History of Literature

English literature



The Old English period

The early Middle English period

The later Middle English and early Renaissance periods

The Renaissance period: 1550–1660

Elizabethan and early Stuart drama

Effect of religion and science on early Stuart prose

The Restoration

The 18th century

The 18th century. The novel

The Romantic period

The later Romantics

The Post-Romantic and Victorian eras

Late Victorian literature

The 20th century. The Modernist revolution

The literature of World War I and the interwar period

Literature after 1945. Fiction. Poetry

Literature after 1945. Drama. The 21st century

English literature


The 20th century


Literature after 1945. Drama. The 21st century.


Terence Rattigan
John Osborne
Shelagh Delaney
John Arden
Samuel Beckett  "Waiting for Godot"
Harold Pinter
Joe Orton
Tom Stoppard
Alan Ayckbourn
Brian Friel
Caryl Churchill
David Hare
Alan Bennett
William Somerset Maugham
A. J. Cronin
Pamela Lyndon Travers
A. A. Milne
T. H. White
Mary Norton
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Hugh Lofting
Dodie Smith
Agatha Christie  "The Mysterious Affair at Styles"

J. R. R. Tolkien
John Boynton Priestley
Ian Fleming
C. S. Lewis
E. H. Gombrich 
"World History for Children"   PART I, PART II, PART III, PART IV, PART V, PART VI, PART VII
Roald Dahl
Arthur C. Clarke
Doris Lessing
John Robert Fowles
J. K. Rowling




Apart from the short-lived attempt by T.S. Eliot and Christopher Fry to bring about a renaissance of verse drama, theatre in the late 1940s and early 1950s was most notable for the continuing supremacy of the well-made play, which focused upon, and mainly attracted as its audience, the comfortable middle class. The most accomplished playwright working within this mode was Terence Rattigan, whose carefully crafted, conventional-looking plays—in particular, The Winslow Boy (1946), The Browning Version (1948), The Deep Blue Sea (1952), and Separate Tables (1954)—affectingly disclose desperations, terrors, and emotional forlornness concealed behind reticence and gentility. In 1956 John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger forcefully signaled the start of a very different dramatic tradition. Taking as its hero a furiously voluble working-class man and replacing staid mannerliness on stage with emotional rawness, sexual candour, and social rancour, Look Back in Anger initiated a move toward what critics called “kitchen-sink” drama. Shelagh Delaney (with her one influential play, A Taste of Honey [1958]) and Arnold Wesker (especially in his politically and socially engaged trilogy, Chicken Soup with Barley [1958], Roots [1959], and I’m Talking About Jerusalem [1960]) gave further impetus to this movement, as did Osborne in subsequent plays such as The Entertainer (1957), his attack on what he saw as the tawdriness of postwar Britain. Also working within this tradition was John Arden, whose dramas employ some of Bertold Brecht’s theatrical devices. Arden wrote historical plays (Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance [1959], Armstrong’s Last Goodnight [1964]) to advance radical social and political views and in doing so provided a model that several later left-wing dramatists followed.

An alternative reaction against drawing-room naturalism came from the Theatre of the Absurd. Through increasingly minimalist plays—from Waiting for Godot (1953) to such stark brevities as his 30-second-long drama, Breath (1969)—Samuel Beckett used character pared down to basic existential elements and symbol to reiterate his Stygian view of the human condition (something he also conveyed in similarly gaunt and allegorical novels such as Molloy [1951], Malone Dies [1958], and The Unnamable [1960], all originally written in French). Some of Beckett’s themes and techniques are discernible in the drama of Harold Pinter. Characteristically concentrating on two or three people maneuvering for sexual or social superiority in a claustrophobic room, works such as The Birthday Party (1958), The Caretaker (1960), The Homecoming (1965), No Man’s Land (1975), and Moonlight (1993) are potent dramas of menace in which a slightly surreal atmosphere contrasts with and undermines dialogue of tape-recorder authenticity. Joe Orton’s anarchic black comedies—Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), Loot (1967), and What the Butler Saw (1969)—put theatrical procedures pioneered by Pinter at the service of outrageous sexual farce (something for which Pinter himself also showed a flair in television plays such as The Lover [1963] and later stage works such as Celebration [2000]). Orton’s taste for dialogue in the epigrammatic style of Oscar Wilde was shared by one of the wittiest dramatists to emerge in the 1960s, Tom Stoppard. In plays from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966) to later triumphs such as Arcadia (1993) and The Invention of Love (1997), Stoppard set intellectually challenging concepts ricocheting in scenes glinting with the to-and-fro of polished repartee. The most prolific comic playwright from the 1960s onward was Alan Ayckbourn, whose often virtuoso feats of stagecraft and theatrical ingenuity made him one of Britain’s most popular dramatists. Ayckbourn’s plays showed an increasing tendency to broach darker themes and were especially scathing (for instance, in A Small Family Business [1987]) on the topics of the greed and selfishness that he considered to have been promoted by Thatcherism, the prevailing political philosophy in 1980s Britain.

Irish dramatists other than Beckett also exhibited a propensity for combining comedy with something more sombre. Their most recurrent subject matter during the last decades of the 20th century was small-town provincial life. Brian Friel (Dancing at Lughnasa [1990]), Tom Murphy (Conversations on a Homecoming [1985]), Billy Roche (Poor Beast in the Rain [1990]), Martin McDonagh (The Beauty Queen of Leenane [1996]), and Conor McPherson (The Weir [1997]) all wrote effectively on this theme.

Playwrights who had much in common with Arden’s ideological beliefs and his admiration for Brechtian theatre—Edward Bond, Howard Barker, Howard Brenton—maintained a steady output of parable-like plays dramatizing radical left-wing doctrine. Their scenarios were remarkable for an uncompromising insistence on human cruelty and the oppressiveness and exploitativeness of capitalist class and social structures. In the 1980s agitprop theatre—antiestablishment, feminist, black, and gay—thrived. One of the more-durable talents to emerge from it was Caryl Churchill, whose Serious Money (1987) savagely encapsulated the finance frenzy of the 1980s. David Edgar developed into a dramatist of impressive span and depth with plays such as Destiny (1976) and Pentecost (1994), his masterly response to the collapse of communism and rise of nationalism in eastern Europe. David Hare similarly widened his range with confident accomplishment; in the 1990s he completed a panoramic trilogy surveying the contemporary state of British institutions—the Anglican church (Racing Demon [1990]), the police and the judiciary (Murmuring Judges [1991]), and the Labour Party (The Absence of War [1993]).

