Sir Angus Wilson (Sir Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson) Biography
(1913–91), (Sir Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson), The Wrong Set, Such Darling Dodos, Hemlock and After
British novelist, born in Bexhill, East Sussex, educated at Westminster School and at Merton College, Oxford. He served in Intelligence during the Second World War; from 1949 to 1955 he was Deputy Superintendent of the Reading Room at the British Museum; from 1966 he was Professor of English Literature at East Anglia University. A nervous crisis brought about Wilson's earlier writing; a major theme of his fiction is the dilemma of morally aware individuals when all that they take for granted seems suddenly to be thrown into doubt. His first two published books, The Wrong Set (1949) and Such Darling Dodos (1950), were collections of short stories, brilliantly charting the fractured world of the post-war British middle class, and alight with a fierce and acutely observant humour which does not preclude sympathy. Confusion of values and the difficulties of the right-minded humanist are the concern also of his first novel, Hemlock and After (1952); Bernard Sands, a famous liberal humanist novelist, who has, late in life, accepted his homosexual desires, feels his moral standpoint and indeed his entire life's work undone when he experiences a sadistic reaction to the arrest of a fellow homosexual. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956) was followed by A Bit off the Map (1957), a volume of stories, the title story attacking the Nietzscheanism of Colin Wilson and his associates. The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot (1958) deals with the crisis of Meg Eliot, stripped by her husband's death of the trappings and social context of her life as a successful barrister's wife. In contrast to her is her brother, whose quietist passivity exhibits the weaker side of the liberal-humanist position. The Old Men at the Zoo (1961), set in a near future of European war, opposes the urban zoo to the natural reserve. Late Call (1964) concerns middle-aged Sylvia Calvert, who retires from the private hotel business to live with her son, a headmaster and a widower, and his family in Carshall, a New Town, ostensibly dedicated to new ways of social living. In this novel, Wilson uses his gift for parody to make a compassionate investigation of popular culture. No Laughing Matter (1967) covers fifty years in the life of the Matthews family, and amounts to a paradigm of twentieth-century English cultural assumptions. As if by Magic (1973) explores the upsurge of the irrational during the 1960s, and the profound but often mutually destructive relations between West and East. Setting the World on Fire (1980) is more poetically composed, the legend of Phaeton, subject of a Lully opera, unifying the differences between two devoted brothers, one a theatre designer of flamboyant, adventurous tastes, the other a lawyer with a classical abhorrence of all that threatens civilized and civilizing order. Wilson is also the author of critical and biographical studies of Zola (1950), Dickens (1970), and Kipling (1977), while The Wild Garden (1963) analyses his own creative impulses. Wilson's discussion of humanism, inside his fiction and outside it, is at once profoundly searching and sympathetically generous. His earlier novels were commended for their reintroduction of Victorian fictive devices that enabled him to range over very considerable areas of personal, public, and social experience. His Diversity and Depth in Fiction: Selected Critical Writings (1983) contains an illuminating survey of ‘Evil in the English Novel’; a collection of travel pieces, Reflections in a Writer's Eye, appeared in 1986. A biography of Angus Wilson, by Margaret Drabble, was published in 1995.
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