History of Literature






English literature


 


John Wain

born March 14, 1925, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, Eng.
died May 24, 1994, Oxford, Oxfordshire

English novelist and poet whose early works caused him, by their radical tone, to be spoken of as one of the “Angry Young Men” of the 1950s. He was also a critic and playwright.

Wain was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford, of which he subsequently became a fellow. He was a lecturer in English literature at the University of Reading from 1949 to 1955 and from 1973 to 1978 was professor of poetry at Oxford.

His poetry includes Mixed Feelings (1951), A Word Carved on a Sill (1956), Weep Before God (1961), Wildtrack (1965), Letters to Five Artists (1969), and Feng (1975). Poems 1949–1979 was published in 1980. His poetry, witty and brittle, has been criticized for its occasionally contrived cleverness.

Hurry On Down (1953) was Wain’s first and, to some critics, best novel. (Other contenders would probably be Strike the Father Dead [1962] and A Winter in the Hills [1970].) It follows the adventures of a university graduate valiantly trying to establish some sort of personal identity in the bewildering and rapidly changing society of postwar Britain. Wain’s other novels include Living in the Present (1955), The Contenders (1958), The Young Visitors (1965), The Smaller Sky (1967), and The Pardoner’s Tale (1978). His short stories are collected in Nuncle and Other Stories (1960), Death of the Hind Legs (1966), and The Life Guard and Other Stories (1971). Wain wrote a considerable body of literary criticism, including Preliminary Essays (1957), Essays on Literature and Ideas (1963), and The Living World of Shakespeare (1964; rev. ed., 1979). He wrote a biography of Samuel Johnson (1974, with a revised edition in 1980) and an autobiography, Sprightly Running (1962). In 1983 he was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire.
 

 
 

John Wain
Alan Sillitoe
Stan Barstow
David Storey
Anthony Powell
Kingsley Amis
C.P. Snow
Angus Wilson
Malcolm Bradbury
David Lodge
Paul Scott
J.G. Farrell
Julian Barnes
Salman Rushdie
Margaret Drabble
Martin Amis
Angela Carter
Jeanette Winterson
Beryl Bainbridge
A.S. Byatt
Ian McEwan
Graham Swift
George Barker
D.J. Enright
Roy Fuller
Robert Conquest
Elizabeth Jennings
Philip Larkin
John Betjeman
Ted Hughes
Thom Gunn
R.S. Thomas
Douglas Dunn
Tony Harrison
Andrew Motion
Sylvia Plath

 

 

 






 


Christopher Fry

born December 18, 1907, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England
died June 30, 2005, Chichester, West Sussex

British writer of verse plays.

Fry adopted his mother’s surname after he became a schoolteacher at age 18, his father having died many years earlier. He was an actor, director, and writer of revues and plays before he gained fame as a playwright for The Lady’s Not for Burning (1948), an ironic comedy set in medieval times whose heroine is charged with being a witch. A Phoenix Too Frequent (1946) retells a tale from Petronius Arbiter. The Boy with a Cart (1950), a story of St. Cuthman, is a legend of miracles and faith in the style of the mystery plays. A Sleep of Prisoners (1951) and The Dark Is Light Enough (1954) explore religious themes. After many years of translating and adapting plays—including Ring Round the Moon (produced 1950; adapted from Jean Anouilh’s L’Invitation du château), Duel of Angels (produced 1963; adapted from Jean Giraudoux’s Pour Lucrèce), and Peer Gynt (produced 1970; based on Johan Fillinger’s translation of Henrik Ibsen’s play)—Fry wrote A Yard of Sun, which was produced in 1970.

Fry also collaborated on the screenplays of the epic films Ben Hur (1959) and Barabbas (1962), and he wrote plays for both radio and television. His Can You Find Me: A Family History was published in 1978.
 

 

 


William Gerald Golding

in full Sir William Gerald Golding

born Sept. 19, 1911, St. Columb Minor, near Newquay, Cornwall, Eng.
died June 19, 1993, Perranarworthal, near Falmouth, Cornwall

English novelist who in 1983 won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his parables of the human condition. He attracted a cult of followers, especially among the youth of the post-World War II generation.

Educated at Marlborough Grammar School, where his father taught, and at Brasenose College, Oxford, Golding graduated in 1935. After working in a settlement house and in small theatre companies, he became a schoolmaster at Bishop Wordsworth’s School, Salisbury. He joined the Royal Navy in 1940, took part in the action that saw the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck, and commanded a rocket-launching craft during the invasion of France in 1944. After the war he resumed teaching at Bishop Wordsworth’s until 1961.

Golding’s first published novel was Lord of the Flies (1954; film 1963 and 1990), the story of a group of schoolboys isolated on a coral island who revert to savagery. Its imaginative and brutal depiction of the rapid and inevitable dissolution of social mores aroused widespread interest. The Inheritors (1955), set in the last days of Neanderthal man, is another story of the essential violence and depravity of human nature. The guilt-filled reflections of a naval officer, his ship torpedoed, who faces an agonizing death are the subject of Pincher Martin (1956). Two other novels, Free Fall (1959) and The Spire (1964), also demonstrate Golding’s belief that “man produces evil as a bee produces honey.” Darkness Visible (1979) tells the story of a boy horribly burned in the London blitz during World War II. His later works include Rites of Passage (1980), which won the Booker McConnell Prize, and its sequels, Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989). Golding was knighted in 1988.

 

 

 


Muriel Spark

born Feb. 1, 1918, Edinburgh, Scot.
died April 13, 2006, Florence, Italy

British writer best known for the satire and wit with which the serious themes of her novels are presented.

Spark was educated in Edinburgh and later spent some years in Central Africa; the latter served as the setting for her first volume of short stories, The Go-Away Bird and Other Stories (1958). She returned to Great Britain during World War II and worked for the Foreign Office, writing propaganda. She then served as general secretary of the Poetry Society and editor of The Poetry Review (1947–49). She later published a series of critical biographies of literary figures and editions of 19th-century letters, including Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1951; rev. ed., Mary Shelley, 1987), John Masefield (1953), and The Brontë Letters (1954). Spark converted to Roman Catholicism in 1954.
Until 1957 Spark published only criticism and poetry. With the publication of The Comforters (1957), however, her talent as a novelist—an ability to create disturbing, compelling characters and a disquieting sense of moral ambiguity—was immediately evident. Her third novel, Memento Mori (1959), was adapted for the stage in 1964 and for television in 1992. Her best-known novel is probably The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), which centres on a domineering teacher at a girls’ school. It also became popular in its stage (1966) and film (1969) versions.
Some critics found Spark’s earlier novels minor; some of these works—such as The Comforters, Memento Mori, The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960), and The Girls of Slender Means (1963)—are characterized by humorous and slightly unsettling fantasy. The Mandelbaum Gate (1965) marked a departure toward weightier themes, and the novels that followed—The Driver’s Seat (1970, film 1974), Not to Disturb (1971), and The Abbess of Crewe (1974)—have a distinctly sinister tone. Among Spark’s later novels are Territorial Rights (1979), A Far Cry from Kensington (1988), Reality and Dreams (1996), and The Finishing School (2004). Other works include Collected Poems I (1967) and Collected Stories (1967). Curriculum Vitae (1992) is an autobiography. Spark was made Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1993.

 

 
 


Ivy Compton-Burnett


 

born , June 5, 1884, Pinner, Middlesex, Eng.
died Aug. 27, 1969, London

English writer who developed a distinct form of novel set almost entirely in dialogue to dissect personal relationships in the middle-class Edwardian household.

Compton-Burnett was born into the type of large family she wrote about. She grew up in Richmond, Surrey, and in Hove, Sussex, studying at home until she went to Royal Holloway College of the University of London, where she graduated in 1906. At age 35 she met Margaret Jourdain, her lifelong companion.

Pastors and Masters (1925), Compton-Burnett’s second novel, was published 14 years after her first, and it introduced the style that was to make her name. In this book the struggle for power, which occupies so many of her characters, is brought to light through clipped, precise dialogue. She achieved her full stature with Brothers and Sisters (1929), which is about a willful woman who inadvertently marries her half brother. Men and Wives (1931) has at its centre another determined woman, one whose tyranny drives her son to murder her. Murder again appears in More Women Than Men (1933), this time by a woman bent on keeping her nephew under her domination. The tyrant is a father in A House and Its Head (1935). The range of her characterization is considerable. It is the butler Bullivant who is the most memorable of the cast of Manservant and Maidservant (1947; also published as Bullivant and the Lambs), while the children in Two Worlds and Their Ways (1949) are the most tellingly drawn. She was created Dame of the British Empire in 1967.
 

 

 

 


Iris Murdoch




original name in full Jean Iris Murdoch, married name Mrs. John O. Bayley
born July 15, 1919, Dublin, Ireland
died February 8, 1999, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

British novelist and philosopher noted for her psychological novels that contain philosophical and comic elements.

After an early childhood spent in London, Murdoch went to Badminton School, Bristol, and from 1938 to 1942 studied at Somerville College, Oxford. Between 1942 and 1944 she worked in the British Treasury and then for two years as an administrative officer with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. In 1948 she was elected a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford.

Murdoch’s first published work was a critical study, Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (1953). This was followed by two novels, Under the Net (1954) and The Flight from the Enchanter (1956), that were admired for their intelligence, wit, and high seriousness. These qualities, along with a rich comic sense and a gift for analyzing the tensions and complexities in sophisticated sexual relationships, continued to distinguish her work. With what is perhaps her finest book, The Bell (1958), Murdoch began to attain wide recognition as a novelist. She went on to a highly prolific career with such novels as A Severed Head (1961), The Red and the Green (1965), The Nice and the Good (1968), The Black Prince (1973), Henry and Cato (1976), The Sea, the Sea (1978, Booker Prize), The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983), The Good Apprentice (1985), The Book and the Brotherhood (1987), The Message to the Planet (1989), and The Green Knight (1993). Murdoch’s last novel, Jackson’s Dilemma (1995), was not well received; some critics attributed the novel’s flaws to the Alzheimer’s disease with which she had been diagnosed in 1994. Murdoch’s husband, the novelist John Bayley, chronicled her struggle with the disease in his memoir, Elegy for Iris (1999).

Murdoch’s novels typically have convoluted plots in which innumerable characters representing different philosophical positions undergo kaleidoscopic changes in their relations with each other. Realistic observations of 20th-century life among middle-class professionals are interwoven with extraordinary incidents that partake of the macabre, the grotesque, and the wildly comic. The novels illustrate Murdoch’s conviction that although human beings think they are free to exercise rational control over their lives and behaviour, they are actually at the mercy of the unconscious mind, the determining effects of society at large, and other, more inhuman, forces. In addition to producing novels, Murdoch wrote plays, verse, and works of philosophy and literary criticism.
 