Hare also wrote political plays for television, such as Licking Hitler (1978) and Saigon: Year of the Cat (1983). Trevor Griffiths, author of dialectical stage plays clamorous with debate, put television drama to the same use (Comedians [1975] had particular impact). Dennis Potter, best known for his teleplay The Singing Detective (1986), deployed a wide battery of the medium’s resources, including extravagant fantasy and sequences that sarcastically counterpoint popular music with scenes of brutality, class-based callousness, and sexual rapacity. Potter’s works transmit his revulsion, semireligious in nature, at what he saw as widespread hypocrisy, sadism, and injustice in British society. Alan Bennett excelled in both stage and television drama. Bennett’s first work for the theatre, Forty Years On (1968), was an expansive, mocking, and nostalgic cabaret of cultural and social change in England between and during the two World Wars. His masterpieces, though, are dramatic monologues written for television—A Woman of No Importance (1982) and 12 works he called Talking Heads (1987) and Talking Heads 2 (1998). In these television plays, Bennett’s comic genius for capturing the rich waywardness of everyday speech combines with psychological acuteness, emotional delicacy, and a melancholy consciousness of life’s transience. The result is a drama, simultaneously hilarious and sad, of exceptional distinction. Bennett’s 1991 play, The Madness of George III, took his fascination with England’s past back to the 1780s and in doing so matched the widespread mood of retrospection with which British literature approached the end of the 20th century.


Terence Rattigan


in full Sir Terence Mervyn Rattigan

born June 10, 1911, London, Eng.
died Nov. 30, 1977, Hamilton, Bermuda

English playwright, a master of the well-made play.

Educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Oxford, Rattigan had early success with two farces, French Without Tears (performed 1936) and While the Sun Shines (performed 1943). The Winslow Boy (performed 1946), a drama based on a real-life case in which a young boy at the Royal Naval College was unjustly accused of theft, won a New York Critics award. Separate Tables (performed 1945), perhaps his best known work, took as its theme the isolation and frustration that result from rigidly imposed social conventions. Ross (performed 1960) explored the life of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and was less traditional in its structure. A Bequest to the Nation (performed 1970) reviewed the intimate, personal aspects of Lord Nelson’s life. The radio play Cause Célèbre was his final work; first broadcast in 1975, it was performed onstage in 1977.

Rattigan’s works were treated coldly by some critics who saw them as unadventurous and catering to undemanding, middle-class taste. Several of his plays do seriously explore social or psychological themes, however, and his plays consistently demonstrate solid craftsmanship. Rattigan was knighted in 1971 for his services to the theatre. He had many screenplays to his credit, including film versions of The Winslow Boy (1948) and Separate Tables (1958), among others, and The Yellow Rolls Royce (1965) and Goodbye Mr. Chips (1968).




John Osborne

born Dec. 12, 1929, London, Eng.
died Dec. 24, 1994, Shropshire

British playwright and film producer whose Look Back in Anger (performed 1956) ushered in a new movement in British drama and made him known as the first of the “Angry Young Men”.

The son of a commercial artist and a barmaid, Osborne used insurance money from his father’s death in 1941 for a boarding- school education at Belmont College, Devon. He hated it and left after striking the headmaster. He went home to his mother in London and briefly tried trade journalism until a job tutoring a touring company of juvenile actors introduced him to the theatre. He was soon acting himself, later becoming an actor-manager for various repertory companies in provincial towns and also trying his hand at playwriting. His first play, The Devil Inside Him, was written in 1950 with his friend and mentor Stella Linden, an actress and one of Osborne’s first passions.

Osborne made his first appearance as a London actor in 1956, the same year that Look Back in Anger was produced by the English Stage Company. Although the form of the play was not revolutionary, its content was unexpected. On stage for the first time were the 20- to 30-year-olds of Great Britain who had not participated in World War II and found its aftermath shabby and lacking in promise. The hero, Jimmy Porter, although the son of a worker, has, through the state educational system, reached an uncomfortably marginal position on the border of the middle class from which he can see the traditional possessors of privilege holding the better jobs and threatening his upward climb. Jimmy Porter continues to work in a street-market and vents his rage on his middle-class wife and her middle-class friend. No solution is proposed for Porter’s frustrations, but Osborne makes the audience feel them acutely.

Osborne’s next play, The Entertainer (1957), projects a vision of a contemporary Britain diminished from its days of self-confidence. Its hero is a failing comedian, and Osborne uses the decline of the music-hall tradition as a metaphor for the decline of a nation’s vitality. In 1958 Osborne and director Tony Richardson founded Woodfall Film Productions, which produced motion pictures of Look Back in Anger (1959), The Entertainer (1959), and, from a filmscript by Osborne that won an Academy Award, Tom Jones (1963), based on the novel by Henry Fielding.

Luther (1961), an epic play about the Reformation leader, again showed Osborne’s ability to create an actably rebellious central figure. His two Plays for England (1962) include The Blood of the Bambergs, a satire on royalty, and Under Plain Cover, a study of an incestuous couple playing games of dominance and submission.

The tirade of Jimmy Porter is resumed in a different key by a frustrated solicitor in Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence (1964). A Patriot for Me (1965) portrays a homosexual Austrian officer in the period before World War I, based on the story of Alfred Redl, and shows Osborne’s interests in the decline of empire and the perils of the nonconformist. West of Suez (1971) revealed a measure of sympathy for a type of British colonizer whose day has waned and antipathy for his ideological opponents, who are made to appear confused and neurotic. Osborne’s last play, Déjàvu (1992), a sequel to Look Back in Anger, revisits Jimmy Porter after a 35-year interval.

