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Francis King (Francis Henry King) Biography

(1923– ), (Francis Henry King), To the Dark Tower, An Air that Kills, The Dividing Stream

British novelist, short-story writer, and critic, born in Switzerland, educated at Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford. His early years were spent in Switzerland and India and in 1949, after the publication of To the Dark Tower (1946) and An Air that Kills (1948), he began working abroad for the British Council. Subsequent novels include The Dividing Stream (1951), a study of English, Americans, and Italians in post-war Florence; The Dark Glasses (1954) and Man on the Rock (1957), both of which offer insights into the Greek character; The Widow (1957); and a novel with a Japanese background, The Custom House (1961). After his return to Britain in 1963, King's fiction became more intense in its imaginative and psychological investigation of human behaviour. Thus the central character of The Needle (1977) is a compulsive paedophile, and Act of Darkness (1983) deals with the murder of a small boy. King has always sought to explore the homosexual predicament: A Domestic Animal (1970) is a moving scrutiny of the obsessive feelings a handsome young Italian philosopher arouses in a rather repressed English writer. King's interest in the psychology of older women finds fictional expression in Voices in an Empty Room (1984) and The Woman Who Was God (1988). Punishments (1989) tells of a young English medical student in the bombed Germany of 1948 and his sexual involvement with Jurgen, a young German whose object is to make him suffer for what the British did to his country. Visiting Cards (1990) draws on his experience of British Council activities. Again, set in Florence immediately after the Second World War and based on King's own experiences, The Ant Colony (1991) concerns an innocent young Englishman who is exposed to an intense spectrum of new sexual and cultural experiences. In The One and Only (1994) a respectable middle-class man finds evidence of a very doubtful act in his past when reading a friend's autobiography; the novel is a haunting examination of the dark forces beneath English respectability and the vulnerability of identity. King's volumes of short stories include The Brighton Belle and Other Stories (1968), Hard Feelings and Other Stories (1976), and One Is a Wanderer (1985). In his social comedy, his use of other cultures as points of reference in the dissection of his own, and in his recognition of homosexuality as an incontestable force, King stands very much in the tradition of E. M. Forster, though he is in fact a far more conservative writer, both formally and in his values. His other works include Florence: A Literary Companion (1991) and Yesterday Came Suddenly (1993), an autobiography.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Patrick Kavanagh Biography to Knocknarea Sligo