While restricting themselves to socially limited canvases, novelists such as Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, and Barbara Pym continued the tradition of depicting emotional and psychological nuance that Murdoch felt was dangerously neglected in mid-20th-century novels. In contrast to their wry comedies of sense and sensibility and to the packed parables of Golding and Spark was yet another type of fiction, produced by a group of writers who became known as the Angry Young Men. From authors such as John Braine, John Wain (also a notable poet), Alan Sillitoe, Stan Barstow, and David Storey (also a significant dramatist) came a spate of novels often ruggedly autobiographical in origin and near documentary in approach. The predominant subject of these books was social mobility, usually from the northern working class to the southern middle class. Social mobility was also inspected, from an upper-class vantage point, in Anthony Powell’s 12-novel sequence A Dance to the Music of Time (1951–75), an attempt to apply the French novelist Marcel Proust’s mix of irony, melancholy, meditativeness, and social detail to a chronicle of class and cultural shifts in England from World War I to the 1960s. Satiric watchfulness of social change was also the specialty of Kingsley Amis, whose deriding of the reactionary and pompous in his first novel, Lucky Jim (1954), led to his being labeled an Angry Young Man. As Amis grew older, though, his irascibility vehemently swiveled toward left-wing and progressive targets, and he established himself as a Tory satirist in the vein of Waugh or Powell. C.P. Snow’s earnest 11-novel sequence, Strangers and Brothers (1940–70), about a man’s journey from the provincial lower classes to London’s “corridors of power,” had its admirers. But the most inspired fictional cavalcade of social and cultural life in 20th-century Britain was Angus Wilson’s No Laughing Matter (1967), a book that set a triumphant seal on his progress from a writer of acidic short stories to a major novelist whose work unites 19th-century breadth and gusto with 20th-century formal versatility and experiment.

 


Barbara Pym

born June 2, 1913, Oswestry, Shropshire, Eng.
died Jan. 11, 1980, Oxford


English novelist, a recorder of post-World War II upper middle-class life, whose elegant and satiric comedies of manners are marked by poignant observation and psychological insight.

Pym was educated at Huyton College, Liverpool, and at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford. She worked for the International African Institute in London from 1946 until she retired in 1974 and edited the anthropological journal Africa for more than 20 years. In her novels Pym rejected overt drama and emotionalism and instead chose to depict the quiet, uneventful surface of her characters’ lives in order to describe human loneliness and the corresponding impulse to love. Her works include Some Tame Gazelle (1950), Excellent Women (1952), A Glass of Blessings (1958), Quartet in Autumn (1977), and The Sweet Dove Died (1978). A Few Green Leaves (1980) and An Unsuitable Attachment (1982) were published posthumously, as was A Very Private Eye (1984)—her diaries and letters edited as an autobiography.
 

 

 


John Braine

born April 13, 1922, Bradford, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Oct. 28, 1987, London

British novelist, one of the so-called Angry Young Men, whose Room at the Top (1957; film 1958) typifies the concerns of a generation of post-World War II British writers.

Braine attended St. Bede’s Grammar School in Bradford and the Leeds School of Librarianship and was working as a librarian in the West Riding of Yorkshire when Room at the Top appeared. Its protagonist, a young working-class man, traps himself into an unhappy marriage with the daughter of a wealthy businessman. None of his later novels approached it in critical or popular success. Waiting for Sheila (1976) was adapted for television (1977), as was Stay With Me Till Morning (1970; adapted for television, 1980).
 

 

 


John Wain

born March 14, 1925, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, Eng.
died May 24, 1994, Oxford, Oxfordshire

English novelist and poet whose early works caused him, by their radical tone, to be spoken of as one of the “Angry Young Men” of the 1950s. He was also a critic and playwright.

Wain was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford, of which he subsequently became a fellow. He was a lecturer in English literature at the University of Reading from 1949 to 1955 and from 1973 to 1978 was professor of poetry at Oxford.

His poetry includes Mixed Feelings (1951), A Word Carved on a Sill (1956), Weep Before God (1961), Wildtrack (1965), Letters to Five Artists (1969), and Feng (1975). Poems 1949–1979 was published in 1980. His poetry, witty and brittle, has been criticized for its occasionally contrived cleverness.

Hurry On Down (1953) was Wain’s first and, to some critics, best novel. (Other contenders would probably be Strike the Father Dead [1962] and A Winter in the Hills [1970].) It follows the adventures of a university graduate valiantly trying to establish some sort of personal identity in the bewildering and rapidly changing society of postwar Britain. Wain’s other novels include Living in the Present (1955), The Contenders (1958), The Young Visitors (1965), The Smaller Sky (1967), and The Pardoner’s Tale (1978). His short stories are collected in Nuncle and Other Stories (1960), Death of the Hind Legs (1966), and The Life Guard and Other Stories (1971). Wain wrote a considerable body of literary criticism, including Preliminary Essays (1957), Essays on Literature and Ideas (1963), and The Living World of Shakespeare (1964; rev. ed., 1979). He wrote a biography of Samuel Johnson (1974, with a revised edition in 1980) and an autobiography, Sprightly Running (1962). In 1983 he was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire.
 

 

 


Alan Sillitoe



born March 4, 1928, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, Eng.
died April 25, 2010, London

writer, one of the so-called Angry Young Men, whose brash and angry accounts of working-class life injected new vigour into post-World War II British fiction.

The son of a tannery worker, Sillitoe worked in factories from the age of 14. In 1946 he joined the air force, and for two years he served as a radio operator in Malaya. After his return to England, X-rays revealed that he had contracted tuberculosis, and he spent several months in a hospital. Between 1952 and 1958 he lived in France and Spain. In Majorca he met the poet Robert Graves, who suggested that he write about Nottingham, and Sillitoe began work on his first published novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958; filmed 1960). It was an immediate success, telling the story of a rude and amoral young labourer for whom drink and sex on Saturday night provide the only relief from the oppression of the working life.

From his short-story collection The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959), Sillitoe helped adapt the title story into a film (1962). Later novels, such as The Death of William Posters (1965) and The Widower’s Son (1977), deal with more intellectual working-class characters. In 2001 he published Birthday, a sequel to Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Notable short-story collections are The Ragman’s Daughter (1963; filmed 1974), Men, Women, and Children (1974), and The Second Chance (1980).

Sillitoe also wrote children’s books, poetry, and plays while continuing as a novelist. Life Without Armour, an autobiography, was published in 1995.
 

 

 


Stan Barstow



born June 28, 1928, Horbury, Yorkshire, Eng.

English novelist who achieved success with his first book, A Kind of Loving (1960; filmed 1962; stage play 1970).

Barstow grew up in a working-class environment and worked in the engineering industry until 1962. He was among a group of young British writers (including Alan Sillitoe, John Braine, and others) who achieved immediate success in the 1950s and ’60s with their unsentimental depiction of working-class life. His later novels include Joby (1964), The Watchers on the Shore (1966), A Raging Calm (1968), A Season with Eros (1971), The Right True End (1976), A Brother’s Tale (1980), and Just You Wait and See (1986). He has also written short stories and adapted several stories and novels for radio and television. An autobiography, In My Own Good Time, appeared in 2001.
 

 

 


David Storey

born July 13, 1933, Wakefield, Yorkshire, Eng.

English novelist and playwright whose brief professional rugby career and lower-class background provided material for the simple, powerful prose that won him early recognition as an accomplished storyteller and dramatist.

After completing his schooling at Wakefield at age 17, Storey signed a 15-year contract with the Leeds Rugby League Club; he also won a scholarship to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. When the conflict between rugby and painting became too great, he paid back three-quarters of his signing-on fee, and Leeds let him go.

Storey’s first published novel, This Sporting Life (1960), is his best-known. It is the story of a professional rugby player and his affair with his widowed landlady. Storey wrote the script for a film based on the novel and directed by Lindsay Anderson in 1966. Other novels followed: Flight into Camden (1960), about an independent young woman who defies her mining family; Radcliffe (1963), about the struggle for power in a homosexual relationship; Pasmore (1972), on the regeneration of a man who had given himself up for lost; and Saville (1976, Booker Prize), an autobiographical account of the breaking away of a coal miner’s son from village life. Later novels include A Prodigal Child (1982), Present Times (1984), A Serious Man (1998), As It Happened (2002), and Thin-Ice Skater (2004).

Storey also established a reputation as a playwright. His first play, The Restoration of Arnold Middleton (performed 1966), won immediate recognition. In Celebration (performed 1969; filmed 1974), directed by Anderson, returned to a recurring Storey theme: the impossibility of making a clean break with one’s lower-class roots and background. Later plays include The Contractor (performed 1969); Home (1970), set in an insane asylum; The Changing Room (1971), set in the changing room of a semiprofessional rugby team; Life Class (1974), about a failed art master; Mother’s Day (1976); Sisters (1978); Early Days (1980); and The March on Russia (1989).
 

 

 


Anthony Powell



born December 21, 1905, London, England
died March 28, 2000, near Frome, Somerset

English novelist, best known for his autobiographical and satiric 12-volume series of novels, A Dance to the Music of Time.

As a child, Powell lived wherever his father, a regular officer in the Welsh Regiment, was stationed. He attended Eton College from 1919 to 1923 and Balliol College, Oxford, from 1923 to 1926. Thereafter he joined the London publishing house of Duckworth, which published his first novel, Afternoon Men (1931). The book was followed by four more novels on prewar society, including Venusburg (1932) and From a View to a Death (1933).

Powell left publishing for journalism in 1936, writing for the Daily Telegraph for nearly 50 years. After serving in World War II, he wrote a biographical study of the 17th-century author John Aubrey and His Friends (1948).

In 1951 he published A Question of Upbringing, the first part of his ambitious 12-part cycle of novels. The series’ first-person narrative reflects Powell’s own outlook and experiences; he observes and describes English upper- and middle-class society in the decades before and after World War II with wit and insight, using a subtle, low-key style. The 12-volume Dance to the Music of Time series ended with the publication of Hearing Secret Harmonies in 1975 and is considered a significant achievement of 20th-century English fiction. Powell afterward continued to write novels and also four volumes of memoirs, collected as To Keep the Ball Rolling (1983).
 

 

 


Kingsley Amis

born April 16, 1922, London, England
died October 22, 1995, London

novelist, poet, critic, and teacher who created in his first novel, Lucky Jim, a comic figure that became a household word in Great Britain in the 1950s.

Amis was educated at the City of London School and at St. John’s College, Oxford (B.A., 1949). His education was interrupted during World War II by his service as a lieutenant in the Royal Corps of Signals. From 1949 to 1961 he taught at universities in Wales, England, and the United States.

Amis’s first novel, Lucky Jim (1954, filmed 1957), was an immediate success and remains his most popular work. Its disgruntled antihero, a young university instructor named Jim Dixon, epitomized a newly important social group that had risen by dint of scholarships from lower-middle-class and working-class backgrounds only to find the more comfortable perches still occupied by the well-born. Lucky Jim prompted critics to group Amis with the Angry Young Men, who expressed similar social discontent. Amis’s next novel, That Uncertain Feeling (1955), had a similar antihero. A visit to Portugal resulted in the novel I Like It Here (1958), while observations garnered from a teaching stint in the United States were expressed in the novel One Fat Englishman (1963).

