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Simon Gray Biography

(1936– ), Wise Child, Butley, Otherwise Engaged, Spoiled, Dog Days, Quartermain's Terms, The Common Pursuit

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Francis Edward Grainger Biography to Thomas Anstey Guthrie Biography

British dramatist, born in Hampshire, educated at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was for many years a lecturer in English at Queen Mary College, London. After achieving a modest success with Wise Child (1967), a dark comedy about a transvestite criminal on the run, he established himself with Butley (1971), about a witty, sadistic academic, and Otherwise Engaged (1974), about a publisher's attempts to escape the emotional demands and threats of those who insist on invading his privacy. Many of Gray's often sardonic but always humane comedies concern people of similar social background and calling: schoolmasters in Spoiled (1971; also a television play), Dog Days (1977), and Quartermain's Terms (1981); Cambridge graduates, former students and admirers of F. R. Leavis, battling to keep a literary magazine afloat in The Common Pursuit (1984); publishers in Melon (1987) and The Holy Terror (1992), which are two alternative versions of the same tale of obsessive sexual jealousy; a literary agent and his novelist wife in Hidden Laughter (1990). Molly (1977), The Rear Column (1978), and Cell Mates (1995) are different in that they deal with, respectively, the Alma Rattenbury murder case, the events in the nineteenth-century Congo that gave rise to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and the relationship of the spy George Blake with the petty criminal who organized his escape from prison, Sean Bourke; but they are similar in their concerns. At his best, Gray writes with wit, incisiveness, and an unsentimental sympathy about the darker, more secret aspects of human behaviour: sexual pain, compromise, betrayal, the sense of futility and failure, and the sheer struggle to survive the many personal and professional setbacks with which a difficult world presents people. He has also published four novels, written many plays for television, among them Death of a Teddy Bear (1967) and An Unnatural Pursuit (1985), and adapted Dostoevsky's The Idiot (1970) for the National Theatre.

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