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Green Battlefield (1943)

Novel (184 pages, 54,060 words)

first edition 1943
First edition
Paperback 1959
Paperback 1959
Uniform edition 1973
Uniform edition 1973
Italian translation
Italian translation 1945
French translation
French translation 1946

The Book

Patrick Orleigh is shot down over Normandy in the early days of the German occupation. While he recovers from minor injuries, he is sheltered at a farmhouse by the owner, Mademoiselle Arlenne, and her two elderly retainers, Bonpart and Madame Bonpart. A German officer arrives with six soldiers who are to be billeted there. That evening Bonpart in patriotic rage shoots five of the soldiers dead. As the sixth runs away, Patrick has to flee with Arlenne before more Germans arrive.

They travel across country, getting help from other farms, encountering two other British soldiers, one of whom is severely wounded, who are killed when their hideout is attacked. They ride on a goods train to a port near Cherbourg. They are almost betrayed by a collaborator, M. Raymonde, and are befriended by the Piquerry family who have access to a fishing boat on which Patrick and Arlenne escape during a bombing raid.

There is a great deal of violence in the book. Patrick himself accounts for two Germans, and nobody seems very worried about reprisals. The love between Arlenne and Patrick is intense but never very convincing. Canning was entering the narrative territory of Nevil Shute, but he does not do it so well. However, the book remains readable and interesting for its view of the times. Canning himself was modest about it and said he did not consider it part of his canon. (Peter Linnett: "Interview with Victor Canning". Writer's Review, October 1974.)

Publishing History

The was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1943 and sold at 4/6 in a print run of 12,500, Canning's largest initial print run so far. There was a reprint in 1944. It was Canning's only published work between 1940 and 1947. It came out as a Four Square paperback in 1959. It was also included in the Heinemann Uniform Edition in 1973, but not many can have been sold and it is nowadays very hard to find in hardback. An Italian translation by Luisa Rapaccini-Ponzio, L'eterna battaglia, was published in 1945 by Casa Editrice L. Giannini of Florence, and a French translation appeared in 1946, L'amour dans la tempête by Jeanne Fournier-Pargoire.

The dedication is "To the memory of my daughter Virginia". She was Canning's third daughter, who was born in 1942 and died in infancy.

Another book with similar subject matter, H.E.Bates's Fair Stood the Wind for France, came out in 1944.

Italian translation

I have no idea what, in the ruins of Florence in 1945, led to the translation and publication of this book. The translator, Luisa Rapaccini-Ponzio, was an established translator and author of textbooks. She included a longish preface. Here it is, in Italian and English.

Victor Canning è nato a Plymouth, Inghilterra, nel 1911.
Il suo primo libro fu pubblicato nel 1934. Da allora egli ha scritto circa venti romanzi e due commedie. Tutta la sua carriera si è svolta nel campo delle letteratura e del giornalismo: infatti per un lungo periodo fu corrispondente speciale del Daily Mail, uno dei più importanti quotidiani londinesi.
Appartiene alla scuola degli autori moderni inglesi, nati nel periodo intercorrente fra le due grandi guerre. Influenzati dalla tragedia della loro generazione, la più parte troppo giovani per combattere, essi scrissero sotto l'influsso della consapevolezza del grande conflitto incombente, e cercarono di esprimere nelle loro opere l'irrequietezza della falsa pace in cui vivevano; conservarono però al tempo stesso il proprio ottimismo e tentarono di comunicare, oltre al senso del colore, quello spirito di coraggio e di gaiezza da cui errano animati; spirito di coraggio e di gaiezza che, anche da solo, può rendere tollerabile la vita a coloro che son costretti a vivere sull’orlo dell’oscuro precipizio del’'instabilità mondiale.
Tipico rappresentante di questa scuola è J.B.Priestley col suo Good Companions, uno spettacolo di umana solidarietà, in antitesi allo sfondo dell’incertezza in cui la società si dibatte. Ciò che Priestley fece in quest’opera, Victor Canning ha fatto in Mr. Finchley discovers his England, romanzo che ebbe larga eco in Inghilterra ed in America e che la nostra Casa si accinge a pubblicare.
Le opere del nostro, tradotte in francese, norvegese, danese ed in altre lingue, sono tutte pervase della stessa consapevolezza che si trova nei romanzi di Charles Dickens. I suoi scritti sono « picaresques », concernono, cioè, le pene ed i trionfi dell’uomo e della donna comuni, con una comprensione sicura. dei loro problemi, approfondentesi in un acuto ed indulgente rilievo delle loro debolezze e delle loro virtù.
Nel suo Policarp’s progress, attraverso il medium del personaggio centrale — un impetuoso ed intelligente carattere — Canning fa appello a quei valori morali a cui la gioventà d'ogni nazione aspira in questo periodo, alla ricchezza di vita e di esperienza, allo sfocio dei desideri e delle energie dei giovani, alla possibilità che essi trovino vie di espressione per mezzo di opere; in diretto accordo coi loro caratteri.
Victor Canning, durante la guerra testè conclusasi, ha servito il suo paese, dapprima come semplice artigliere, indi gradatamente fino a maggiore dell’Artiglieria Britannica, partecipando alle campagne del Nord Africa e d’Italia.
La presente opera Green battlefield, la prima tradotta in italiano, risente della trasformazione di temperamento avvenuta in tutti gli uomini che hanno partecipato all’immane conflitto, mentre, al contempo, si mantiene fedele a quei principi the tipicamente informano le altre opere di anteguerra del nostro.
Green battlefield, scritta durante i primi anni del conflitto, fra i disagi degli attendamenti e nelle soste delle batlaglie, mette in spiccato rilievo la reazione dell’animo giovanile di fronte al pericolo ed all’esplicazione di quelle qualità che la guerra, più prontamente e decisamente che la pace, dà modo di manifestare. Accenna inoltre, se pure di scorcio, a quelle stesse qualità che saranno richieste, e forse in più larga misura, nella immediata battaglia che ineluttabilmente ci attende e che pure ineluttabilmente dev’essere combattuta, quella cioè della riorganizzazione della vita economica e sociale nella pace che segue ad ogni guerra.
La qualità saliente di Victor Canning è un vivo senso di comprensione e di incoraggiamento ad affrontare la vita. Nei suoi libri egli dimostra che il lato comico della vita raramente è sommerso dalla catastrofe o dalla monotonia della esistenza. Quando l’uomo può ridere di se stesso egli è umano; quando, invece, si lascia intorpidire ed intristire, cessa di avere ogni significato, se non per se stesso, e diventa un peso per tutti quelli che gli stanno attorno.
Questo messaggio inequivocabile è da lui portato nelle sue prime opere e riaffermato in pieno dalla presente - pur diversa dalle altre per intonazione - attraverso il susseguirsi delle vicende di un giovane pilota inglese che, colpito e precipitato sulla Francia occupata, ,nel 1940, è forzato a vivere la vita dell’animale braccato, con a fianco, compagna costante, la morte.
Firenze, Dicembre 1945.
L’EDITORE.