Amis went on to write more than 40 books, including some 20 novels, many volumes of poetry, and several collections of essays. His apparent lack of sympathy with his characters and his sharply satirical rendering of well-turned dialogue were complemented by his own curmudgeonly public persona. Notable among his later novels were The Green Man (1969), Jake’s Thing (1978), and The Old Devils (1986). As a poet, Amis was a representative member of a group sometimes called “The Movement,” whose poems began appearing in 1956 in the anthology New Lines. Poets belonging to this school wrote understated and disciplined verse that avoided experimentation and grandiose themes. In 1990 Amis was knighted, and his Memoirs were published in 1991. His son Martin Amis also became a well-known novelist.
 

 

 


C.P. Snow





in full Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow Of The City Of Leicester
born Oct. 15, 1905, Leicester, Leicestershire, Eng.
died July 1, 1980, London

British novelist, scientist, and government administrator.

Snow was graduated from Leicester University and earned a doctorate in physics at the University of Cambridge, where, at the age of 25, he became a fellow of Christ’s College. After working at Cambridge in molecular physics for some 20 years, he became a university administrator, and, with the outbreak of World War II, he became a scientific adviser to the British government. He was knighted in 1957 and made a life peer in 1964. In 1950 he married the British novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson.

In the 1930s Snow began the 11-volume novel sequence collectively called “Strangers and Brothers” (published 1940–70), about the academic, public, and private life of an Englishman named Lewis Eliot. The novels are a quiet (though not dull) and meticulous analysis of bureaucratic man and the corrupting influence of power. Several of Snow’s novels were adapted for the stage. Later novels include In Their Wisdom (1974) and Coat of Varnish (1979).

As both a literary man and a scientist, Snow was particularly well equipped to write a book about science and literature; The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959) and its sequel, Second Look (1964), constitute Snow’s most widely known—and widely attacked—position. He argued that practitioners of either of the two disciplines know little, if anything, about the other and that communication is difficult, if not impossible, between them. Snow thus called attention to a breach in two of the major branches of Western culture, a breach long noted but rarely enunciated by a figure respected in both fields. Snow acknowledged the emergence of a third “culture” as well, the social sciences and arts concerned with “how human beings are living or have lived.” Many of Snow’s writings on science and culture are found in Public Affairs (1971). Trollope: His Life and Art (1975) exemplifies Snow’s powers in literary criticism, as does The Realists: Eight Portraits (1979).
 

 

 


Angus Wilson



born , Aug. 11, 1913, Bexhill, East Sussex, Eng.
died May 31, 1991, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, Eng.

British writer whose fiction—sometimes serious, sometimes richly satirical—portrays conflicts in contemporary English social and intellectual life.

Wilson was the youngest of six sons born to an upper-middle-class family who lived a shabby-genteel existence in small hotels and boarding houses, chiefly in London. This unsettled world on the fringe of society is featured in many of his short stories, and he describes it in his autobiographical Wild Garden (1963). He was educated at Westminster School, London, and Merton College, Oxford, and then worked as a cataloger at the British Museum Reading Room. His mother died when he was 15 years old, and he and his father developed a close companionship that left an emotional void at the latter’s death in 1939. A nervous breakdown while working for the Foreign Office during World War II led him to conclude that he had kept himself in a state of childlike innocence about the world and that it was necessary to become an adult, no matter how painfully. Several of the central characters in his novels and stories are also faced with this problem. He returned to the British Museum after the war, becoming deputy to the superintendent of the Reading Room until he left in 1955 to devote himself to writing. He was professor of English literature at the University of East Anglia (1966–78), becoming emeritus thereafter.

Death Dance: 25 Stories (1969) is a collection of early stories. His first novel, Hemlock and After (1952), is regarded by some critics as his best. Before that he had already been noticed by the reading public with the stories collected as The Wrong Set (1949) and Such Darling Dodos (1950). Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956) and The Old Men at the Zoo (1961) offer acute pictures of a wide array of characters, chiefly learned or propertied, in British life. The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot (1958) is a psychological portrait. Later novels include Late Call (1964), As If By Magic (1973), and Setting the World on Fire (1980). The World of Charles Dickens (1970) and The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling (1977) are notable biographies. Wilson was knighted in 1980.
 




The parody and pastiche that Wilson brilliantly deploys in No Laughing Matter and the book’s fascination with the sources and resources of creativity constitute a rich, imaginative response to what had become a mood of growing self-consciousness in fiction. Thoughtfulness about the form of the novel and relationships between past and present fiction showed itself most stimulatingly in the works—generally campus novels—of the academically based novelists Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge.

From the late 1960s onward, the outstanding trend in fiction was enthrallment with empire. The first phase of this focused on imperial disillusion and dissolution. In his vast, detailed Raj Quartet (The Jewel in the Crown [1966], The Day of the Scorpion [1968], The Towers of Silence [1971], and A Division of the Spoils [1975]), Paul Scott charted the last years of the British in India; he followed it with Staying On (1977), a poignant comedy about those who remained after independence. Three half-satiric, half-elegiac novels by J.G. Farrell (Troubles [1970], The Siege of Krishnapur [1973], and The Singapore Grip [1978]) likewise spotlighted imperial discomfiture. Then, in the 1980s, postcolonial voices made themselves audible. Salman Rushdie’s crowded comic saga about the generation born as Indian independence dawned, Midnight’s Children (1981), boisterously mingles material from Eastern fable, Hindu myth, Islamic lore, Bombay cinema, cartoon strips, advertising billboards, and Latin American magic realism. (Such eclecticism, sometimes called “postmodern,” also showed itself in other kinds of fiction in the 1980s.

Julian Barnes
’s A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters [1989], for example, inventively mixes fact and fantasy, reportage, art criticism, autobiography, parable, and pastiche in its working of fictional variations on the Noah’s Ark myth.) For Rushdie, as Shame (1983), The Satanic Verses (1988), The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995), and The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) further demonstrate, stylistic miscellaneousness—a way of writing that exhibits the vitalizing effects of cultural cross-fertilization—is especially suited to conveying postcolonial experience. (The Satanic Verses was understood differently in the Islamic world, to the extent that the Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa, in effect a death sentence [later suspended], on Rushdie.) However, not all postcolonial authors followed Rushdie’s example.

 


Malcolm Bradbury



born September 7, 1932, Sheffield, England
died November 27, 2000, Norwich, Norfolk

British novelist and critic who is best known for The History Man (1975), a satirical look at academic life.

Bradbury studied at the University of Leicester (B.A., 1953), Queen Mary College (M.A., 1955) in London, and the University of Manchester, from which he received his doctorate in 1964. After traveling in the United States on a fellowship, he taught from 1959, first at the University of Hull, then at Birmingham. In 1965 he joined the faculty of the University of East Anglia, where he was a lecturer, reader, and then professor of American studies before retiring in 1995. In 1970 he helped found the university’s first creative writing course and became noted for encouraging new talent. Among the students he taught were Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Bradbury received critical acclaim for his first novel, Eating People Is Wrong (1959), which takes place in the provincial world of academics, a common setting for his novels. Less successful was Stepping Westward (1965), which leans heavily on his experience on an American university campus. Beginning with The History Man, Bradbury’s works became more technically innovative as well as harsher in tone. His later novels include Rates of Exchange (1983), the satiric tale of a linguist traveling to a fictional eastern European country; Why Come to Slaka? (1986), a guidebook to that fictional country; Cuts (1987); and Doctor Criminale (1992). His last novel, To the Hermitage, appeared in 2000. Bradbury also wrote several books and essays of criticism and literary history, as well as a number of television plays. He was appointed CBE in 1991 and was knighted in 2000.
 

 

 


David Lodge



born Jan. 28, 1935, London, Eng.

English novelist, literary critic, and editor known chiefly for his satiric novels about academic life.

Lodge was educated at University College, London (B.A., 1955; M.A., 1959), and at the University of Birmingham (Ph.D., 1967). His early novels, known mostly in England, include The Picturegoers (1960), about a group of Roman Catholics living in London; Ginger, You’re Barmy (1962), Lodge’s novelistic response to his army service in the mid-1950s; The British Museum Is Falling Down (1965), which uses stream-of-consciousness technique; and Out of the Shelter (1970), an autobiographical coming-of-age novel. How Far Can You Go? (1980; also published as Souls & Bodies) was well received in both the United States and Britain and takes a satiric look at a group of contemporary English Catholics.

Several of Lodge’s novels satirize academic life and share the same setting and recurring characters; these include Changing Places: A Tale of Two Campuses (1975), Small World: An Academic Romance (1984), and Nice Work (1988). The latter two were short-listed for the Booker Prize. Among his later novels are Paradise News (1991), Therapy (1995), Thinks… (2001), Author, Author (2004), and Deaf Sentence (2008).

In addition to writing fiction, Lodge coauthored the plays Between These Four Walls (produced 1963) and Slap in the Middle (produced 1965). His works of literary theory include Language of Fiction (1966), The Novelist at the Crossroads, and Other Essays on Fiction and Criticism (1971; rev. ed. 1984), Working with Structuralism: Essays and Reviews on Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literature (1981), Write On: Occasional Essays (1986), and After Bakhtin: Essays in Fiction and Criticism (1990). The Art of Fiction (1992) reprints essays from Lodge’s column written for The Washington Post and the London Independent, and The Practice of Writing (1996) contains essays, lectures, reviews, and a diary. He was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1997 and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1998.
 

 

 


Paul Scott

 

born March 25, 1920, Palmers Green, Eng.
died March 1, 1978, London

British novelist known for his chronicling of the decline of the British occupation of India, most fully realized in his series of novels known as The Raj Quartet (filmed for television as The Jewel in the Crown in 1984).

Scott left school at 16 to train as an accountant. He joined the British army in 1940 and was sent to India. From 1943 to 1946 he served with the Indian army, during which time he traveled throughout India, Burma (now Myanmar), and Malaya. Upon returning to London he worked in a small publishing firm for four years and then became a director of a London literary agency; he resigned in 1960 to write full-time. A trip to India in 1964, underwritten by his publishers, helped inspire The Raj Quartet—The Jewel in the Crown (1966), The Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971), and A Division of the Spoils (1975)—as well as Staying On (1977), which won the Booker Prize. While exploring the manifold consequences of the rape of an Englishwoman, the books illustrate in profuse detail the final years of the British occupation of India from the points of view of English, Hindu, and Muslim characters.

All of Scott’s works employ Indian themes or characters, even those set outside India. His early novels, such as Johnnie Sahib (1952), The Mark of the Warrior (1958), and The Chinese Love Pavilion (1960; U.S. title, The Love Pavilion), address moral conflicts of British army officers in the East.
 

