Francis Brett Young
Francis Brett Young was an English novelist, poet, playwright, composer, doctor and soldier.
Francis Brett Young was born in Halesowen, Worcestershire. He received his early education at Iona, a private school in Sutton Coldfield. His father, Thomas Brett Young, was a doctor and his mother also came from a medical family, so it was natural that he go to the school for the sons of doctors, Epsom College. He was there when, at fourteen, he suffered the death of his beloved mother. He later went on to train at the University of Birmingham to become a qualified physician. He met his wife Jessie Hankinson while he was lodging at Edgbaston in Birmingham and she was training at Anstey College of Physical Education, then housed in nearby The Leasowes (the former home of William Shenstone, the author he most admired).
He started medical practice on the steamship SS Kintuck, on a long voyage to the Far East. He returned with the money to purchase his own medical practice at Cleveland House, Brixham, Devon, in 1907. Established in his first secure job, he was able to be secretly married to Jessie Hankinson in December 1908. Jessie was also a singer and he accompanied her, as well as composing two sets of songs for her, published in 1912 and 1913. His first attempt at a novel, Undergrowth, was a collaboration with his younger brother, Eric. Eric subsequently forged a writing career of his own which, while less successful, produced novels such as The Murder at Fleet and The Dancing Beggars.
During the First World War he saw service in German East Africa in the Royal Army Medical Corps (he was a medical officer of the 2nd Rhodesia Regiment), but was invalided out in 1918, and no longer able to practise medicine. His own account of these wartime events is given in his book Marching on Tanga; passages censored from that book were later covertly used in his novel Jim Redlake.
Unable to work as a doctor, he decided to devote himself to his writing, and in 1919 he began the first of his Mercian novels. From 1920 the couple went to live in Capri until 1929 but also travelled widely, including trips to South Africa, the United States and summers in the Lake District of England. They returned to live in England, initially in the Lake District as neighbours of fellow novelist Hugh Walpole. Here they lived in Esthwaite Lodge, a country house, still standing, south of Hawkshead on the west side of Esthwaite Water. Then, from 1932, they settled at the dilapidated Craycombe House, Fladbury, Worcestershire, which he was able to buy and slowly renovate due to his continuing success as a writer. His income also enabled him to spend the winters in Capri, which was vital due to his poor health. This changed as Italy became fascist and war approached, and in 1937 he purchased Talland House between Looe and Polperro as an alternative winter retreat. When war came in 1939, Craycombe House was requisitioned by the Red Cross and turned into a convalescent home for the armed services.
In 1944, near to the war's end, he published his epic poem The Island, recounting in verse the whole history of Britain from the Bronze Age to the Battle of Britain. The entire first edition of 23,500 sold out immediately, even in wartime conditions, and was then reprinted.
The winters and wartime privations in England had taken their toll on his poor health. In October 1944, having seen The Island through to publication, he had a serious heart attack. At the end of the Second World War he moved to Montagu in the Klein Karoo, South Africa. The climate suited him, and he was even able to complete the writing of a non-fiction guide book for the South African Tourist Board.
He died in Cape Town on 28 March 1954. He was cremated and his ashes were returned to England, and are buried in Worcester Cathedral.
Books by Francis Brett Young
The Tragic Bride
The story centers on Gabrielle Hewish, only and lonely child of Sir Jocelyn Hewish, a loveable lush and owner of the peaceful Roscarna estate nestled in the Irish countryside. In due course, young Gabrielle falls in love with a Navy man whose untimel...