Born 1884 Died 1954
Francis Brett Young was born on the 29th June 1884 at The Laurels, Halesowen in Worcestershire into a medical family. His father Thomas Brett Young was a doctor, and his mother Elizabeth Jackson the daughter of a surgeon. Francis was educated at Iona Cottage High School, a small private school in Sutton Coldfield, before he was sent to Epsom College, Surrey where he edited the school magazine and won the school's Rosebery Prize for English Literature.
Having won the Sands Cox scholarship in 1901 he attended the University of Birmingham to study medicine, graduating with a first-class medical degree in 1907. He first worked as the ship's surgeon aboard the S.S. Kintuck of the Blue Funnel Line and visited the Far East, but after returning home, he married Jessica, the daughter of farmer named John Hankinson on the 28th December 1908 ,
and settled down into practice at Brixham in Devon.
His wife Jessica was a teacher of physical training but later became a concert singer and performed at Henry Wood's Promenade Concerts. Francis composed a number of songs for her based around the work of Robert Bridges and later critical study of the poet which appeared in 1914. His first novel Undergrowth, which was
co-written with his younger brother Eric Brett Young appeared in 1913. Subsequent solo efforts including the Deep Sea and The Dark Tower followed receiving respectable reviews, and selling
With the outbreak of World War I Francis joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served with the 2nd Rhodesian Regiment in the East Africa campaign. He wrote of his war experiences in Marching on Tanga (1917) but his health suffered and in 1918 he was invalided out of the army with the rank of major. His war experiences further inspired a novel The Crescent Moon (1918) and volumes of poetry which he wrote whilst convalescing and when the war ended he decided to abandon his medical career and devote his time to writing and moved to
the island of Capri in 1919 where the cost of living was
The The Young Physician which appeared in 1919 was the first in his series of West Midlands Novels which were inspired by landscape created the construction of the Elan Valley dams and water pipeline to Birmingham. As Francis himself wrote in the preface to
The Black Diamond, "The Midlands novels, were to be strung along that pipe-line as beads are threaded on a string." The most succesful novel in the series was The Portrait of Clare which appeared in 1927 was his first big commercial success, winning the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and later being adapted for the
stage in 1946 and then a film in 1949. The later My Brother Jonathan was similarly a best-seller, and sales were sufficient
to enable him to leave Capri and return to Britain settling first in the Lake District before moving to Craycombe House, Fladbury in Worcestershire in 1932.
His later novels were howver not so succesful; they were over-long, tended to recycle both plots and characters, and featured an overabundance of medical men (one critic calculated that his books featured an average of 3.38 doctors per novel). Francis himself recognised that his writing was "now out of date", and diversified
into writing two historical novels They Seek a Country (1937) and The City of Gold (1939) were set in South Africa, and during World War II he focussed on completing what he personally regarded as his magnum opus, The Island, a history in verse of the British Isles from the earliest times to the Battle of Britain. The effort he put into completing this work led to a breakdown in his health. He was diagnosed as suffering from a weak heart, and with the war over retired to South Africa in 1945, settling at Santici Montagu, near Cape Town.
It was his intention to continue writing and he had plans to complete the third book of his South African trilogy, his autobiography and another novel in his West Midlands sequence. As it was ill health largely forced him to abandon writing and apart from the unfinished Wistanslow (published postumously on 1956).
He died of heart failure at the Tamboers Kloof Nursing Home in Cape Town on the 28th March 1954. After his remains were cremated his widow returned home with his ashes which were interred at Worcester Cathedral.
His death passed largely unnoticed and he remains a largely forgotten writer, although there is a Francis Brett Young Society dedicated to promoting his work, and the civic authorities in Dudley organised a service to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of his death at Halesowen Parish Church in 2004.
Short story collections
Katherine Mullin, ‘Young, Francis Brett (1884–1954)’, Oxford
Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Francis Brett Young by Michael Hall
Francis Brett Young Society
Commemorative service for Francis Brett Young