 

 


J.G. Farrell

born Jan. 23, 1935, Liverpool, Eng.
died Aug. 12, 1979, Bantry Bay, Ire.

British novelist who won acclaim for his Empire trilogy, a series of historical novels that intricately explore British imperialism and its decline.

Farrell was born to an Irish mother and an English father, and he spent much of his childhood in Ireland. After attending boarding school in Lancashire, Eng., he studied at the University of Oxford, where in 1960 he received a degree in French and Spanish. While teaching at a lycée (secondary school) in France, Farrell started to write fiction. His debut novel, A Man from Elsewhere (1963), a cerebral narrative about a communist journalist attempting to expose a celebrated writer’s past, contains echoes of French existentialism. He followed it with The Lung (1965), in which he drew upon his own affliction with polio, which he contracted at Oxford, to present a downbeat portrait of an irascible man confined to an iron lung. On the strength of these two works, in 1966 Farrell won a fellowship to travel to the United States. While in New York City he published A Girl in the Head (1967), which tells in seriocomic fashion the story of a cynical eccentric living in an English seaside town.

While Farrell received a modicum of praise for these tales of contemporary alienation, it was only after he turned his attention to historical fiction that he achieved wide renown. Becoming interested in the collapse of the British Empire as a cultural watershed, he embarked upon what would eventually become a trilogy of meticulously researched novels on the subject. The first, Troubles (1970), focuses on the struggle for Irish independence in the years following World War I, with its principal setting—the sprawling, run-down Majestic Hotel—serving as a metaphor for the dying empire. Though a rule change made the novel (and all others published in 1970) ineligible at the time for the Booker Prize, in 2010 it received the Lost Man Booker Prize, an honour (chosen by means of an online public poll) meant to correct the anomaly. In 1973, after spending time in India, Farrell produced The Siege of Krishnapur, a fictional treatment of the 1857–58 Indian Mutiny that blends a lively adventure narrative with an unmistakable critique of British Victorian values. Esteemed by critics, it won the Booker Prize. The Singapore Grip (1978), the final novel in the series, ambitiously recounts through both personal and political lenses the Battle of Singapore during World War II, in which the British colony fell to the Japanese.

In 1979 Farrell drowned while fishing near his home in Ireland. An unfinished novel, The Hill Station, another examination of British colonialism in India, was published two years later.

John M. Cunningham
 

 

 


Julian Barnes


 

born Jan. 19, 1946, Leicester, Eng.

British television critic and author of inventive and intellectual novels about obsessed characters curious about the past.

Barnes attended Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1968), and began contributing reviews to the Times Literary Supplement in the 1970s while publishing thrillers under his Kavanagh pseudonym. These books—which include Duffy (1980), Fiddle City (1981), Putting the Boot In (1985), and Going to the Dogs (1987)—feature a man named Duffy, a bisexual ex-cop turned private detective.

The first novel published under Barnes’s own name was the coming-of-age story Metroland (1980). Jealous obsession moves the protagonist of Before She Met Me (1982) to scrutinize his new wife’s past. Flaubert’s Parrot (1984) is a humorous mixture of biography, fiction, and literary criticism as a scholar becomes obsessed with Flaubert and with the stuffed parrot that Flaubert used as inspiration in writing the short story “Un Coeur simple.” Barnes’s later novels include A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters (1989), Talking It Over (1991), The Porcupine (1992), and Cross Channel (1996). In the satirical England, England (1998), Barnes skewers modern England in his portrayal of a theme park on the Isle of Wight, complete with the royal family, the Tower of London, Robin Hood, and pubs. Critics thought Barnes showed a new depth of emotion in The Lemon Table (2004), a collection of short stories in which most of the characters are consumed by thoughts of death. He explored why some people are remembered after their death and others are not in the historical novel Arthur & George (2006), in which one of the title characters is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Barnes’s nonfiction work includes a collection of essays about France and French culture, Something to Declare (2002), as well as The Pedant in the Kitchen (2003), which explores his love of food. His memoir Nothing to Be Frightened Of (2008) is an honest, oftentimes jarringly critical look at his relationship with his parents and older brother.
 

 

 


Salman Rushdie



in full Ahmed Salman Rushdie

born June 19, 1947, Bombay, India

Anglo-Indian novelist who was condemned to death by leading Iranian Muslim clerics in 1989 for allegedly having blasphemed Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses. His case became the focus of an international controversy.

Rushdie was the son of a prosperous Muslim businessman in India. He was educated at Rugby School and the University of Cambridge, receiving an M.A. degree in history in 1968. Throughout most of the 1970s he worked in London as an advertising copywriter, and his first published novel, Grimus, appeared in 1975. His next novel, Midnight’s Children (1981), an allegory about modern India, was an unexpected critical and popular success that won him international recognition. Like Rushdie’s subsequent fiction, Midnight’s Children is an allegorical fable that examines historical and philosophical issues by means of surreal characters, brooding humour, and an effusive and melodramatic prose style.

The novel Shame (1983), based on contemporary politics in Pakistan, was also popular, but Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, encountered a different reception. Some of the adventures in this book depict a character modeled on the Prophet Muhammad and portray both him and his transcription of the Qurʾān in a manner that, after the novel’s publication in the summer of 1988, drew criticism from Muslim community leaders in Britain, who denounced the novel as blasphemous. Public demonstrations against the book spread to Pakistan in January 1989. On February 14 the spiritual leader of revolutionary Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, publicly condemned the book and issued a fatwa (legal opinion) against Rushdie; a bounty was offered to anyone who would execute him. He went into hiding under the protection of Scotland Yard, and—although he occasionally emerged unexpectedly, sometimes in other countries—he was compelled to restrict his movements. Despite the standing death threat, Rushdie continued to write, producing Imaginary Homelands (1991), a collection of essays and criticism; the children’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990); the short-story collection East, West (1994); and the novel The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995). In 1998, after nearly a decade, the Iranian government announced it would no longer seek to enforce its fatwa against Rushdie.

Rushdie’s subsequent novels include The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999) and Fury (2001). Step Across This Line (2002) is a collection of essays he wrote between 1992 and 2002 on subjects from the September 11 attacks to The Wizard of Oz. Shalimar the Clown (2005), a novel set primarily in the disputed Kashmir region of the Indian subcontinent, examines the nature of terrorism. The Enchantress of Florence (2008) is based on a fictionalized account of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

Rushdie received the Booker Prize in 1981 for Midnight’s Children. He subsequently won the Booker of Bookers (1993) and the Best of the Booker (2008). These special prizes were voted on by the public in honour of the prize’s 25th and 40th anniversaries, respectively. Rushdie was knighted in 2007, an honour criticized by the Iranian government and Pakistan’s parliament.
 



 

Widening social divides in 1980s Britain were also registered in fiction, sometimes in works that purposefully imitate the Victorian “Condition of England” novel (the best is David Lodge’s elegant, ironic Nice Work [1988]). The most thoroughgoing of such “Two Nations” panoramas of an England cleft by regional gulfs and gross inequities between rich and poor is Margaret Drabble’s The Radiant Way (1987). With less documentary substantiality, Martin Amis’s novels, angled somewhere between scabrous relish and satiric disgust, offer prose that has the lurid energy of a strobe light playing over vistas of urban sleaze, greed, and debasement. Money (1984) is the most effectively focused of his books.

Just as some postcolonial novelists used myth, magic, and fable as a stylistic throwing-off of what they considered the alien supremacy of Anglo-Saxon realistic fiction, so numerous feminist novelists took to Gothic, fairy tale, and fantasy as countereffects to the “patriarchal discourse” of rationality, logic, and linear narrative. The most gifted exponent of this kind of writing, which sought immediate access to the realm of the subconscious, was Angela Carter, whose exotic and erotic imagination unrolled most eerily and resplendently in her short-story collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979). Jeanette Winterson also wrote in this vein. Having distinguished herself earlier in a realistic mode, as did authors such as Drabble and Pat Barker, Doris Lessing published a sequence of science fiction novels about issues of gender and colonialism, Canopus in Argos—Archives (1979–83).

Typically, though, fiction in the 1980s and ’90s was not futuristic but retrospective. As the end of the century approached, an urge to look back—at starting points, previous eras, fictional prototypes—was widely evident. The historical novel enjoyed an exceptional heyday. One of its outstanding practitioners was Barry Unsworth, the settings of whose works range from the Ottoman Empire (Pascali’s Island [1980], The Rage of the Vulture [1982]) to Venice in its imperial prime and its decadence (Stone Virgin [1985]) and northern England in the 14th century (Morality Play [1995]). Patrick O’Brian attracted an ardent following with his series of meticulously researched novels about naval life during the Napoleonic era, a 20-book sequence starting with Master and Commander (1969) and ending with Blue at the Mizzen (1999). Beryl Bainbridge, who began her fiction career as a writer of quirky black comedies about northern provincial life, turned her attention to Victorian and Edwardian misadventures: The Birthday Boys (1991) retraces Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the South Pole; Every Man for Himself (1996) accompanies the Titanic as it steamed toward disaster; and Master Georgie (1998) revisits the Crimean War.

Many novels juxtaposed a present-day narrative with one set in the past. A.S. Byatt’s Possession (1990) did so with particular intelligence. It also made extensive use of period pastiche, another enthusiasm of novelists toward the end of the 20th century. Adam Thorpe’s striking first novel, Ulverton (1992), records the 300-year history of a fictional village in the styles of different epochs. Golding’s veteran fiction career came to a bravura conclusion with a trilogy whose story is told by an early 19th-century narrator (To the Ends of the Earth [1991]; published separately as Rites of Passage [1980], Close Quarters [1987], and Fire Down Below [1989]). In addition to the interest in remote and recent history, a concern with tracing aftereffects became dominatingly present in fiction. Most subtly and powerfully exhibiting this, Ian McEwan—who came to notice in the 1970s as an unnervingly emotionless observer of contemporary decadence—grew into imaginative maturity with novels set largely in Berlin in the 1950s (The Innocent [1990]) and in Europe in 1946 (Black Dogs [1992]). These novels’ scenes set in the 1990s are haunted by what McEwan perceives as the continuing repercussions of World War II. These repercussions are also felt in Last Orders (1996), a masterpiece of quiet authenticity by Graham Swift, a novelist who, since his acclaimed Waterland (1983), showed himself to be acutely responsive to the atmosphere of retrospect and of concern with the consequences of the past that suffused English fiction as the second millennium neared.


 


Margaret Drabble

born June 5, 1939, Sheffield, Yorkshire, Eng.

English writer of novels that are skillfully modulated variations on the theme of a girl’s development toward maturity through her experiences of love, marriage, and motherhood.

Drabble began writing after leaving Cambridge University. The central characters of her novels, although widely different in character and circumstance, are shown in situations of tension and stress that are the necessary conditions for their moral growth. Drabble is concerned with the individual’s attempt to define the self, but she is also interested in social change. She writes in the tradition of such authors as George Eliot, Henry James, and Arnold Bennett.