As revealed in the first installment of Osborne’s autobiography, A Better Class of Person (1981), much of the fire in Look Back in Anger was drawn from Osborne’s own early experience. In it he attacks the mediocrity of lower-middle-class English life personified by his mother, whom he hated, and discusses his volatile temperament. The second part of his autobiography appeared in 1991 under the title Almost a Gentleman. Osborne was married five times.

Having come to the stage initially as an actor, Osborne achieved note for his skill in providing actable roles. He is also significant for restoring the tirade—or passionately scathing speech—to a high place among dramatic elements. Most significantly, however, he reoriented British drama from well-made plays depicting upper-class life to vigorously realistic drama of contemporary life.




Shelagh Delaney


born Nov. 25, 1939, Salford, Lancashire, Eng.

British playwright who, at age 19, won critical acclaim and popular success with the London production of her first play, A Taste of Honey (1958). Two years later, Delaney received the Drama Critics’ Circle Award for the play’s New York City production.

By her own account, Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey after seeing a play by Terence Rattigan and deciding that she could write a better one. Set in England’s bleak industrial north country, the author’s birthplace, the play blends humour and pathos in its vivid account of an illegitimate pregnancy. In 1961 the play was adapted for film, with a screenplay by Delaney and the film’s director, Tony Richardson.

Delaney’s second play, The Lion in Love (1961), was received less favourably, and she produced a volume of short stories, Sweetly Sings the Donkey, in 1963. Thereafter she focused on the writing of screenplays, winning wide praise for Charlie Bubbles (1968) and Dance with a Stranger (1985), the latter a docudrama about murderer Ruth Ellis. Delaney’s third play, The House That Jack Built (1977), was first produced as a television series. In 1992 she wrote the screenplay for the made-for-television movie The Railway Station Man.



John Arden

born Oct. 26, 1930, Barnsley, Yorkshire, Eng.

one of the most important of the British playwrights to emerge in the mid-20th century. His plays mix poetry and songs with colloquial speech in a boldly theatrical manner and involve strong conflicts purposely left unresolved.

Arden grew up in the industrial town of Barnsley, the character of which he captured in his play The Workhouse Donkey (1963). He studied architecture at the University of Cambridge and at Edinburgh College of Art, where fellow students performed his comedy All Fall Down (1955), about the construction of a railway. He continued to write plays while working as an architectural assistant from 1955 to 1957. His first play to be produced professionally was a radio drama, The Life of Man (1956). Waters of Babylon (1957), a play with a roguish but unjudged central character, revealed a moral ambiguity that troubled critics and audiences. His next play, Live Like Pigs (1958), was set on a housing estate. This was followed by his best-known work, Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (1959), set in a colliery town in 1860–80. Both plays caused controversy.

In 1957 Arden married Margaretta D’Arcy, an actress and playwright, with whom he wrote a number of stage pieces and improvisational works for amateur and student players. The Happy Haven, produced in 1960 in London, is a sardonic farce about an old people’s home. The Workhouse Donkey is a crowded, exuberant, and comic drama of municipal politics. Armstrong’s Last Goodnight (1964) is a drama set in the Borders region of Scotland in the 1530s and written in Lowland Scottish vernacular. Left-Handed Liberty (1965), written to mark the 750th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, characteristically dwells on the failure of the document to achieve liberty. His writing became more politically committed, as evidenced in the two radio plays The Bagman (1972) and Pearl (1978). Later plays—The Non-Stop Connolly Cycle (1975), a six-part drama based on the life of the Irish patriot James Connolly, as well as the Arthurian drama The Island of the Mighty (1972), Vandaleur’s Folly (1978), and The Little Gray Home in the West (1982), among others—were written with D’Arcy. Arden’s fiction includes the novel Silence Among the Weapons (1982; also published as Vox Pop) and the story collection The Stealing Steps (2003).




Samuel Beckett

"Waiting for Godot"

born April 13?, 1906, Foxrock, County Dublin, Ire.
died Dec. 22, 1989, Paris, France

author, critic, and playwright, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. He wrote in both French and English and is perhaps best known for his plays, especially En attendant Godot (1952; Waiting for Godot).

Samuel Beckett was born in a suburb of Dublin. Like his fellow Irish writers George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats, he came from a Protestant, Anglo-Irish background. At the age of 14 he went to the Portora Royal School, in what became Northern Ireland, a school that catered to the Anglo-Irish middle classes.

From 1923 to 1927, he studied Romance languages at Trinity College, Dublin, where he received his bachelor’s degree. After a brief spell of teaching in Belfast, he became a reader in English at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1928. There he met the self-exiled Irish writer James Joyce, the author of the controversial and seminally modern novel Ulysses, and joined his circle. Contrary to often-repeated reports, however, he never served as Joyce’s secretary. He returned to Ireland in 1930 to take up a post as lecturer in French at Trinity College, but after only four terms he resigned, in December 1931, and embarked upon a period of restless travel in London, France, Germany, and Italy. In 1937 Beckett decided to settle in Paris. (This period of Beckett’s life is vividly depicted in letters he wrote between 1929 and 1940, a wide-ranging selection of which were first published in 2009.)

As a citizen of a country that was neutral in World War II, he was able to remain there even after the occupation of Paris by the Germans, but he joined an underground resistance group in 1941. When, in 1942, he received news that members of his group had been arrested by the Gestapo, he immediately went into hiding and eventually moved to the unoccupied zone of France. Until the liberation of the country, he supported himself as an agricultural labourer.

In 1945 he returned to Ireland but volunteered for the Irish Red Cross and went back to France as an interpreter in a military hospital in Saint-Lô, Normandy. In the winter of 1945, he finally returned to Paris and was awarded the Croix de Guerre for his resistance work.

Production of the major works
There followed a period of intense creativity, the most concentratedly fruitful period of Beckett’s life. His relatively few prewar publications included two essays on Joyce and the French novelist Marcel Proust. The volume More Pricks Than Kicks (1934) contained 10 stories describing episodes in the life of a Dublin intellectual, Belacqua Shuah, and the novel Murphy (1938) concerns an Irishman in London who escapes from a girl he is about to marry to a life of contemplation as a male nurse in a mental institution. His two slim volumes of poetry were Whoroscope (1930), a poem on the French philosopher René Descartes, and the collection Echo’s Bones (1935). A number of short stories and poems were scattered in various periodicals. He wrote the novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women in the mid-1930s, but it remained incomplete and was not published until 1992.

