Jefferies, Richard

Tagged: Author

(1848-1887) UK naturalist, journalist and author. The son of a farmer, he showed remarkable powers of observation when writing about Nature, describing it in a poetic style from an animist viewpoint that was devoid of sentimentality. Though his grasp of the description of nature (as impacted upon by human agencies) does not illuminate his two early SatiresJack Brass: Emperor of England (1873 chap), which can loosely be construed as fantasy, and Suez-Cide!; Or, How Miss Britannia Bought a Dirty Puddle and Lost her Sugar-Plums (1876 chap) – it is clearly noticeable in his first outright fantasy novel, Wood Magic: A Fable (1881 2vols; cut vt Sir Bevis: A Tale of the Fields 1889); semi-autobiographical, it features a young boy who has the ability to communicate with animals, birds and plants, and was primarily concerned with the social and political structure of the local animal kingdom and the struggles of a contender for the throne. A sequel, the famous Bevis: The Story of a Boy (1882 3vols), emphasized the pleasures and intrigues of childhood rather than the hero's supernatural abilities.

For the last six years of his life Jefferies's health was severely in decline, and his thoughts turned to the future and to speculation. The result was After London; Or, Wild England [for full subtitle see Checklist] (1885), a Ruined Earth novel which describes, from the viewpoint of a future historian, an England reverted to rural wilderness: the novel's first part describes the lapse into barbarism, the specific reasons for the Disaster being deliberately kept vague; the second details the medieval-style society that has come into being and tells of a voyage of discovery on a great inland lake that now covers the centre of England. The style is gravely lucid, and at times singularly direct; given the fact that no real convention had been established for envisioning drowned London in fiction, the novel's first sentence – "The old men say their fathers told them that soon after the fields were left to themselves a change began to be visible." – is a remarkable plunge into medias res. After London is an important example of Victorian sf and proved very popular at the time; its influence can be traced through W H Hudson's A Crystal Age (1887) to John Collier's Tom's A-Cold (1933; vt Full Circle: A Tale). [JE/JC]

see also: Cities; History of SF; Pastoral; Pollution; Utopias.

John Richard Jefferies

born Coate, near Swindon, Wiltshire: 6 November 1848

died Goring by Sea, West Sussex: 14 August 1887



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