English Arcadia novel.
Its subject is one particular strain of left-wing English history in the 20th century, that of the Common Wealth party of the 1940s, which won remarkable byelection victories during the Second World War on a leftwing platform of the common ownership of land and the means of production.
In 1988, I travelled to Devon to interview Sir Richard Acland in his house which stood on the lands of the Killerton Estate which he himself had given to the National Trust in 1944. He was 82 at the time and graciously agreed to be interviewed by me on the subject of his latest book, Hungry Sheep, an attack on the individualistic political philosophy he identified in all contemporary parties. He was a truly remarkable man: in the 1940s, he led Common Wealth, the ultra-left wing political party which won byelections against both Conservative and Labour oppositions only to founder with the Labour landslide of 1945; in the 1950s, with Harold Wilson, he formed War On Want and subsequently championed Harrison Brown’s seminal green document, A Challenge for the Future. In later years, in his own words, he believed that “good causes will founder and evil causes will prevail unless moral and religious forces are brought in on the side of the good.”
I have thought about this decent, determined, kind and intelligent man for thirty years since that meeting, which is perhaps why he has served as the inspiration for the fictional character Sir Zachary Frome in this novel. The novel and the characters portrayed in it are entirely fictitious and the extended Frome family bear no relation to any people alive or dead, but I would simply like to express my thanks to Sir Richard Acland for indulging a curious young man all that time ago with such sincerity and humour.
If you are curious to find out more about Acland and Common Wealth, you can start with the official Common Wealth archive at Sussex University here.