During his years in hiding in unoccupied France, Beckett also completed another novel, Watt, which was not published until 1953. After his return to Paris, between 1946 and 1949, Beckett produced a number of stories, the major prose narratives Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies), and L’Innommable (1953; The Unnamable), and two plays, the unpublished three-act Eleutheria and Waiting for Godot.

It was not until 1951, however, that these works saw the light of day. After many refusals, Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil (later Mme Beckett), Beckett’s lifelong companion, finally succeeded in finding a publisher for Molloy. When this book not only proved a modest commercial success but also was received with enthusiasm by the French critics, the same publisher brought out the two other novels and Waiting for Godot. It was with the amazing success of Waiting for Godot at the small Théâtre de Babylone in Paris, in January 1953, that Beckett’s rise to world fame began. Beckett continued writing, but more slowly than in the immediate postwar years. Plays for the stage and radio and a number of prose works occupied much of his attention.

Beckett continued to live in Paris, but most of his writing was done in a small house secluded in the Marne valley, a short drive from Paris. His total dedication to his art extended to his complete avoidance of all personal publicity, of appearances on radio or television, and of all journalistic interviews. When, in 1969, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he accepted the award but declined the trip to Stockholm to avoid the public speech at the ceremonies.

Continuity of his philosophical explorations
Beckett’s writing reveals his own immense learning. It is full of subtle allusions to a multitude of literary sources as well as to a number of philosophical and theological writers. The dominating influences on Beckett’s thought were undoubtedly the Italian poet Dante, the French philosopher René Descartes, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Arnold Geulincx—a pupil of Descartes who dealt with the question of how the physical and the spiritual sides of man interact—and, finally, his fellow Irishman and revered friend, James Joyce. But it is by no means essential for the understanding of Beckett’s work that one be aware of all the literary, philosophical, and theological allusions.

The widespread idea, fostered by the popular press, that Beckett’s work is concerned primarily with the sordid side of human existence, with tramps and with cripples who inhabit trash cans, is a fundamental misconception. He dealt with human beings in such extreme situations not because he was interested in the sordid and diseased aspects of life but because he concentrated on the essential aspects of human experience. The subject matter of so much of the world’s literature—the social relations between individuals, their manners and possessions, their struggles for rank and position, or the conquest of sexual objects—appeared to Beckett as mere external trappings of existence, the accidental and superficial aspects that mask the basic problems and the basic anguish of the human condition. The basic questions for Beckett seemed to be these: How can we come to terms with the fact that, without ever having asked for it, we have been thrown into the world, into being? And who are we; what is the true nature of our self? What does a human being mean when he says “I”?

What appears to the superficial view as a concentration on the sordid thus emerges as an attempt to grapple with the most essential aspects of the human condition. The two heroes of Waiting for Godot, for instance, are frequently referred to by critics as tramps, yet they were never described as such by Beckett. They are merely two human beings in the most basic human situation of being in the world and not knowing what they are there for. Since man is a rational being and cannot imagine that his being thrown into any situation should or could be entirely pointless, the two vaguely assume that their presence in the world, represented by an empty stage with a solitary tree, must be due to the fact that they are waiting for someone. But they have no positive evidence that this person, whom they call Godot, ever made such an appointment—or, indeed, that he actually exists. Their patient and passive waiting is contrasted by Beckett with the mindless and equally purposeless journeyings that fill the existence of a second pair of characters. In most dramatic literature the characters pursue well-defined objectives, seeking power, wealth, marriage with a desirable partner, or something of the sort. Yet, once they have attained these objectives, are they or the audience any nearer answering the basic questions that Beckett poses? Does the hero, having won his lady, really live with her happily ever after? That is apparently why Beckett chose to discard what he regarded as the inessential questions and began where other writing left off.

This stripping of reality to its naked bones is the reason that Beckett’s development as a writer was toward an ever greater concentration, sparseness, and brevity. His two earliest works of narrative fiction, More Pricks Than Kicks and Murphy, abound in descriptive detail. In Watt, the last of Beckett’s novels written in English, the milieu is still recognizably Irish, but most of the action takes place in a highly abstract, unreal world. Watt, the hero, takes service with a mysterious employer, Mr. Knott, works for a time for this master without ever meeting him face to face, and then is dismissed. The allegory of man’s life in the midst of mystery is plain.

Most of Beckett’s plays also take place on a similar level of abstraction. Fin de partie (one-act, 1957; Endgame) describes the dissolution of the relation between a master, Hamm, and his servant, Clov. They inhabit a circular structure with two high windows—perhaps the image of the inside of a human skull. The action might be seen as a symbol of the dissolution of a human personality in the hour of death, the breaking of the bond between the spiritual and the physical sides of man. In Krapp’s Last Tape (one-act, first performed 1958), an old man listens to the confessions he recorded in earlier and happier years. This becomes an image of the mystery of the self, for to the old Krapp the voice of the younger Krapp is that of a total stranger. In what sense, then, can the two Krapps be regarded as the same human being? In Happy Days (1961), a woman, literally sinking continually deeper into the ground, nonetheless continues to prattle about the trivialities of life. In other words, perhaps, as one gets nearer and nearer death, one still pretends that life will go on normally forever.

