People - Laurie Lee

Poet & Novelist (1914 - 1997)

Laurie Lee was a poet and novelist, best-known for his autobiographical trilogy Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969), and A Moment of War (1991). The trilogy depicts Lee's boyhood in the country, his journey to London to seek his fortune, and his experiences in the Spanish Civil War.

Laurie Lee was born in Stroud, Gloucestershire, where the pattern of life had not changed in centuries. The families lived in overcrowded cottages, cooked on wood-fires and went to bed by candlelight. Lee was educated at the village school and at Stroud Central School. When he was fifteen he left school and became an errand-boy. He also gave lectures on the violin.

In his teens Lee had already began to write poems. He had met two sisters who encouraged him in his writing aspirations. Both sisters were passionately involved with him. At the age of twenty Lee left for London, and worked for a year as a builder's labourer. He then spent four years travelling in Spain and the eastern Mediterranean. During these years he met a woman who took him under her wing and sent him to university to study art. According to many biographical sources, Lee fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) in the Republican army against Franco's Nationalists. However, there has been controversial claims that Lee's involvement in the war was a fantasy.

Before devoting himself entirely to writing in 1951, Lee worked as a journalist and as a scriptwriter. He made during World War II documentary films for the General Post Office film unit (1939-40), and the Crown Film Unit (1941-43). From 1944 to 1946 he worked as an editor at the Ministry of Information publications, and from 1950 to 1951 he was caption-writer-in-chief for the Festival of Britain, for which service he was awarded the MBE. In 1950 Lee married Catherine Francesca Polge, a Provençal woman; they had one daughter.

Lee's first poem appeared in Horizon in 1940, and his first collection, "The Sun My Monument", was published in 1944. Lee's romantic poems show influence of Federico García Lorca. Several poems written in the early 1940s reflect the atmosphere of the war, but also capture impressions of the English countryside, birdsong and the smell of apples and grass. With "A Rose for Winter" (1955) Lee started his autobiographical production. It tells of Lee's trip to Spain 15 years after his first visit, finding a country ravaged by war, yet the people still exuding a vivacity of spirit with flamenco dancing and bullfights. "Cider with Rosie" (1959) focused with a series of sketches on the author's childhood in Glouchestershire village of Slad. The book presented a variety of memorable figures, among them Lee's mother. "As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning" narrates Lee's first trip to the Civil War Spain in 1936 and his walk across the country from Vigo to Granada. "Two Women" (1983) was an intimate story of Lee's courtship of his wife Cathy, and the birth and growth of their daughter Jessy. "A Moment of War" told about a young man's walk over the Pyrenees into Spain to join the International Brigades in 1937.

Lee also wrote travel books, essays, a radio play, short stories. He received several awards, including Atlantic Award (1944), Society of Authors travelling award (1951), M.B.E. (Member, Order of the British Empire), William Foyle Poetry Prize (1956), W.H. Smith and Son Award (1960). Lee died on May 14, 1997.

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