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literary landscapes

Writers and artists are urged into playfulness and creativity by the beauty and tranquility of our almost-untouched coastal valley in The South Hams in South Devon.

Irish Impressionist artist and writer Jack Butler Yeats and his wife, Cottie, a Devon-born artist herself, lived in the valley and were visited by his brother W. B. Yeats.  Poet Laureate & author John Masefield stayed with them often.  J.B. Yeats & Masefield shared a passion for tales of piracy, the sea, & nature.  Many of Masefield’s poems are dedicated to Yeats, some are dedicated to the valley itself.  Masefield’s children’s novel, Jim Davis, a tale of highwaymen, smugglers & derring-do is set locally.

J.M. Synge (Playboy of The Western World), a key figure along with WB Yeats and Lady Gregory in the Irish literary renaissance, also visited the Yeats family.

On the fringes of Bloomsbury, Beryl de Zoete owned a cottage here; she was a writer, dance ethnologist & critic, orientalist, traveller & translator who worked with Walter Spies in Indonesia and reputedly belly-danced for the King of Morocco.

Beryl lived with her partner, Arthur Waley, the translator of Chinese and Japanese poetry and a close friend of T.S. Eliot, at 50 Gordon Square near the Woolfs.  Like many of her Bloomsbury peers, they 'lived in Squares and loved in triangles'. 

Beryl was Oxford educated, independent minded, multilingual & a trained ballerina. She was close to the Elmhirsts of Dartington Hall near Totnes and helped establish their experimental School of Dance.  In the Thirties, Beryl helped bring Jewish dancers to Dartington Hall from Europe.  A writer, dance critic for national newspapers & dance ethnographer, she travelled alone when it was not usual, working with Walter Spies in documenting Balinese dancing.

As well as being the first translator of Italo Svevo’s novels, Beryl wrote too; her Dance and Magic Drama in Ceylon, is still the key text on Sri Lankan dance. 

Other Local Writers

Michael Morpurgo has written extensively about Devon events and landscapes in his novels.  Adolphus Tips is set around Slapton during Operation Tiger when the area was given six weeks to evacuate in 1943 before being used by British and American troops, using live ammunition, to rehearse for the D-Day landings.  Troops were based here in the valley.  They used its hills for assault practice.

AA Milne had a holiday cottage nearby.  Poet Alice Oswald lives and writes in the Dart Valley.  And above the Dart at Greenway, Agatha Christie wrote many of her detective novels. 


copyright © 2024 Christine Cooke
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