In his trilogy of narrative prose works—they are not, strictly speaking, novels as usually understood—Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, as well as in the collection Stories and Texts for Nothing (1967), Beckett raised the problem of the identity of the human self from, as it were, the inside. This basic problem, simply stated, is that when I say “I am writing,” I am talking about myself, one part of me describing what another part of me is doing. I am both the observer and the object I observe. Which of the two is the real “I”? In his prose narratives, Beckett tried to pursue this elusive essence of the self, which, to him, manifested itself as a constant stream of thought and of observations about the self. One’s entire existence, one’s consciousness of oneself as being in the world, can be seen as a stream of thought. Cogito ergo sum is the starting point of Beckett’s favourite philosopher, Descartes: “I think; therefore, I am.” To catch the essence of being, therefore, Beckett tried to capture the essence of the stream of consciousness that is one’s being. And what he found was a constantly receding chorus of observers, or storytellers, who, immediately on being observed, became, in turn, objects of observation by a new observer. Molloy and Moran, for example, the pursued and the pursuer in the first part of the trilogy, are just such a pair of observer and observed. Malone, in the second part, spends his time while dying in making up stories about people who clearly are aspects of himself. The third part reaches down to bedrock. The voice is that of someone who is unnamable, and it is not clear whether it is a voice that comes from beyond the grave or from a limbo before birth. As we cannot conceive of our consciousness not being there—“I cannot be conscious that I have ceased to exist”—therefore consciousness is at either side open-ended to infinity. This is the subject also of the play Play (first performed 1963), which shows the dying moments of consciousness of three characters, who have been linked in a trivial amorous triangle in life, lingering on into eternity.

The humour and mastery
In spite of Beckett’s courageous tackling of the ultimate mystery and despair of human existence, he was essentially a comic writer. In a French farce, laughter will arise from seeing the frantic and usually unsuccessful pursuit of trivial sexual gratifications. In Beckett’s work, as well, a recognition of the triviality and ultimate pointlessness of most human strivings, by freeing the viewer from his concern with senseless and futile objectives, should also have a liberating effect. The laughter will arise from a view of pompous and self-important preoccupation with illusory ambitions and futile desires. Far from being gloomy and depressing, the ultimate effect of seeing or reading Beckett is one of cathartic release, an objective as old as theatre itself.

Technically, Beckett was a master craftsman, and his sense of form is impeccable. Molloy and Waiting for Godot, for example, are constructed symmetrically, in two parts that are mirror images of one another. In his work for the mass media, Beckett also showed himself able to grasp intuitively and brilliantly the essential character of their techniques. His radio plays, such as All That Fall (1957), are models in the combined use of sound, music, and speech. The short television play Eh Joe! (1967) exploits the television camera’s ability to move in on a face and the particular character of small-screen drama. Finally, his film script Film (1967) creates an unforgettable sequence of images of the observed self trying to escape the eye of its own observer.

Beckett’s later works tended toward extreme concentration and brevity. Come and Go (1967), a playlet, or “dramaticule,” as he called it, contains only 121 words that are spoken by the three characters. The prose fragment “Lessness” consists of but 60 sentences, each of which occurs twice. His series Acts Without Words are exactly what the title denotes, and one of his last plays, Rockaby, lasts for 15 minutes. Such brevity is merely an expression of Beckett’s determination to pare his writing to essentials, to waste no words on trivia.

Martin J. Esslin



Harold Pinter


born Oct. 10, 1930, London, Eng.
died Dec. 24, 2008, London

English playwright, who achieved international renown as one of the most complex and challenging post-World War II dramatists. His plays are noted for their use of understatement, small talk, reticence—and even silence—to convey the substance of a character’s thought, which often lies several layers beneath, and contradicts, his speech. In 2005 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The son of a Jewish tailor, Pinter grew up in London’s East End in a working-class area. He studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1948 but left after two terms to join a repertory company as a professional actor. Pinter toured Ireland and England with various acting companies, appearing under the name David Baron in provincial repertory theatres until 1959. After 1956 he began to write for the stage. The Room (first produced 1957) and The Dumb Waiter (first produced 1959), his first two plays, are one-act dramas that established the mood of comic menace that was to figure largely in his later works. His first full-length play, The Birthday Party (first produced 1958; filmed 1968), puzzled the London audiences and lasted only a week, but later it was televised and revived successfully on the stage.

After Pinter’s radio play A Slight Ache (first produced 1959) was adapted for the stage (1961), his reputation was secured by his second full-length play, The Caretaker (first produced 1960; filmed 1963), which established him as more than just another practitioner of the then-popular Theatre of the Absurd. His next major play, The Homecoming (first produced 1965), helped establish him as the originator of a unique dramatic idiom. Such plays as Landscape (first produced 1969), Silence (first produced 1969), Night (first produced 1969), and Old Times (first produced 1971) virtually did away with physical activity on the stage. Pinter’s later successes included No Man’s Land (first produced 1975), Betrayal (first produced 1978), Moonlight (first produced 1993), and Celebration (first produced 2000). From the 1970s on, Pinter did much directing of both his own and others’ works.

Pinter’s plays are ambivalent in their plots, presentation of characters, and endings, but they are works of undeniable power and originality. They typically begin with a pair of characters whose stereotyped relations and role-playing are disrupted by the entrance of a stranger; the audience sees the psychic stability of the couple break down as their fears, jealousies, hatreds, sexual preoccupations, and loneliness emerge from beneath a screen of bizarre yet commonplace conversation. In The Caretaker, for instance, a wheedling, garrulous old tramp comes to live with two neurotic brothers, one of whom underwent electroshock therapy as a mental patient. The tramp’s attempts to establish himself in the household upset the precarious balance of the brothers’ lives, and they end up evicting him. The Homecoming focuses on the return to his London home of a university professor who brings his wife to meet his brothers and father. The woman’s presence exposes a tangle of rage and confused sexuality in this all-male household, but in the end she decides to stay with the father and his two sons after having accepted their sexual overtures without protest from her overly detached husband.

Dialogue is of central importance in Pinter’s plays and is perhaps the key to his originality. His characters’ colloquial (“Pinteresque”) speech consists of disjointed and oddly ambivalent conversation that is punctuated by resonant silences. The characters’ speech, hesitations, and pauses reveal not only their own alienation and the difficulties they have in communicating but also the many layers of meaning that can be contained in even the most innocuous statements.

