The Short Day Dying

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This is the story of four seasons in the life of Charles Wenmoth, a twenty-seven-year-old apprentice blacksmith and Methodist lay preacher in Cornwall in 1870. Life is at its hardest; poverty is everywhere. Charles crosses and recrosses the raw, beautiful landscape, attending to the sick and helping the poor, preaching in chapels with ever-dwindling congregations. He questions his faith along the way but never quite loses it, balancing it with the pleasure he takes in nature, the light in the skies, the colors of...

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This is the story of four seasons in the life of Charles Wenmoth, a twenty-seven-year-old apprentice blacksmith and Methodist lay preacher in Cornwall in 1870. Life is at its hardest; poverty is everywhere. Charles crosses and recrosses the raw, beautiful landscape, attending to the sick and helping the poor, preaching in chapels with ever-dwindling congregations. He questions his faith along the way but never quite loses it, balancing it with the pleasure he takes in nature, the light in the skies, the colors of the earth, and in his attachment to a girl to whom he is drawn by the piety and patience she maintains despite her long illness.

Inspired by the language of his great-great-grandfather's diaries and the Bible, influenced by authors as diverse as Hardy, Blake, and Faulkner, Peter Hobbs has created a first novel of breathtaking ambition and stylistic innovation, and of enormous emotional power.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Marilynne Robinson's Pulitzer Prize–winning second novel, Gilead, stirred the hearts and minds of readers with her thoughtful examination of a faithful life. Debut novelist Hobbs tackles a similar theme, but in a 19th-century setting and language. The landscape of rural England is poetically captured through the eyes of his protagonist, Charles Wenmouth, a young lay minister who walks long miles across the countryside to visit the sick and the poor, those with faith and those who have lost it. The narrative moves through four seasons in Wenmouth's life, depicting a young man who sees in creation the majestic nature of a God he so rarely finds in those he meets along the way. One exception is a young blind girl to whom he is drawn, moved by her unfailing belief in the face of tremendous suffering. Wenmouth's own conviction burns within him and his visits to her strengthen him in his vocation. But will this fervor carry him through the storms of life?

Breathtaking in both content and style, The Short Day Dying is a treasure rarely found in modern literature. Rich in the language of faith, this first novel is a hauntingly powerful portrait of the tenuous hold even the most devoted have, as they walk between faith and doubt, day by day. (Summer 2006 Selection)
Wall Street Journal
"[A] splendid debut novel...[Wenmouth's] faith-struggle is mirrored by his perceptions of nature, which powerfully suggest both the presence of a deity and his seeming absence...Reminiscent of "The Diary of a Country Priest"; shortlisted for the British 2005 Whitbread Award for first novels, and rightly so....["The Short Day Dying"] is a powerful book, a look inside a harrowed man's soul."
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Voices
"Breathtaking in both content and style, The Short Day Dying is a treasure rarely found in modern literature. Rich in the language of faith, this first novel is a hauntingly powerful portrait of the tenuous hold even the most devoted have as they walk between faith and doubt, day by day." (Summer 2006 selection)
LA Times Booke Review
"The deeply colored novel...reveals Hobbs' sensual immersion in the world around him..."
From the Publisher
"How rare it is to come across a new novel as beautifully conceived and finished as this. We are enclosed completely in a world of faith and belief that has been made to feel utterly authentic . . . A wonderful book."-THE OBSERVER

"A richly resonant novel . . . beautifully evocative."

