Alan Sillitoe Biography
(1928– ), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The General
Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi Thēbas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland
British novelist and poet, born in Nottingham, the son of a labourer in a cycle factory. He left school at 14 to become a factory worker and then an air-control assistant. He was a wireless operator with the RAF in Malaya (1946–9), and began to write during an eighteen-month convalescence from TB. He lived in France and Spain during the 1950s, and has continued to travel widely, although his work tends to be set in and around Nottingham. His first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), remains his best-known. Its unsentimental portrait of working-class life in Nottingham and the rebelliousness of the young factory worker, Arthur Seaton, caught the mood of the time, and it was successfully filmed. The title story of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959) is a finely crafted realization of Sillitoe's social philosophy. Following the thought processes of a Borstal boy as he runs a long-distance race against a local public school, it traces the evolution of the boy's own set of values which persuade him to lose the race deliberately in the face of the governor's flawed notions of rehabilitation into a competitive society. The General (1960) is a political fable in which a general captures an entire orchestra and allows them to play one final concert. The music destroys the soldier in him, however, and he begins to lose his war. Sillitoe's third novel, Key to the Door (1961), focuses on Arthur Seaton's elder brother Brian, whose rebellion is a quieter, more intellectual affair. Tracing the family history through the Depression of the 1930s, it is a powerful and moving account of working-class life. Frank Dawley, the protagonist of The Death of William Posters (1965), A Tree on Fire (1968), and The Flame of Life (1974), is a Nottingham factory worker who abandons his wife and children and ends up running guns in Algeria. His commitment to communism is used in the novel to explore the notion of working-class revolution. The roles are reversed in Her Victory (1982), a soul-searching novel in which a woman abandons her boorish husband after twenty years of marriage, and escapes to London and more meaningful relationships. His more recent novels include The Open Door (1989), whose hero is Brian the brother of Arthur Seaton, who overcomes TB in order to realize his ambition as a writer; Last Loves (1990), about two veteran army comrades who revisit the scene of conflict in Malaya forty years later; Leonard's War: A Love Story (1991), a tale of sexual obsession set in Nottingham during the Second World War; and Snowstops (1993), about twelve people thrown together in a remote hotel in the Pennine Peak District. Sillitoe has published several volumes of short stories, including The Ragman's Daughter (1963), Guzman Go Home (1968), The Far Side of the Street (1988), and Collected Stories (1995), which reveal his ability to reproduce the texture of restricted lives in a compassionate, uncondescending way. He has also published seven collections of poetry, and an autobiography, Life Without Armour (1995).