In addition to works for the stage, Pinter wrote radio and television dramas and a number of successful motion-picture screenplays. Among the latter are those for three films directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant (1963), Accident (1967), and The Go-Between (1970). He also wrote the screenplays for The Last Tycoon (1976), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), the screen version of his own play Betrayal (1983), The Handmaid’s Tale (1990), and Sleuth (2007). Pinter was also a noted poet, and his verse—such as that collected in War (2003)—often reflected his political views and involvement in numerous causes. In 2007 Pinter was named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honour.



Joe Orton

born Jan. 1, 1933, Leicester, Leicestershire, Eng.
died Aug. 9, 1967, London

British playwright noted for his outrageous and macabre farces.

Orton was originally an unsuccessful actor. He turned to writing in the late 1950s under the encouragement of his lifelong companion, K.L. Halliwell. A handful of novels the pair wrote at this time were not published, however, and it was not until 1964 that Orton had his first success, when his radio play The Ruffian on the Stair was broadcast by the BBC. From then until his death in 1967 Orton had a brilliant success as a playwright. His three full-length plays, Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), Loot (1965), and What the Butler Saw (produced posthumously, 1969), were outrageous and unconventional black comedies that scandalized audiences with their examination of moral corruption, violence, and sexual rapacity. Orton’s writing was marked by epigrammatic wit and an incongruous polish, his characters reacting with comic propriety to the scandalous and disturbing situations in which they found themselves involved. He also wrote four one-act plays during these years, including Funeral Games (1968).

Orton’s career was cut tragically short when he was beaten to death by Halliwell, a less successful writer, who immediately afterward committed suicide.



Tom Stoppard

born July 3, 1937, Zlín, Czech. [now in Czech Republic]

Czech-born British playwright whose work is marked by verbal brilliance, ingenious action, and structural dexterity.

Stoppard’s father was working in Singapore in 1938/39. After the Japanese invasion, his father stayed on (and was killed), but Stoppard’s mother and her two sons escaped to India, where in 1946 she married a British officer, Kenneth Stoppard. Soon afterward the family went to live in England. Tom Stoppard (he had assumed his stepfather’s surname) quit school and started his career as a journalist in Bristol in 1954. He began to write plays in 1960 after moving to London.

His first play, A Walk on the Water (1960), was televised in 1963; the stage version, with some additions and the new title Enter a Free Man, reached London in 1968. His play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1964–65) was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1966. That same year his only novel, Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon, was published. His play was the greater success: it entered the repertory of Britain’s National Theatre in 1967 and rapidly became internationally renowned. The irony and brilliance of this work derive from Stoppard’s placing two minor characters of Shakespeare’s Hamlet into the centre of the dramatic action.

A number of successes followed. Among the most notable stage plays were The Real Inspector Hound (1968), Jumpers (1972), Travesties (1974), Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1978), Night and Day (1978), Undiscovered Country (1980, adapted from a play by Arthur Schnitzler), and On the Razzle (1981, adapted from a play by Johann Nestroy). The Real Thing (1982), Stoppard’s first romantic comedy, deals with art and reality and features a playwright as a protagonist. Arcadia, which juxtaposes 19th-century Romanticism and 20th-century chaos theory and is set in a Derbyshire country house, premiered in 1993, and The Invention of Love, about A.E. Housman, was first staged in 1997. The trilogy The Coast of Utopia (Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage), first performed in 2002, explores the lives and debates of a circle of 19th-century Russian émigré intellectuals. Rock ‘n’ Roll (2006) jumps between England and Czechoslovakia during the period 1968–90.

Stoppard wrote a number of radio plays, including In the Native State (1991), which was reworked as the stage play Indian Ink (1995). He also wrote a number of notable television plays, such as Professional Foul (1977). Among his screenplays are The Romantic Englishwoman (1975), Despair (1978), and Brazil (1985). He directed the film version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1991), for which he also wrote the screenplay. In 1998 the screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, cowritten by Stoppard and Marc Norman, won an Academy Award. His numerous other honours include the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for theatre/film (2009). Stoppard was knighted in 1997.



Alan Ayckbourn

born April 12, 1939, London, Eng.

successful and prolific British playwright, whose works—mostly farces and comedies—deal with marital and class conflicts and point up the fears and weaknesses of the English lower-middle class. He wrote more than 70 plays and other entertainments, most of which were first staged at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, Yorkshire, Eng.

At age 15 Ayckbourn acted in school productions of William Shakespeare, and he began his professional acting career with the Stephen Joseph Company in Scarborough. When Ayckbourn wanted better roles to play, Joseph told him to write a part for himself in a play that the company would mount if it had merit. Ayckbourn produced his earliest plays in 1959–61 under the pseudonym Roland Allen.

His plays—many of which were performed years before they were published—include Relatively Speaking (1968), Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage (1970), How the Other Half Loves (1971), the trilogy The Norman Conquests (1973), Absurd Person Singular (1974), Intimate Exchanges (1985), Mr. A’s Amazing Maze Plays (1989), Body Language (1990), Invisible Friends (1991), Communicating Doors (1995), Comic Potential (1999), The Boy Who Fell into a Book (2000), and the trilogy Damsels in Distress (2002). In 2002 he published a work of advice and instruction for aspiring playwrights and directors, The Crafty Art of Playmaking.

After suffering a stroke in 2006, Ayckbourn limited his activities, though he soon resumed writing. In 2009 he stepped down as artistic director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a post he had held since 1972. His numerous honours include Laurence Olivier (2009) and Tony (2010) awards for lifetime achievement. Ayckbourn was knighted in 1997.



Brian Friel

born Jan. 9, 1929, near Omagh, County Tyrone, N.Ire.

playwright noted for his portrayals of social and political life in both Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Educated at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth (B.A., 1948), and St. Joseph’s Training College, Belfast (1949–50), he taught school in Londonderry (Derry) for 10 years. After The New Yorker began regular publication of his stories, he turned to writing full time in 1960, issuing short stories and radio and stage plays. After a six-month tutelage at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Minn., U.S., in 1963, he wrote his first dramatic success, Philadelphia, Here I Come!, produced first by the Dublin Theatre Festival (1964) and subsequently appearing in New York City and London to critical and popular acclaim. The play told of a young Irishman’s mood changes in contemplating emigrating from Ireland to America. Soon, Friel himself was settled in County Donegal, Ireland.