Publishers Weekly
Spiritual rumination and magnificent descriptions of nature drive Hobbs's inventively written debut, a character study that credibly evokes the colloquial rhythms of its time. Over the course of the year 1870, 27-year-old Charles Wenmoth, an apprentice blacksmith and Methodist lay preacher, thoughtfully records his lonely existence in Cornwall, England. Under the "drab unblemished skin of cloud," the Industrial Revolution has caused local farmers to abandon their land, their faith and their families in search of more lucrative work in the mines or abroad. Charles mourns the loss of these worshippers but finds strength in his faith and its manifestations in the earthly world. He also finds an Edenic calm in his frequent visits to blind, dying Harriet French. Their conversations renew Charles's belief in himself as a good man, even as he later muses, "sometimes it seems like I do not love the Sabbath as I should." Fans of Marilynne Robinson's Gilead will respond to this novel, which realistically portrays Charles's struggle to feel worthy, while illuminating the larger desire to derive meaning from human existence. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A haunting debut limns the spiritual and social struggles of an apprentice blacksmith in 19th-century Cornwall. At age 27, Charles Wenmouth is rather old to be learning a trade; he finds the backbreaking, skilled labor difficult, and the smithy's customers are often rude. He also dislikes his disapproving, penny-pinching landlady and misses his mother and brothers on the family farm 12 miles away. Wenmouth can't go home much, because he is in the final weeks of his trial as a Methodist lay preacher. "Four years since the blessed meeting when I felt the knowledge of God warm my breast," he takes solace in his deep religious conviction, though he is disheartened by the poor attendance at church. In 1870, the grindingly poor inhabitants of Cornwall are disinclined to spend their scant leisure time in church; Charles, equally impoverished, guiltily understands their shirking even as he bemoans it. He wishes they would emulate Harriet French, a young woman steadfast in her faith despite her (unspecified) fatal illness. His visits to Harriet make Wenmouth's hard life "bearable," but his first-person narrative reveals that he is oblivious to tensions within the family: her younger brother's dangerous restlessness, and the anger of her mother, whose pleas that he help the boy have gone right over Charles's head. Drawing on the diaries of his great-great-grandfather, the author faultlessly recaptures the language of a painfully self-educated man grappling with loneliness, unhappiness and-as the story progresses over the course of a year-terrifying doubt. Magnificent descriptive passages evoke Cornwall's natural beauty and reveal Charles as a thoroughgoing pantheist, far more cognizant of God'spresence in the landscape than among the human beings he finds so difficult to understand. The already somber mood darkens as a severe illness exacerbates his troubled state of mind. Hobbs delineates his protagonist's crisis of faith with scarifying intensity, never condescending to the religious conventions of a long-ago age. Bleak, but profoundly beautiful. Hobbs is a writer to watch.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156032414
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/1/2006
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