Drabble’s early novels include A Summer Bird-Cage (1962), about a woman unsure of her life’s direction after dropping out of graduate school, and The Millstone (1965), the story of a woman who eventually sees her illegitimate child as both a burden and a blessing. Drabble won the E.M. Forster Award for The Needle’s Eye (1972), which explores questions of religion and morality. Her trilogy comprising The Radiant Way (1987), A Natural Curiosity (1989), and The Gates of Ivory (1991) follows the lives of three women who met at Cambridge during the 1950s. In The Peppered Moth (2000) Drabble detailed four generations of mothers and daughters in a Yorkshire family. The Sea Lady (2007) traces the relationship of a man and woman who met as children before either became famous—he as a marine biologist and she as a feminist—and ends with their reunion. In addition to her novels, Drabble wrote several books on the general subject of literature, as well as journal articles and screenplays. She also edited the Oxford Companion to English Literature.
 

 

 


Martin Amis



born Aug. 25, 1949, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Eng.

English satirist known for his virtuoso storytelling technique and his dark views of contemporary English society.

As a youth, Amis, the son of the novelist Kingsley Amis, thrived literarily on a permissive home atmosphere and a “passionate street life.” He graduated from Exeter College, Oxford, in 1971 with first-class honours in English and worked for several years as an editor on such publications as the Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman.

Amis’s first novel was The Rachel Papers (1973), the tale of a young antihero preoccupied with his health, his sex life, and his efforts to get into Oxford. Other novels include Other People (1981), London Fields (1989), and Night Train (1998), as well as Time’s Arrow (1991), which inverts traditional narrative order to describe the life of a Nazi war criminal from death to birth. In Amis’s works, according to one critic, “morality is nudged toward bankruptcy by ‘market forces.’ ” His short-story collection Einstein’s Monsters (1987) finds stupidity and horror in a world filled with nuclear weapons. The forced-labour camps under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin are the subject of both the nonfiction Koba the Dread (2002) and the novel House of Meetings (2006). In his novel The Pregnant Widow (2010), Amis examined the sexual revolution of the 1970s and its repercussions on a group of friends who lived through it.

Among Amis’s volumes of essays are The Moronic Inferno and Other Visits to America (1986) and The War Against Cliché (2001), both collections of journalism. Experience (2000), an autobiography that often focuses on his father, was acclaimed for an emotional depth and profundity that some reviewers had found lacking in his novels
 

 

 


Angela Carter



 

born May 7, 1940, Eastbourne, Sussex, Eng.
died Feb. 16, 1992, London

British author who reshaped motifs from mythology, legends, and fairy tales in her books, lending them a ghastly humour and eroticism.

Carter rejected an Oxford education to work as a journalist with the Croydon Advertiser, but she later studied medieval literature at the University of Bristol (B.A., 1965). She had moderate success with her novels Shadow Dance (1966; also published as Honeybuzzard) and The Magic Toyshop (1967; filmed 1986). Her other novels include Several Perceptions (1968), The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (1972), The Passion of New Eve (1977), and Wise Children (1991). Carter’s fiction gained new popularity in the 1980s, notably after the release of the motion picture The Company of Wolves (1984), which she cowrote; the film was based on a story from The Bloody Chamber (1979), a collection of her adaptations of fairy tales. Her interest in the macabre and the sensual was reflected in The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History (1979), a polemical study of the female characters in the writings of the marquis de Sade. She also wrote radio plays, children’s books, and essays.
 

 

 


Jeanette Winterson



born Aug. 27, 1959, Manchester, Eng.

British novelist noted for her quirky, unconventional, and often comic novels.

Educated at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, Winterson held various jobs while working on her writing. Her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), won a Whitbread Award as that year’s best first novel. It concerns the relationship between a young lesbian and her adoptive mother, a religious fanatic. The Passion (1987), her second work, is a picaresque historical novel that chronicles the adventures of Villanelle, an enslaved Venetian woman who is rescued by Henri, a cook from Napoleon’s army. Attempting to reach Venice, the two travel through Russia in winter.

Winterson’s other novels include Sexing the Cherry (1989); Written on the Body (1992); Art and Lies (1994), about dehumanization and the absence of love in society; Gut Symmetries (1997); The PowerBook (2000); Lighthousekeeping (2004), an exploration of the nature of storytelling told through the tale of an orphaned girl sent to live in a Scottish lighthouse; and The Stone Gods (2007), a foray into science fiction. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, which covers various topics such as Gertrude Stein, modern literature, and lesbianism, was published in 1995. Winterson also produced a collection of short stories, The World and Other Places (1998), and screenplays for television. She was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2006.
 

 

 


Beryl Bainbridge



born Nov. 21, 1934, Liverpool, Eng.
died July 2, 2010, London

English novelist known for her psychologically astute portrayals of lower-middle-class English life.

Bainbridge grew up in a small town near Liverpool and began a theatrical career at an early age. She acted in various repertory theatres for many years before she published her first novel. Her work often presents in a comical yet macabre manner the destructiveness latent in ordinary situations. In A Weekend with Claud (1967), an experimental novel, the titular hero is a predatory, violent man. Another Part of the Wood (1968) concerns a child’s death resulting from adult neglect. Harriet Said (1972) deals with two teenage girls who seduce a man and murder his wife. Other novels in this vein are The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), Sweet William (1975), A Quiet Life (1976), and Injury Time (1977). In Young Adolf (1978), Bainbridge imagines a visit Adolf Hitler might have paid to a relative living in England before World War I. Winter Garden (1980) is a mystery about an English artist who disappears on a visit to the Soviet Union. Subsequent novels include An Awfully Big Adventure (1989; filmed 1995), The Birthday Boys (1991), Every Man for Himself (1996), Master Georgie (1998), and According to Queeney (2001).

In addition to her fiction, Bainbridge wrote several television plays, and she published work that underscores what she considered the cultural and ethical disintegration of contemporary life. English Journey; or, The Road to Milton Keynes (1984), is a diary she kept in 1983 during the filming of a television series for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). She also published Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre: Pieces from the Oldie (2005), a collection of reviews and other writings on theatre. Bainbridge was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 2000.
 

 

 


A.S. Byatt

born Aug. 24, 1936, Sheffield, Eng.

English scholar, literary critic, and novelist known for her erudite works whose characters are often academics or artists commenting on the intellectual process.

Byatt is the daughter of a judge and the sister of novelist Margaret Drabble. She was educated at the University of Cambridge, Bryn Mawr College, and the University of Oxford and then taught at University College, London, from 1972 to 1983, when she left to write full-time. Among her critical works are Degrees of Freedom (1965), the first full-length study of the British writer Iris Murdoch.

Despite the publication of two novels, The Shadow of a Sun (1964) and The Game (1967), Byatt continued to be considered mainly a scholar and a critic until the publication of her highly acclaimed The Virgin in the Garden (1978). The novel is a complex story set in 1953, at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It was written as the first of a projected tetralogy that would chronicle the lives of three members of one family from the coronation to 1980. The second volume of the series, Still Life (1985), concentrates on the art of painting, and it was followed by Babel Tower (1995) and A Whistling Woman (2002). Possession (1990; film 2002), not part of the tetralogy, is part mystery and part romance; in it Byatt developed two related stories, one set in the 19th and one in the 20th century. Considered a brilliant example of postmodernist fiction, it was a popular success and was awarded the Booker Prize for 1990. The Biographer’s Tale (2000) is an erudite and occasionally esoteric literary mystery, and The Children’s Book (2009), following the family of a beloved children’s author, incorporates historical figures into a sweeping turn-of-the-20th-century tale. In addition to her novels, Byatt wrote several collections of short stories, including Sugar and Other Stories (1987), The Matisse Stories (1993), and Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice (1998); Passions of the Mind (1991), a collection of essays; and Angels & Insects (1991; film 1995), a pair of novellas. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1999.
 

 

 


Ian McEwan



born June 21, 1948, Aldershot, Eng.

British novelist, short-story writer, and screenwriter whose restrained, refined prose style accentuates the horror of his dark humour and perverse subject matter.

McEwan graduated with honours from the University of Sussex (B.A., 1970) and studied under Malcolm Bradbury at the University of East Anglia (M.A., 1971). He earned renown for his first two short-story collections, First Love, Last Rites (1975; filmed 1997)—winner of a Somerset Maugham Award for writers under age 35—and In Between the Sheets (1978), both of which feature a bizarre cast of grotesques in disturbing tales of sexual aberrance, black comedy, and macabre obsession. His first novel, The Cement Garden (1978), traces the incestuous decline of a family of orphaned children. The Comfort of Strangers (1981; filmed 1990) is a nightmarish novel about an English couple in Venice.

In the 1980s, when McEwan began raising a family, his novels became less insular and sensationalistic and more devoted to family dynamics and political intrigue: The Child in Time (1987; winner of the Whitbread [now Costa] Book Award) examines how a kidnapping affects the parents; The Innocent (1990; filmed 1993) concerns international espionage during the Cold War; Black Dogs (1992) tells the story of a husband and wife who have lived apart since a honeymoon incident made clear their essential moral antipathy; The Daydreamer (1994) explores the imaginary world of a creative 10-year-old boy. The novel Amsterdam (1998), a social satire influenced by the early works of Evelyn Waugh, won the Booker Prize in 1998. Atonement (2001; filmed 2007) traces over six decades the consequences of a lie told in the 1930s. The influence of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925) is evident in Saturday (2005), a vivid depiction of London on Feb. 15, 2003, a day of mass demonstrations against the incipient war in Iraq. On Chesil Beach (2007) describes the awkwardness felt by two virgins on their wedding night. Climate change is the subject of McEwan’s satirical novel Solar (2010).

McEwan also wrote for television, radio, and film, including The Imitation Game (1980), The Ploughman’s Lunch (1983), Last Day of Summer (1984), and The Good Son (1993). Several of his screenplays were adapted from his novels and short stories. In addition, McEwan wrote librettos for a pacifist oratorio, Or Shall We Die? (first performed 1982; published and recorded 1983), and an opera, For You (first performed and published 2008), both with composer Michael Berkeley. In 2000 McEwan was created C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire).
 

 

 


Graham Swift



born May 4, 1949, London, Eng.

English novelist and short-story writer whose subtly sophisticated psychological fiction explores the effects of history, especially family history, on contemporary domestic life.

Swift grew up in South London and was educated at Dulwich College, York University, and Queens’ College, Cambridge (B.A., 1970; M.A., 1975). His first novel, The Sweet-Shop Owner (1980), juxtaposes the final day of a shopkeeper’s life with memories of his life as a whole. Shuttlecock (1981) concerns a police archivist whose work uncovers conflicting information about his father’s mental illness and involvement in World War II.