After writing The Loves of Cass McGuire (1966), Lovers (1967), Crystal and Fox (1968), and The Mundy Scheme (1969), he turned more to political themes, relating the dilemmas of Irish life and the Troubles in Northern Ireland in such plays as The Freedom of the City (1973), Volunteers (1975), Living Quarters (1977), and Making History (1988). Many of his plays—notably Aristocrats (1979), Translations (1980), and the Tony award-winning Dancing at Lughnasa (1990; film adaptation, 1998)—deal with family ties, communication and mythmaking as human needs, and the tangled relationships between narrative, history, and nationality. In Faith Healer (1979) and Molly Sweeney (1994) Friel constructed plays consisting entirely of monologues.

Beginning in the late 1990s he wrote a number of adaptations of the work of Anton Chekhov, including Uncle Vanya (1998), The Yalta Game (2001, based on Chekhov’s story “The Lady with a Lapdog”), and The Bear (2002). Friel explored the tensions implicit in English stewardship over Irish land during the burgeoning years of the Irish Home Rule movement of the late 19th century in The Home Place (2005), and in 2008 he presented an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler.

In 1980 Friel founded the Field Day Theatre Company in Londonderry, N.Ire., with the actor Stephen Rea, and in 1983 the company began publishing pamphlets, and later anthologies, aimed at the academic community on a wide variety of historical, cultural, and artistic topics.




Caryl Churchill

born Sept. 3, 1938, London, Eng.

British playwright whose work frequently deals with feminist issues, the abuses of power, and sexual politics.

When Churchill was 10, she immigrated with her family to Canada. She attended Lady Margaret Hall, a women’s college of the University of Oxford, and remained in England after receiving a B.A. in 1960. Her three earliest plays, Downstairs (produced 1958), Having a Wonderful Time (produced 1960), and Easy Death (produced 1962), were performed by Oxford-based theatrical ensembles.

During the 1960s and ’70s, while raising a family, she wrote radio dramas and then television plays for British television. Owners, a two-act, 14-scene play about obsession with power, was her first major theatrical endeavour and was produced in London in 1972. During her tenure as resident dramatist at London’s Royal Court Theatre, Churchill wrote Objections to Sex and Violence (1974), which, though not well-reviewed, led to her successful association with David Hare and Max Stafford-Clark’s Joint Stock Company and with Monstrous Regiment, a feminist group. Cloud 9 (1979), a farce about sexual politics, was successful in the United States as well as in Britain, winning an Obie Award in 1982 for best play of the year. The next year she won another Obie for best play with Top Girls (1982), which deals with women’s losing their humanity in order to attain power in a male-dominated environment. Softcops (produced 1984), a surreal play set in 19th-century France about government attempts to depoliticize illegal acts, was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Serious Money (1987) is a comedy about excesses in the financial world, and Icecream (1989) investigates Anglo-American stereotypes. The prolific Churchill continued to push boundaries into the late 1990s. In 1997 she collaborated with the composer Orlando Gough to create Hotel, a choreographed opera or sung ballet set in a hotel room. Also that year her surrealistic short play This Is a Chair was produced.



David Hare

born June 5, 1947, St. Leonards, Sussex, Eng.

British playwright and director, noted for his deftly crafted satires examining British society in the post-World War II era.

Hare graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1968 and founded an experimental touring theatre group that same year. He directed some of its productions and soon began writing plays for the group, including Slag (1970). With The Great Exhibition (1972) and Knuckle (1974) Hare established himself as a talented playwright and a vigorous critic of the dubious mores of British public life. Teeth ’n’ Smiles (1975) examined the milieu of rock musicians, while the widely praised play Plenty (1978) was a searching study of the erosion of a woman’s personality, metaphorically evoking Britain’s contemporaneous postwar decline. He continued to direct productions at various London theatres during the 1970s and ’80s. Pravda: A Fleet Street Comedy (1985), a play about newspaper tycoons coauthored with Howard Brenton, was the first of a series of plays castigating British institutions. It was followed by Racing Demon (1990), about the Church of England; Murmuring Judges (1991), about the legal profession; and The Absence of War (1993), about politicians. The Blue Room (1998) was an adaptation of Merry-Go-Round by the Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler. It follows the partnering of 10 pairs of lovers, each vignette featuring one character that appeared in the last. Hare’s subsequent plays include Stuff Happens (2004), which follows U.S. Pres. George W. Bush and his advisers in the run-up to the Iraq War, and The Power of Yes (2009), the playwright’s attempt, via staged “interviews,” to understand the 2008 financial crisis.

Hare became known as a screenwriter for his film adaptation of Plenty in 1985. He also adapted The Secret Rapture (1988), his play exploring the complex relationship between two sisters, for film in 1994. Hare wrote several plays for television and wrote and directed the films Wetherby (1985) and Strapless (1989). His screenplay adaptations of Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours and Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader (released 2002 and 2008, respectively) were nominated for Academy Awards. He was knighted in 1998.



Alan Bennett

born May 9, 1934, Leeds, Yorkshire, Eng.

British playwright who was best known for The Madness of George III (1991) and The History Boys (2004).

Bennett attended Leeds Modern School and gained a scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford, where he received an undergraduate degree in history in 1957. His fledgling career as a junior lecturer in history at Magdalen College, Oxford, was cut short after he enjoyed enormous success with the comedy revue Beyond the Fringe in 1960. He coauthored and starred in the show with Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore, and the foursome played to packed houses in Edinburgh, London, and New York City. Bennett’s first play, Forty Years On, was produced in 1968 and starred John Gielgud. It was followed by numerous plays, films, and television serials; a best-selling collection of Bennett’s diaries and reminiscences, titled Writing Home (1994); and several pieces for radio. In 1987 Talking Heads, a series of monologues for television, made him a household name and earned him the first of six Lawrence Olivier Awards (annual theatre awards established in 1976 as the Society of West End Theatre Awards). The Madness of George III premiered at the National Theatre in 1991, and the 1994 film adaptation, The Madness of King George, secured several Academy Award nominations, including one for Bennett’s screenplay.