The descendant of Methodist lay preachers, PETER HOBBS lives in London. The Short Day Dying is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Well if happiness were found in a round of duties I should have had my portion today for I have not had much leisure. I am gone down early to St Germans to change the tracts they have not been done since the turn of the year. I found the workers already labouring at the quay loading the barges as the tide rose. The railway viaduct stands immense over the scene it is a remarkable construction one which seems to diminish us in comparison yet still leaves us to wonder at what men can do.
                One or two of the men nodded to me as I passed by there are some here who know me. All of us wrapped thickly against the early cold I were glad I had taken an extra layer. The hawsers holding the boats were stiff with ice I have known days so cold that they have snapped robbed by the season of their taut strength the barges sliding from their position at the quay and bringing sudden shouts from the men to hold them there to fasten a new line before they drift out of reach. But the river continues to pour along regardless it has too much mud and salt for it to freeze I think or the tide is too strong and the flow too swift. Just the mill ponds at Newbridge then with a thin layer on them now though one too thin for walking or skating.
                Though I have not seen it this year there is a pond on my mother’s farm which often freezes. In the harder winters when I were a child my brothers and I were sent to break into it so the cattle could drink the icy water there. We took long sticks and smashed the clotted surface then carried and threw huge tiles of ice until our fingers grew numb. I remember the hard ache as they warmed so deep and persistent it seemed it would never leave.
                Well this winter too has been severe there were days when I could not shake the cold no matter how hard I worked and I have felt for those who are not as strong as I am neither do they have a fire to work beside. I have not always loved the forge it is difficult labour there but the least that can be said of it is that my hands have been kept warm against the frosts. Only the tinners will have been granted similar luxury burrowed deep in the ground warmed by the heat and pressure of rock but I know how things are for them there and I do not envy them.
                Still we are just a few weeks into the year and I am a little hopeful that the season is already turning. The easterlies which blew without rest all winter have lost their sharpness and kinder southern winds have swung around to us bearing with them the warmth and weight of the ocean. There is a new feel to the air a touch of cold to it still but no longer one of ice. I have thought too that the first birds are returning though it is early and perhaps my hopes run ahead of the truth of the matter. A broken flock peppered the sky today like seed thrown upwards and scattered by the winds.
                I left the quayside to its industry and climbed back up the path towards St Germans. The village proper sits over the lip of the valley tucked beyond the woods a half mile from the river. It is a familiar way and pleasant to walk I have come this road many times and my thoughts tend to drift from the scenery and my particular occupation here. These steps are worn so deep into the patterned memory of my legs that I think if I were to go blind they would find their way with equal ease.
                I stopped at the wayside board to post a new tract. The wooden frame supported above the verge by an upright stained with moisture. Some few patchy residues of pitch still visible but no longer enough to keep it from wear. A faint bitter smell of damp from the week’s snow to the wood today though the beams drying in the day’s clear air. On the wooden divider to the glass front of the board there is a tiny keyhole though there were no key that I ever knew of and the doors pull open easily enough to the touch of my fingertips. Inside just the old tract tacked there where I left it at the close of last year.
                I kicked from the board the icicles which hung in a bearded row. Took a cloth to the clouded glass. Smoothed a fresh sermon sheet from the packet and fixed it there straightening the paper so that it could be clearly read then I closed the doors the swollen wood squeaking together and holding firm.
                In folding the old tract down to take away with me I came to wondering how many had taken the time to stop there and profit by it. I have seen dock workers come home past it and not turn their heads. Perhaps it goes unread. That it is a sight too familiar to them so much so they no longer register it with their eyes the way we overlook much that is close to us. I have thought to mention it at the next distributors’ meeting I wonder what we might do about it. Perhaps if we moved the posts made just a simple change which might encourage people to see them as though for the first time as if they were new and the Word fresh. For I have to ask myself that if it is not the means of saving souls then what good is it? May it please the Lord our God to awaken the poor souls to a sense of their danger for it is late.
                I have worked during the day and in the evening I have spent my time visiting the sick it has been a rewarding duty. I have seen two widows at the almshouses Mrs Webber and Mrs Truscott but I found I had disturbed them they had been sleeping through the cold and were not keen to sit with me so I have let them be. Then Mr Blackmore briefly for he were tired his old lungs wheezing still full of dust from the ash pits and lastly Harriet French. She too were very weak her mother told me she had some pain in her chest and sides but she lay quite peaceful during my visit and did not complain of it. She is a kind girl who bears her suffering well though it has already taken her sight and I do not know how much longer she is for the world. She appears very thin with little decent meat on her but then she has survived the passing of another year full of hazards so perhaps we have reason to be hopeful.
                She has a cough which scrapes like pain it stretches her face horribly when it comes and the sound of it is bitter reaching out like an infection to take hold of us. Of course we know it is a symptom of that deeper illness that has taken many away from this place and led them to desperation first. In the face of such suffering it is a miracle Harr still has her faith a remarkable sight to witness but then faith is a hard stone I think quite a small thing but powerful and not easily crushed.
                Some snow came as we sat and talked but it turned to rain within an hour a soft patter against the window sometimes quite hushed then renewing itself with a squall. Reminded me that there is a leak in the roof there which I have promised to help patch though it is not something I am too sure of I must find someone to ask about it.
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                But it were a pleasurable hour. The time glided subtly away and I felt I were called home too soon. So though I have been kept busy with no time for myself and though I do not know how to measure its gain I feel it has been a good day for my soul.
And now that today is already yesterday. I scarcely noticed how it went buried beneath the next day each erasing the last and pushing it further from our memories into oblivion. The Sabbath too has come around and were swiftly lost to us. The poor weather persisted and worsened overnight well I do not mind the rain at all but it made for a miserable walk to preach and there were a disappointing end to my walk attending. I were expecting a congregation but there were just one other there. It is a sad thought if all it takes to keep them away is a little cold and rain.

© Peter Hobbs, 2005
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2006

    Wonderfully Introspective

    This book moved at a thoughtful and endearing pace. I loved the examination of faith, of commitment and I loved the style of writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2006

    Hard to read

    I found this book very hard to read. In truth I only read the first two chapters (however I skimmed the rest of the book) and I will tell you why. I'm sure the story was good from the reviews I've read, but there wasn't one comma in the whole book. I found myself re-reading almost every sentence. I know this may a wave of the future but, to me I lost interest quickly because parts of the sentence seemed to hang. I found it very hard to figure out the sense of it. I like to read a book that keeps me going, this book stopped me at almost every sentence. I read close to one hundred books a year, but if this is a wave of the future, then my reading days may be shortlived!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2006


    Larry, Larry, Larry. Welcome to Literature. Comma-less writing is more a glimpse into the past than a 'wave of the future'. Try reading Lewis and Clark's journals. The Canterbury Tales. 'The Short Day Dying' is a story that is written and designed to help you 'be' the protagonist. I found it completely refreshing. You want challenge, read Gertrude Stein.

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