After the publication of Learning to Swim, and Other Stories (1982), Swift released what was then his most highly regarded novel, Waterland (1983; filmed 1992). The story centres on a history teacher who is obsessed with local history and his family’s past. Swift’s other novels include Out of This World (1988), a metaphysical family saga, and Ever After (1992), the story of a man preoccupied with the life of a 19th-century scholar. His subtle, beautifully written Last Orders (1996) won the prestigious Booker Prize. In 2003 he published The Light of Day, which explores a private investigator’s relationship with a client convicted of murdering her husband. Swift’s novel Tomorrow (2007) returns to themes of the family as a woman lies awake, thinking to the following day when she must reveal a long-suppressed, life-altering truth to her twin children.
 






Poetry

The last flickerings of New Apocalypse poetry—the flamboyant, surreal, and rhetorical style favoured by Dylan Thomas, George Barker, David Gascoyne, and Vernon Watkins—died away soon after World War II. In its place emerged what came to be known with characteristic understatement as The Movement. Poets such as D.J. Enright, Donald Davie, John Wain, Roy Fuller, Robert Conquest, and Elizabeth Jennings produced urbane, formally disciplined verse in an antiromantic vein characterized by irony, understatement, and a sardonic refusal to strike attitudes or make grand claims for the poet’s role. The preeminent practitioner of this style was Philip Larkin, who had earlier displayed some of its qualities in two novels: Jill (1946) and A Girl in Winter (1947). In Larkin’s poetry (The Less Deceived [1955], The Whitsun Weddings [1964], High Windows [1974]), a melancholy sense of life’s limitations throbs through lines of elegiac elegance. Suffused with acute awareness of mortality and transience, Larkin’s poetry is also finely responsive to natural beauty, vistas of which open up even in poems darkened by fear of death or sombre preoccupation with human solitude. John Betjeman, poet laureate from 1972 to 1984, shared both Larkin’s intense consciousness of mortality and his gracefully versified nostalgia for 19th- and early 20th-century life.

In contrast to the rueful traditionalism of their work is the poetry of Ted Hughes, who succeeded Betjeman as poet laureate (1984–98). In extraordinarily vigorous verse, beginning with his first collection, The Hawk in the Rain (1957), Hughes captured the ferocity, vitality, and splendour of the natural world. In works such as Crow (1970), he added a mythic dimension to his fascination with savagery (a fascination also apparent in the poetry Thom Gunn produced through the late 1950s and ’60s). Much of Hughes’s poetry is rooted in his experiences as a farmer in Yorkshire and Devon (as in his collection Moortown [1979]). It also shows a deep receptivity to the way the contemporary world is underlain by strata of history. This realization, along with strong regional roots, is something Hughes had in common with a number of poets writing in the second half of the 20th century. The work of Geoffrey Hill (especially King Log [1968], Mercian Hymns [1971], Tenebrae [1978], and The Triumph of Love [1998]) treats Britain as a palimpsest whose superimposed layers of history are uncovered in poems, which are sometimes written in prose. Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts (1966) celebrates his native Northumbria. The dour poems of R.S. Thomas commemorate a harsh rural Wales of remote hill farms where gnarled, inbred celibates scratch a subsistence from the thin soil.

 


George Barker

born Feb. 26, 1913, Loughton, Essex, Eng.
died Oct. 27, 1991, Itteringham, Norfolk

English poet mostly concerned with the elemental forces of life. His first verses were published in the 1930s, and he became popular in the ’40s, about the same time as the poet Dylan Thomas, who voiced similar themes but whose reputation overshadowed Barker’s.

Barker left school at 14 and worked at a variety of jobs before his first publications, the novel Alanna Autumnal and Thirty Preliminary Poems, appeared in 1933. He taught English literature in Japan, the United States, and England from 1939 to 1974. Two of his important long poems are Calamiterror (1937), which was inspired by the Spanish Civil War, and The True Confession of George Barker (1950; rev. ed. 1957). His poems include the moving “Sonnet to My Mother.” His later poems include Villa Stellar (1978) and Anno Domini (1983). Barker’s Collected Poems was published in 1987
 

 

 


D.J. Enright

born March 11, 1920, Leamington, Warwickshire, England
died December 31, 2002, London

British poet, novelist, and teacher.

After receiving a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge, Enright began a prolonged period of academic wandering, teaching English in Egypt (1947–50), Birmingham, England (1950–53), Japan (1953–56), Berlin (1956–57), Bangkok (1957–59), and Singapore (1960–70); from 1975 to 1980 he was an honorary professor at the University of Warwick. He was joint editor of Encounter in London (1970–72). Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (1969) tells of his years abroad.

Both Enright’s poetry (Selected Poems, 1969) and his novels (Academic Year, 1955; Figures of Speech, 1965) reflect his life abroad and are anti-sentimental, as is his best-known collection of essays, Man Is an Onion (1972). Later poetry is based on literary works or themes, as Paradise Illustrated (1975) and A Faust Book (1979). He also wrote fiction for children, such as Joke Shop (1976) and Wild Ghost Chase (1978). He edited Poets of the 1950s (1955) and The Oxford Book of Contemporary Verse 1945–1980 (1980).
 

 

 


Roy Fuller

born Feb. 11, 1912, Failsworth, Lancashire, Eng.
died Sept. 27, 1991, London

British poet and novelist, best known for his concise and observant verse chronicling the daily routines of home and office.

Educated privately in Lancashire, Fuller became a solicitor in 1934 and served in the Royal Navy (1941–45) during World War II. After the war he pursued a dual career as a lawyer and a man of letters; he served as assistant solicitor (1938–58) and then solicitor (1958–69) for the Woolwich Equitable Building Society, and he was professor of poetry at the University of Oxford from 1968 to 1973. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1970.

Fuller’s first volume of poetry appeared in 1939. The poems published in The Middle of a War (1942) and A Lost Season (1944) chronicle his wartime service and show him intensely concerned with the social and political conditions of his time. Epitaphs and Occasions (1949) satirized the postwar world, but in Brutus’s Orchard (1957) and Collected Poems, 1936–61 (1962), Fuller adopted a more reflective tone and showed greater interest in psychological and philosophical subjects. A lucid and detached tone persists in such later volumes as Buff (1965), New Poems (1968), From the Joke Shop (1975), and Available for Dreams (1989) as the poet sardonically reflects on old age. New and Collected Poems, 1934–84 (1985) is an authoritative collection of his verse. Available for Dreams (1989) and Last Poems (1993) contain his last verse.

Fuller wrote several novels, including Image of a Society (1956), which portrays the personal and professional conflicts within a building society (savings and loan association); The Ruined Boys (1959); and My Child, My Sister (1965). He also wrote crime thrillers and juvenile fiction, and his memoirs were published in four volumes from 1980 to 1991.
 

 

 


Robert Conquest




George Robert Ackworth Conquest (born July 15, 1917) is a British historian who became a well-known writer and researcher on the Soviet Union with the publication in 1968 of The Great Terror, an account of Stalin's purges of the 1930s.
 

Early career
Robert Conquest was born in Malvern, Worcestershire, the son of an American businessman and a Norwegian mother. His father served in an ambulance unit with the French Army in World War I, winning a Croix de Guerre in 1916. Conquest was educated at Winchester College, the University of Grenoble, and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner in modern history and took his bachelor's and master's degrees in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and his doctorate in Soviet history.

In 1937, after his year studying at the University of Grenoble and traveling in Bulgaria, Conquest returned to Oxford and joined the Communist Party. Fellow members included Denis Healey and Philip Toynbee.

When World War II broke out, Conquest joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and became an intelligence officer. In 1940, he married Joan Watkins, with whom he had two sons. In 1942, he was posted to the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, where he studied Bulgarian for four months.

In 1944, Conquest was posted to Bulgaria as a liaison officer to the Bulgarian forces fighting under Soviet command. There, he met Tatiana Mihailova, who later became his second wife. At the end of the war, he was transferred to the diplomatic service and became the press officer at the British embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria. He witnessed the gradual rise of Soviet communism in the country, becoming completely disillusioned with communist ideas in the process. He left Bulgaria in 1948, helping Tatiana escape the new regime. Back in London, he divorced his first wife and married Tatiana. This marriage later broke down when Tatiana was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Conquest then joined the Foreign Office's Information Research Department (IRD), a unit created for the purpose of combating communist influence and actively promoting anti-communist ideas, by fostering relationships with journalists, trade unions and other organizations. In 1956, Conquest left the IRD and became a freelance writer and historian. Some of his books were partly distributed through Praeger Press, a US company which published a number of books at the request of the CIA.[1] In 1962-63, he was literary editor of The Spectator, but resigned when he found it interfered with his historical writing. His first books, Power and Politics in the USSR and Soviet Deportation of Nationalities, were published in 1960. His other early works on the Soviet Union included Soviet Nationalities Policy in Practice, Industrial Workers in the USSR, Justice and the Legal System in the USSR and Agricultural Workers in the USSR.

In addition to his scholarly work, Conquest was a major figure in a prominent literary movement in the UK known as "The Movement", which included Philip Larkin and Kingsley Amis. He also published a science fiction novel and the first of five anthologies of science fiction he co-edited with Amis.




The Great Terror
In 1968, Conquest published what became his best-known, The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties, the first comprehensive research of the Great Purge, which took place in the Soviet Union between 1934 and 1939. The book was based mainly on information which had been made public, either officially or by individuals, during the so-called "Khrushchev Thaw" in the period 1956-64. It also drew on accounts by Russian and Ukrainian émigrés and exiles dating back to the 1930s, and on an analysis of official Soviet documents such as the Soviet census.

The most important aspect of the book was that it widened the understanding of the purges beyond the previous narrow focus on the "Moscow trials" of disgraced Communist Party of the Soviet Union leaders such as Nikolai Bukharin and Grigory Zinoviev, who were executed after summary show trials. The question of why these leaders had pleaded guilty and confessed to various crimes at the trials had become a topic of discussion for a number of western writers, and had underlain books such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon.

Conquest claimed that the trials and executions of these former Communist leaders were a minor detail of the purges. By his estimates, Stalinist famines and purges had led to the deaths of 20 million people. Other accounts have put the figures higher and lower; for example, according to archival and demographic evidence examined by Alec Nove, there were 10-11 million excess deaths in the 1930s, while according to Norman Davies the number may approach 50 million for the whole Stalin period. In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of The Great Terror, Conquest states:

"Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime's terrors can hardly be lower than some fifteen million."

Conquest criticized western intellectuals for "blindness" with respect to the Soviet Union, and argued that Stalinism was a logical consequence of Marxism-Leninism, rather than an aberration from "true" communism. Conquest refused to accept the assertion made by Nikita Khrushchev, and supported by many Western leftists, that Joseph Stalin and his purges were an aberration from the ideals of the "revolution" and were contrary to the principles of Leninism. Conquest argued that Stalinism was a natural consequence of the system established by Vladimir Lenin, although he conceded that the personal character traits of Stalin had brought about the particular horrors of the late 1930s. Neal Ascherson noted: "Everyone by then could agree that Stalin was a very wicked man and a very evil one, but we still wanted to believe in Lenin; and Conquest said that Lenin was just as bad and that Stalin was simply carrying out Lenin's programme."

