(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 - 14 August 1887) was an English nature writer, noted for his depiction of English rural life in essays, books of natural history, and novels. His childhood on a small Wiltshire farm, Coate farmhouse near Swindon, had a great influence on him and provides the background to all his major works of fiction.
For all that, these show a remarkable diversity, including Bevis: The Story of a Boy (1882), a classic children's book, and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction. He started his career as a provincial journalist and gradually began contributing essays to national magazines. He moved to London to pursue his literary career, and his first works of fiction, like those of Thomas Hardy, appeared under the imprint of William Tinsley. He found success with The Gamekeeper at Home, which was published in 1878 and ran to four editions by 1880.
For much of his adult life, he suffered from tuberculosis, and his struggles with the illness and with poverty also played a role in his writing. Jefferies valued and cultivated an intensity of feeling in his experience of the world around him, a cultivation that he describes in detail in The Story of My Heart (1883). This work, an introspective depiction of his thoughts and feelings on the world, gained him the reputation of a nature mystic at the time. But it is his success in conveying his awareness of nature and people within it, both in his fiction and in essay collections such as The Amateur Poacher (1879) and Round About a Great Estate (1880), that has drawn most admirers. Walter Besant wrote of his reaction on first reading Jefferies: "Why, we must have been blind all our lives; here were the most wonderful things possible going on under our very noses, but we saw them not."
He moved to Goring, Sussex, for the 'air', but died of tuberculosis at the age of 38, survived by his wife and his two children, Alfred and Phyllis (a second son had died in infancy).
Among his admirers were William Morris, Henry Williamson (author of Tarka the Otter) and John Fowles. He was a friend of eminent nature writer WH Hudson. Fans of Jefferies' writing can be found across the world, and include some well-known names: author Will Self; gardener Monty Don; journalists Julian Glover and Graham Harvey; and even politicians, such as Liberal Democrat, Jonathan Calder.
The Richard Jeffries Society keeps his name and reputation alive.