12 June 2007

John Masters : A Regimented Life

John Clay. JOHN MASTERS. A Regimented Life. Michael Joseph, London 1992.

ISBN: 0718129458 & 9780718129453 

Current Selling Prices
$220-$400 /£100-£200

An authorized biography of the novelist John Masters (1914-83). His best known books are 'Bhowani Junction' (1954) and 'Nightrunners of Bengal' (1951.) Born into a family who had served in India for five generations. Educated at Wellington and the RMA, Sandhurst, Masters returned to India in 1934 as an officer in the 4th Prince of Wales’ Own Gurkha Rifles, and saw active service in Waziristan, Iraq, Syria and Persia. Later, in Burma, he commanded a Chindit brigade, and fought with the 19th Indian Division at Mandalay and on the Mawchi Road. He retired in 1948 to emigrate to the States and take up writing. This biography provides a portrait of his sometime fiery character and, through its analysis of Masters' life and novels, an insight into the last days of the Indian Empire. John Clay is a practicing Jungian psychotherapist and the author of a biography of the bridge player, Ely Culbertson and also of psychiarist and thinker R.D. Laing. ('A Divided Self.') Bridge, Brains, Bengal.

An unaccountably scarce book. At present there isn't a single copy available anywhere on the net. It is listed on a book site in Zaire but noted as 'SOLD.' It was said of Masters by an Indian writer that while Kipling understood India, John Masters understood Indians. Basically a wandering expat, he moved from New York to Santa Fe where he made his home and enjoyed great literary success. He was a serious walker and (ahead of his time) he had tried to set up a travel agency in New York in the early 1950s for walking tours in India. When he died in 1983 his friends and family scattered his ashes from a plane over his favourite New Mexico hiking trails.

VALUE? Master's books are in the main not scarce and you could probably buy his entire works for less than £400, possibly a bit more if the books were very fine with a few signatures etc. John Clay's biography of Masters is worth more than any of JM's own books. 9 months ago there were 2 copies available both over £100 and they both seem to have sold. As a collector of literary biographies (they are actually useful in this game) I checked if I had a copy, found a decent one and put it up on the net at £120 where it went like a bullet. Buyers waiting. Trouble is I no longer have a copy and I've spent the money.

Now I've cashed in it's time for Josephs to re -issue the book. Masters own books will probably make a comeback --he is a much admired writer but without a lot of current media interest. There have been 2 movies including Bhowani Junction with Ava Gardner and four of the novels were adapted for an 18 part serial in BBC Radio 4's classic serial slot 1984 -1985. [ W/Q *** ]


Steve Bodio said...

I have been reading my way through your entire fascinating site for two days and will soon link it on my blog. You cover many areas of interst to me, though like most poor writers I can't afford much in the way of collectibles. I have modest numbers of TH White firsts, all Chatwin (yeah) US firsts, most Gavin Maxwell firsts, some signed Roy Campbells and Cunninghame- Grahams, a few 19th Cetury pigeon and falconry titlles (sadly no Burton.)

My late father- in- law, an old mountaineer, was one of Master's circle in Santa Fe and hiked with him. Only book I have is an American first Bugles and a Tiger, a good book

Steve Bodio said...

And I can't type despite being a writer!

Bookride said...

Thanks Steve--fascinating to hear of a living connection with the great traveller. I rather regret selling my bio of him; yes, would appreciate a link. Keep up the collecting, falconry is always a good subject and good to hear the name Cunningham - grahame once more. Let me know your blog url and will list it in my burgeoning blogroll...Best--Nigel

sticks93 said...


Many thanks for your blog. I have all three of Masters's autobiographical books, and they are close-at-hand at all times. Love them. Do you happen to know of what became of Barbara after Jack died, and what are his children, Susan and Martin doing? Any clues? My e-mail as per: writer@owenstickels.com

Bookride said...

Sorry -- I can't help in the matter of JM's wife Barbara, hopefully someone else seeing this will know and email you. If I see a comment long after I will alert you. Best / Nigel

Anonymous said...

I have put this volume "John Clay. JOHN MASTERS. A Regimented Life. Michael Joseph, London 1992." on e-bay. It has reached £40 - Should I withdraw it and relist ?

Anonymous said...

Can offer £60 for it if decent. Nigel Burwood (of Bookride~)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that. I have re-listed it on e-Bay (UK) as item number 200391074863. I have also e-mailed the earlier bidders to tell then that it has been re-listed.

jogil said...

I think I've read my way through all of Masters' writings. I'm lucky enough to have his three book autobiography and the Clay biography. As a result of his writings, I've traveled about the Himalaya area of India-Pakistan and into Afghanistan - now going to Assam where the Brits began some of the Burma campaigns of WW2. Masters was an interesting guy - would have loved to have met him.