Conquest accused figures such as Beatrice and Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Duranty, Sir Bernard Pares, Harold Laski, D. N. Pritt, Theodore Dreiser and Romain Rolland of being dupes of Stalin and apologists for his regime for various comments they had made denying, excusing, or justifying various aspects of the purges.

After the opening up of the Soviet archives in 1991, detailed, unedited information has been released that contest Conquest's claims heavily. Contested is the duration of sentences, the "political" criteria for prisoners, the ethnic makeup, and total the number of prisoners, which has been revised down to a more realistic number.

Later works
In 1986, Conquest published The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivisation and the Terror-Famine, dealing with the Holodomor, the famine in Ukraine and elsewhere in the USSR resulting from the collectivization of agriculture under Stalin's direction in 1929-31, in which millions of peasants died of starvation or through deportation to labor camps.

In this book, Conquest was even more critical of western left-wing intellectuals than he had been in The Great Terror. He accused them of denying the full scale of the famine, attacking their views as "an intellectual and moral disgrace on a massive scale." He later wrote that the western world had been faced with two different stories about the famine in the 1930s, and accused many intellectuals of believing the false one: "Why did an intellectual stratum overwhelmingly choose to believe the false one? None of this can be accounted for in intellectual terms. To accept information about a matter on which totally contradictory evidence exists, and in which investigation of major disputes on the matter is prevented, is not a rational act."

After the partial opening of the Soviet archives in the later years of the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, Conquest was able to publish The Great Terror: A Reassessment, a consideration of his 1968 book in the light of newly available evidence.

One of Conquest's recent works was Reflections on a Ravaged Century (1999) where he describes the attraction that totalitarian systems of thought seem to hold for many western intellectuals. He traces this attitude back to the Age of Reason and its culmination in the French Revolution.

Later life
In 1962, Conquest was divorced from his second wife and, in 1964, he married Caroleen MacFarlane. This marriage was dissolved in 1978 and, in 1979, he married Elizabeth Neece Wingate, a lecturer in English and the daughter of a United States Air Force colonel. In 1981, Conquest moved to California to take up a post at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Conquest is now senior research fellow and scholar-curator of the Russian and Commonwealth of Independent States Collection at the Hoover Institution. He is also an adjunct fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a former research associate of Harvard University's Ukrainian Research Institute. He is a member of the board of the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies. He is a fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and a member of the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies and the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Conquest has remained a British citizen and, in 1996, he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. His other awards and honors include the Richard Weaver Award for Scholarly Letters, the Alexis de Tocqueville Award, and selection by the National Endowment for the Humanities to deliver the 1993 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. In 1994 he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy.Conquest is also known as a poet. He has brought out six volumes of poetry and one of literary criticism, edited the seminal New Lines anthologies, and published a verse translation of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Prussian Nights. He received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in 1997. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and other journals.

In November 2005, Conquest was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush. In June 2006, he was awarded the Ukrainian Presidential Medal of Yaroslav the Wise, the highest honor bestowed by Ukraine, in recognition of his scholarship on the Holodomor (the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933).

 

 

 


Elizabeth Jennings



 

born July 18, 1926, Boston, Lincolnshire, England
died October 26, 2001, Bampton, Oxfordshire

English poet whose works relate intensely personal matters in a plainspoken, traditional, and objective style and whose verse frequently reflects her devout Roman Catholicism and her love of Italy.

Jennings was educated at Oxford High School and St. Anne’s College, Oxford. Her first pamphlet, Poems, appeared in 1953, followed by A Way of Looking (1955), which won her a Somerset Maugham Award and enabled her to visit Italy. Song for a Birth or a Death (1961) marked a new development, with its confessional tone and more savage view of love. Some of the best of her later poems concern her nervous breakdown and its aftermath, such as those collected in Recoveries (1964) and The Mind Has Mountains (1966). Other works include The Animals’ Arrival (1969), Lucidities (1970), Relationships (1972), Extending the Territory (1985), and Familiar Spirits (1994). A translation, The Sonnets of Michelangelo (1961), was revised in 1969. She also published poetry for children. In 1992 Jennings was made a Commander of the British Empire.
 

 

 


Philip Larkin

born August 9, 1922, Coventry, Warwickshire, England
died December 2, 1985, Kingston upon Hull

most representative and highly regarded of the poets who gave expression to a clipped, antiromantic sensibility prevalent in English verse in the 1950s.

Larkin was educated at the University of Oxford on a scholarship, an experience that provided material for his first novel, Jill (1946; rev. ed. 1964). (His first book of poetry, The North Ship, was published at his own expense in 1945.) Another novel, A Girl in Winter, followed in 1947. He became well known with The Less Deceived (1955), a volume of verse the title of which suggests Larkin’s reaction and that of other British writers who then came into notice (e.g., Kingsley Amis and John Wain) against the political enthusiasms of the 1930s and what they saw as the emotional excesses of the poetry of the ’40s. His own verse is not without emotion, but it tends to be understated.

Larkin became librarian at the University of Hull in Yorkshire in 1955 and was jazz critic for The Daily Telegraph (1961–71), from which occupation were gleaned the essays in All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1961–68 (1970). The Whitsun Weddings (1964) and High Windows (1974) are his later volumes of poetry. He edited the Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century English Verse (1973). Required Writing (1982) is a collection of miscellaneous essays.
 

 

 


John Betjeman



born Aug. 28, 1906, London, Eng.
died May 19, 1984, Trebetherick, Cornwall

British poet known for his nostalgia for the near past, his exact sense of place, and his precise rendering of social nuance, which made him widely read in England at a time when much of what he wrote about was rapidly vanishing. The poet, in near-Tennysonian rhythms, satirized lightly the promoters of empty and often destructive “progress” and the foibles of his own comfortable class. As an authority on English architecture and topography, he did much to popularize Victorian and Edwardian building and to protect what remained of it from destruction.

The son of a prosperous businessman, Betjeman grew up in a London suburb, where T.S. Eliot was one of his teachers. He later studied at Marlborough College (a public school) and Magdalen College, Oxford. The years from early childhood until he left Oxford were detailed in Summoned by Bells (1960), blank verse interspersed with lyrics.

Betjeman’s first book of verse, Mount Zion, and his first book on architecture, Ghastly Good Taste, appeared in 1933. Churches, railway stations, and other elements of a townscape figure largely in both books. Four more volumes of poetry appeared before the publication of Collected Poems (1958). His later collections were High and Low (1966), A Nip in the Air (1974), Church Poems (1981), and Uncollected Poems (1982). Betjemen’s celebration of the more settled Britain of yesteryear seemed to touch a responsive chord in a public that was suffering the uprootedness of World War II and its austere aftermath.

Betjeman’s prose works include several guidebooks to English counties; First and Last Loves (1952), essays on places and buildings; The English Town in the Last Hundred Years (1956); and English Churches (1964; with Basil Clarke). He was knighted in 1969, and in 1972 he succeeded C. Day-Lewis as poet laureate of England.
 

 

 


Ted Hughes

born Aug. 16, 1930, Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Oct. 28, 1998, London


English poet whose most characteristic verse is without sentimentality, emphasizing the cunning and savagery of animal life in harsh, sometimes disjunctive lines.

At Pembroke College, Cambridge, he found folklore and anthropology of particular interest, a concern that was reflected in a number of his poems. In 1956 he married the American poet Sylvia Plath. The couple moved to the United States in 1957, the year that his first volume of verse, The Hawk in the Rain, was published. Other works soon followed, including the highly praised Lupercal (1960) and Selected Poems (1962, with Thom Gunn, a poet whose work is frequently associated with Hughes’s as marking a new turn in English verse).

Hughes stopped writing poetry almost completely for nearly three years following Plath’s suicide in 1963 (the couple had separated earlier), but thereafter he published prolifically, with volumes of poetry such as Wodwo (1967), Crow (1970), Wolfwatching (1989), and New Selected Poems, 1957–1994 (1995). In his Birthday Letters (1998), he addressed his relationship with Plath after decades of silence.

Hughes wrote many books for children, notably The Iron Man (1968; also published as The Iron Giant; film 1999). Remains of Elmet (1979), in which he recalled the world of his childhood, is one of many publications he created in collaboration with photographers and artists. He translated Georges Schehadé’s play The Story of Vasco from the original French and shaped it into a libretto. The resulting opera, from which significant portions of his text were cut, premiered in 1974. A play based on Hughes’s original libretto was staged in 2009. His works also include an adaptation of Seneca’s Oedipus (1968), nonfiction (Winter Pollen, 1994), and translations. He edited many collections of poetry, such as The Rattle Bag (1982, with Seamus Heaney). A collection of his correspondence, edited by Christopher Reid, was released in 2007 as Letters of Ted Hughes. In 1984 Hughes was appointed Britain’s poet laureate.
 

 

 


Thom Gunn


 

born August 29, 1929, Gravesend, Kent, England
died April 25, 2004, San Francisco, California, U.S.

English poet whose verse is notable for its adroit, terse language and counterculture themes.

The son of a successful London journalist, Gunn attended University College School in London and Trinity College in Cambridge, where he received a B.A. (1953) and M.A. (1958). In 1954 he moved to San Francisco, California, to study at Stanford University. He later taught at the University of California at Berkeley.

Gunn’s first volume of verse was Fighting Terms (1954; rev. ed. 1962). The Sense of Movement (1957) won a Somerset Maugham Award, which he used for travel in Italy. “On the Move,” a celebration of black-jacketed motorcyclists from that volume, is one of his best-known poems. In the late 1950s Gunn’s poetry became more experimental. He published My Sad Captains in 1961, and Selected Poems, which also contains the work of his Cambridge contemporary Ted Hughes, appeared in 1962. Positives (1966) is a group of poems about Londoners, with photographs by the poet’s brother Ander Gunn. In the 1970s Gunn began to explore themes of homosexuality and drugs, and notable collections came to include Moly (1971), Jack Straw’s Castle (1976), and The Man with Night Sweats (1992), which focuses on the AIDS epidemic. Among his other works are Selected Poems 1950–1975 (1979), The Passages of Joy (1982), and Boss Cupid (2000). The Occasion of Poetry (1982) and Shelf Life (1993) are collections of autobiographical and critical essays. Gunn received numerous awards, including a Guggenheim (1971) and MacArthur (1993) fellowship.

 

 

 


R.S. Thomas

born March 29, 1913, Cardiff, Glamorgan [now in Cardiff], Wales
died September 25, 2000, Llanfairynghornwy, Gwynedd

Welsh clergyman and poet whose lucid, austere verse expresses an undeviating affirmation of the values of the common man.

