesman and Nation considers that Bates fails in his main character, he nevertheless finds him "too good a writer to have made Spella Ho other than a pleasant and readable story...the book reads less as a novel than as a panorama of the squalor, adventure, and gas-lit romance that marked the grand climateric of the industrial revolution." Forrest Reid in The Spectator finds the novel flawed by its choice of hero: "Because Shadbolt has no spiritual life, because his qualities of courage, endurance, and determination are employed solely to gain his own ends...his successive love experiences leave us unmoved." R.D. Charques in TheTimes Literary Supplement found it "impossible to say that he has made a success of the story...the theme he has chosen here does not match his distinctive talent...His mastery of the short-story technique has led him, we think, to over-simplify the treatment of his subject here and so fall short of his effects." The response by the New York Times was more positive, finding it Bates's best novel: it is "his delineation of physical passion in its countless variations and permutations that is Mr. Bates's most outstanding contribution to fiction in his latest novel."


  • John O'London's (September 9, 1938, Richard Church, attached)
  • John O'London's (December 2, 1938, p. 349, Hugh Walpole)
  • The Nation (December 17, 1938, p. 670, Eda Lou Walton, attached)
  • The New Statesman and Nation (September 3, 1938, p. 350, John Mair, attached)
  • The New York Times (October 30, 1938, p. 6, attached)
  • Saturday Review of Literature (October 22, 1938, p. 12, attached)
  • The Spectator (September 2, 1938, p. 382, Forrest Reid, attached)
  • The Times (September 2, 1938, p. 7, attached)
  • Times Literary Supplement (September 3, 1938, p. 567, R.D. Charques, attached)
  • Sunday Times (September 4, 1938, p. 8, Ralph Straus, attached)