Victor Canning was born in Plymouth, England, in 1911.
His first book was published in 1934. Since then he has written twenty novels and two plays. His entire career has been in the field of literature and journalism: in fact for a long time he was a special correspondent of the Daily Mail, one of the major London newspapers.
He belongs to the school of modern British authors, born in the period before or between the two world wars. Affected by the tragedy of their generation, most of them too young to fight, they wrote under the influence of awareness of the great looming conflict, and tried to express in their work the restlessness of the false peace in which they lived. But at the same time they retained their optimism and attempted to communicate not only the sense of colour, the spirit of courage and cheerfulness which persist; the spirit of courage and gaiety that, even alone, can make life tolerable for those who are forced to live on the edge of the dark precipice of the unstable world.
A typical representative of this school is J.B. Priestley with his Good Companions, a show of human solidarity, in contrast to the background of uncertainty in which society is struggling. What Priestley did in this work, Victor Canning has done in Mr. Finchley Discovers His England, a novel that was widely heralded in England and America and that our house is about to publish. Canning’s books, translated into French, Norwegian, Danish, and other languages, are all imbued with the same knowledge that is in the novels of Charles Dickens. His writings are “picaresques”, concerned, that is, with the pains and triumphs of ordinary men and women, with a certain understanding of their problems, mastered in an acute and indulgent relief of their weaknesses and their virtues.
In his Polycarp's Progress, through the medium of the central character - a dashing and intelligent figure - Canning invokes those moral values to which the youth of every nation aspires in this period, the richness of life and experience, the flood of desires and energy of youth, the possibility that they find ways of expression through works which match their characters.
Victor Canning, in the war just concluded, served his country, first as a simple gunner, then was gradually promoted up to the rank of major in the British Artillery, participating in campaigns in North Africa and Italy.
This work, Green Battlefield, the first of his books to be translated into Italian, reflects the transformation of mood which took place in all the men who participated in the immense conflict, while at the same time, it remains faithful to the principles that typically inform works of the pre-war period.
Green Battlefield, written during the first years of the conflict, between the hardships of life under canvas and the heat of battle, puts strong emphasis on the reaction of the youthful soul in face of danger, qualities more readily manifested in war than in peace. It also mentions, albeit obliquely, those same qualities that will be required, perhaps to a greater extent, in the immediate battle that inevitably awaits us and which also inevitably will be fought, namely that of the reorganization of economic and social life in peace following each war.
The salient quality of Victor Canning is a keen sense of understanding and encouragement to face life. In his books he shows that the funny side of life is rarely overwhelmed by catastrophe or by the monotony of existence. When man can laugh at himself he is human; when, instead, you remain numb and saddened, life ceases to have any meaning and becomes a burden to those around him.
This clear message is what he conveyed in his early works, and reaffirmed in full in this one - although it is different from the others in tone - through the narrative of a young Englishman who, shot down and crashing in occupied France in 1940, is forced to live the life of a hunted animal, flanked with his constant companion, death.

The promised forthcoming Italian version of Mr Finchley Discovers his England never materialised.