Thomas was educated in Wales at University College at Bangor (1935) and ordained in the Church of Wales (1936), in which he held appointments in several parishes. He published his first volume of poetry in 1946 and gradually developed his unadorned style with each new collection. His early poems, most notably those found in Stones of the Field (1946) and Song at the Year’s Turning: Poems 1942–1954 (1955), contained a harshly critical but increasingly compassionate view of the Welsh people and their stark homeland. In Thomas’s later volumes, starting with Poetry for Supper (1958), the subjects of his poetry remained the same, yet his questions became more specific, his irony more bitter, and his compassion deeper. In such later works as The Way of It (1977), Frequencies (1978), Between Here and Now (1981), and Later Poems 1972–1982 (1983), Thomas was not without hope when he described with mournful derision the cultural decay affecting his parishioners, his country, and the modern world. Though an ardent Welsh nationalist, Thomas learned to speak Welsh only in his 30s and did not feel comfortable writing poetry in that tongue; however, Neb (1985; “No One”; Eng. trans. Autobiographies), a collection of autobiographical essays, was written in Welsh. Thomas was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry in 1964. His Collected Poems 1945–1990 was published in 1993.
 



 

Britain’s industrial regions received attention in poetry too. In collections such as Terry Street (1969), Douglas Dunn wrote of working-class life in northeastern England. Tony Harrison, the most arresting English poet to find his voice in the later decades of the 20th century (The Loiners [1970], From the School of Eloquence and Other Poems [1978], Continuous [1981]), came, as he stresses, from a working-class community in industrial Yorkshire. Harrison’s social and cultural journey away from that world by means of a grammar school education and a degree in classics provoked responses in him that his poetry conveys with imaginative vehemence and caustic wit: anger at the deprivations and humiliations endured by the working class; guilt over the way his talent had lifted him away from these. Trenchantly combining colloquial ruggedness with classic form, Harrison’s poetry—sometimes innovatively written to accompany television films—kept up a fiercely original and socially concerned commentary on such themes as inner-city dereliction (V [1985]), the horrors of warfare (The Gaze of the Gorgon [1992] and The Shadow of Hiroshima [1995]), and the evils of censorship (The Blasphemers’ Banquet [1989], a verse film partly written in reaction to the fatwa on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses).


Also from Yorkshire was Blake Morrison, whose finest work, The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper (1987), was composed in taut, macabre stanzas thickened with dialect. Morrison’s work also displayed a growing development in late 20th-century British poetry: the writing of narrative verse. Although there had been earlier instances of this verse after 1945 (Betjeman’s blank-verse autobiography Summoned by Bells [1960] proved the most popular), it was in the 1980s and ’90s that the form was given renewed prominence by poets such as the Kipling-influenced James Fenton. An especially ambitious exercise in the narrative genre was Craig Raine’s History: The Home Movie (1994), a huge semifictionalized saga, written in three-line stanzas, chronicling several generations of his and his wife’s families. Before this, three books of dazzling virtuosity (The Onion, Memory [1978], A Martian Sends a Postcard Home [1979], and Rich [1984]) established Raine as the founder and most inventive exemplar of what came to be called the Martian school of poetry. The defining characteristic of this school was a poetry rife with startling images, unexpected but audaciously apt similes, and rapid, imaginative tricks of transformation that set the reader looking at the world afresh.


The closing years of the 20th century witnessed a remarkable last surge of creativity from Ted Hughes (after his death in 1998, Andrew Motion, a writer of more subdued and subfusc verses, became poet laureate). In Birthday Letters (1998), Hughes published a poetic chronicle of his much-speculated-upon relationship with Sylvia Plath, the American poet to whom he was married from 1956 until her suicide in 1963. With Tales from Ovid (1997) and his versions of Aeschylus’s Oresteia (1999) and Euripides’ Alcestis (1999), he looked back even further. These works—part translation, part transformation—magnificently reenergize classic texts with Hughes’s own imaginative powers and preoccupations. Heaney impressively effected a similar feat in his fine translation of Beowulf (1999).

 


Douglas Dunn

born Oct. 23, 1942, Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, Scot.

Scottish writer and critic, best known for his poems evoking working-class British life.

Dunn left school at 17 to become a junior library assistant. He worked at libraries in Britain and the United States before completing his higher education at the University of Hull, England. In 1971 he left his job as an assistant librarian at the university to pursue his writing.

Dunn’s first book of poetry, Terry Street (1969), was widely hailed for its evocation of working-class Hull. Critics praised Dunn’s dry humour and his ability to capture the sordid with precision, free of sentimentality. Backwaters and Night (both 1971), The Happier Life (1972), and Love or Nothing (1974) were not as well received. Barbarians (1979) is a highly political volume that attacks the sovereignty of the propertied class and Oxbridge intellectuals while arguing for the robustness of “barbarian” working-class culture. Although most critics generally admired the work, they had greater praise for St. Kilda’s Parliament (1981), noting Dunn’s mastery of blank verse and his treatment of Scottish themes. Europa’s Lover (1982) is a long poem celebrating the best of European values.

Dunn’s highly praised Elegies (1985) contains moving, unflinching poems on the death of his first wife in 1981. Northlight (1988) marks Dunn’s return to social subjects. In addition to several television and radio plays, including Scotsmen by Moonlight (1977), Dunn also published two collections of short stories—Secret Villages (1985) and Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1995)—and edited a number of poetry anthologies.
 

 

 


Tony Harrison

born April 30, 1937, Leeds, West Yorkshire, Eng.

English poet, translator, dramatist, and filmmaker whose work expressed the tension between his working-class background and the formal sophistication of literary verse.

Harrison was educated at Leeds Grammar School and received a degree in linguistics from Leeds University, where he read the Classics. He wrote for the National Theater in London, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and British television, always writing in verse. His first collection of poems, Earthworks, was published in 1964, and he drew acclaim with The Loiners (1970). He traveled widely and continued to write poetry while living in Europe, Africa, and America.

From the School of Eloquence and Other Poems (1976) features some of Harrison’s most popular poems and illustrates the enduring influence of his background—in particular, his parents—as well as his concern with poetry itself. Published in 1985, Harrison’s most famous poem, “v.” (1985), was inspired by the discovery upon his return to England of vandalism at his parents’ graves. The poem alludes to Thomas Gray’s “An Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard” while addressing the effects of the failure of the mining industry on the culture of the British working class.

Harrison wrote, directed, and narrated versions of his poems, including “v.” and “The Shadow of Hiroshima,” for film and television. In 1995 The Guardian newspaper commissioned him to write poems from the front line of the armed conflict in Bosnia. The book The Shadow of Hiroshima and Other Film/Poems won the 1996 Heinemann Award, given by the Royal Society of Literature. In 1992 Harrison won the Whitbread Poetry Award (now the Costa Book Award) for The Gaze of the Gorgon.
 

 

 


Andrew Motion



 

born October 26, 1952, London, England

British poet, biographer, and novelist, especially noted for his narrative poetry, who was poet laureate of England from 1999 to 2009.

Motion attended Radley College and University College, Oxford (B.A., 1974; M.Litt., 1977), where he was a student of poet John Fuller. From 1976 to 1980 he taught at the University of Hull and from 1995 at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. In the interim between these teaching positions, he was the editor of Poetry Review (1980–83) and worked in a variety of editorial capacities for two London publishing houses.

Motion’s first verse collection, The Pleasure Steamers, was published in 1978. It contains “Inland,” which describes the fear and helplessness of 17th-century villagers who must abandon their homeland following a devastating flood; the poem received the Newdigate Prize in 1975. Noted for his insight and empathy, Motion frequently wrote about isolation and loss. Much influenced by the poets Edward Thomas and Philip Larkin—whose low-key poetic voices often caused their work to be overlooked and undervalued—Motion wrote critical works on both men, The Poetry of Edward Thomas (1980) and Philip Larkin (1982), as well as a biography of Larkin (Philip Larkin: A Writer’s Life, 1993). He also produced a biography of poet John Keats (Keats, 1997) and his biography of the talented Lambert family, The Lamberts: George, Constant & Kit (1986), earned him the Somerset Maugham Award (established by Somerset Maugham to enable writers under age 35 to travel to “enrich their writing”) in 1987.

Motion’s later collections of poetry include Secret Narratives (1983), Dangerous Play: Poems, 1974–84 (1984), Natural Causes (1987), Love in a Life (1991), The Price of Everything (1994), Salt Water (1997), and Public Property (2002). Among his works of fiction are The Pale Companion (1989); Famous for the Creatures (1991); Wainewright the Poisoner (2000), a “fictional confession” by 19th-century painter, essayist, and alleged murderer Thomas Griffiths Wainewright; and The Invention of Dr. Cake (2003), a fictional biography of the obscure poet-doctor William Tabor. In 2006 Motion published a memoir, In the Blood, and in 2008 he released a collection of essays titled Ways of Life: On Places, Painters, and Poets.

As poet laureate, Motion sought to make poetry accessible to a wider audience. He especially targeted younger people, encouraging schools to teach poetry regularly. He was the first laureate to serve a fixed, 10-year term; previous laureates had received a lifetime appointment. Motion was knighted in 2009.
 

 

 


Sylvia Plath

born October 27, 1932, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
died February 11, 1963, London, England

American poet and novelist whose best-known works are preoccupied with alienation, death, and self-destruction.

Plath published her first poem at age eight. She entered and won many literary contests and while still in high school sold her first poem, to Seventeen magazine. She entered Smith College on a scholarship in 1951 and was a cowinner of the Mademoiselle magazine fiction contest in 1952. Despite her remarkable artistic, academic, and social success at Smith, Plath suffered from severe depression and underwent a period of psychiatric hospitalization. She graduated from Smith with highest honours in 1955 and went on to Newnham College in Cambridge, England, on a Fulbright fellowship. In 1956 she married the English poet Ted Hughes. For the following two years she was an instructor in English at Smith College.

In 1960, shortly after Plath and her husband returned to England, her first collection of poems appeared as The Colossus. Her second book, a strongly autobiographical novel titled The Bell Jar, was published in 1963 under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas.” The book describes the mental breakdown, attempted suicide, and eventual recovery of a young college girl.

During her last three years Plath abandoned the restraints and conventions that had bound much of her early work. She wrote with great speed, producing poems of stark self-revelation and confession. The anxiety, confusion, and doubt that haunted her were transmuted into verses of great power and pathos borne on flashes of incisive wit. In 1963, after a burst of productivity, Plath took her own life. Ariel (1965), a collection of her later poems, helped spark the growth of something of a cult devoted to Plath. The reissue of The Bell Jar under her own name in 1966 and the appearance of small collections of previously unpublished poems, including Crossing the Water (1971) and Winter Trees (1971), were welcomed by critics and the public alike. Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams, a book of short stories and prose, was published in 1977, and The Collected Poems, which includes many previously unpublished poems, appeared in 1981. Plath had kept a journal for much of her life, and in 2000 The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, covering the years from 1950 to 1962, was published. A biographical film of Plath starring Gwyneth Paltrow (Sylvia) appeared in 2003. In 2009 Plath’s radio play Three Women (1962) was staged professionally for the first time.
 

 

 
 
 
 

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