Bennett’s special talent was his translation of the mundane into tragicomic dramas, and he was able to employ his characteristic light touch even when writing about intellectual heavyweights such as Wittgenstein or Kafka. Bennett fearlessly scrutinized the British class system, propriety, and England’s north-south cultural divide with results that were simultaneously chilling and hilarious. Meanwhile, his gift for creating an authentic dialogue for the “ordinary people” of his own background sat curiously beside his ability to portray the manners of middle and upper classes. It was Bennett’s diversity of talent that delighted audiences and led critics to hail him as one of the premier playwrights of the day.

Bennett’s play The History Boys garnered both the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award and the Laurence Olivier Award for best new play, and Bennett also received the Olivier Special Award. Set in Yorkshire in the 1980s, the play featured a clash of values between two teachers coaching a class of state-school boys through their university entrance examinations. It succeeded both as a serious-minded critique of Britain’s education system—then and now—and as a superbly comic entertainment. A 2006 film version of The History Boys followed the play, which won six Tony Awards after its debut on Broadway in the same year.

In September 2005 his fans were introduced to a new side of Bennett when he published the memoir Untold Stories, in which he looked back affectionately at his parents, poignantly reflected on his mother’s descent into senility and her death in a nursing home, and revealed for the first time that he had received treatment for what had been believed to be terminal cancer.

Siobhan Dowd



The 21st century

As the 21st century got under way, history remained the outstanding concern of English literature. Although contemporary issues such as global warming and international conflicts (especially the Second Persian Gulf War and its aftermath) received attention, writers were still more disposed to look back. Bennett’s play The History Boys (filmed 2006) premiered in 2004; it portrayed pupils in a school in the north of England during the 1980s. Although Cloud Atlas (2004)—a far-reaching book by David Mitchell, one of the more ambitious novelists to emerge during this period—contained chapters that envisage future eras ravaged by malign technology and climactic and nuclear devastation, it devoted more space to scenes set in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In doing so, it also displayed another preoccupation of the 21st century’s early years: the imitation of earlier literary styles and techniques. There was a marked vogue for pastiche and revisionary Victorian novels (of which Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White [2002] was a prominent example).
Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) worked masterly variations on the 1930s fictional procedures of authors such as Elizabeth Bowen.

In Saturday (2005), the model of Virginia Woolf’s fictional presentation of a war-shadowed day in London in Mrs. Dalloway (1925) stood behind
Ian McEwan’s vivid depiction of that city on Feb. 15, 2003, a day of mass demonstrations against the impending war in Iraq. Heaney continued to revisit the rural world of his youth in the poetry collections Electric Light (2001) and District and Circle (2006) while also reexamining and reworking classic texts, a striking instance of which was The Burial at Thebes (2004), which infused Sophocles’ Antigone with contemporary resonances. Although they had entered into a new millennium, writers seemed to find greater imaginative stimulus in the past than in the present and the future.

Peter Kemp





William Somerset Maugham

born Jan. 25, 1874, Paris, Fr.
died Dec. 16, 1965, Nice

English novelist, playwright, and short-story writer whose work is characterized by a clear unadorned style, cosmopolitan settings, and a shrewd understanding of human nature.

Maugham was orphaned at the age of 10; he was brought up by an uncle and educated at King’s School, Canterbury. After a year at Heidelberg, he entered St. Thomas’ medical school, London, and qualified as a doctor in 1897. He drew upon his experiences as an obstetrician in his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), and its success, though small, encouraged him to abandon medicine. He traveled in Spain and Italy and in 1908 achieved a theatrical triumph—four plays running in London at once—that brought him financial security. During World War I he worked as a secret agent. After the war he resumed his interrupted travels and, in 1928, bought a villa on Cape Ferrat in the south of France, which became his permanent home.

His reputation as a novelist rests primarily on four books: Of Human Bondage (1915), a semi-autobiographical account of a young medical student’s painful progress toward maturity; The Moon and Sixpence (1919), an account of an unconventional artist, suggested by the life of Paul Gauguin; Cakes and Ale (1930), the story of a famous novelist, which is thought to contain caricatures of Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole; and The Razor’s Edge (1944), the story of a young American war veteran’s quest for a satisfying way of life. Maugham’s plays, mainly Edwardian social comedies, soon became dated, but his short stories have increased in popularity. Many portray the conflict of Europeans in alien surroundings that provoke strong emotions, and Maugham’s skill in handling plot, in the manner of Guy de Maupassant, is distinguished by economy and suspense. In The Summing Up (1938) and A Writer’s Notebook (1949) Maugham explains his philosophy of life as a resigned atheism and a certain skepticism about the extent of man’s innate goodness and intelligence; it is this that gives his work its astringent cynicism.



A. J. Cronin

born July 19, 1896, Cardross, Dumbartonshire, Scot.
died Jan. 6, 1981, Montreux, Switz.

Scottish novelist and physician whose works combining realism with social criticism won a large Anglo-American readership.

Cronin was educated at the University of Glasgow and served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I. He practiced in South Wales (1921–24) and then, as medical inspector of mines, investigated occupational diseases in the coal industry. He opened medical practice in London in 1926 but quit because of ill health, using his leisure to write his first novel, Hatter’s Castle (1931; filmed 1941), the story of a Scottish hatmaker obsessed with the idea of the possibility of his noble birth. This book was an immediate success in Britain.

Cronin’s fourth novel, The Stars Look Down (1935; filmed 1939), which chronicles various social injustices in a North England mining community from 1903 to 1933, gained him an international readership. It was followed by The Citadel (1937; filmed 1938), which showed how private physicians’ greed can distort good medical practice. The Keys of the Kingdom (1942; filmed 1944), about a Roman Catholic missionary in China, was one of his most popular books. Cronin’s subsequent novels include The Green Years (1944; filmed 1946), Shannon’s Way (1948), The Judas Tree (1961), and A Song of Sixpence (1964). One of his more interesting late works is A Thing of Beauty (1956), a study of a gifted young painter who must break free of middle-class conventions to realize his potential.

Cronin’s strengths were his narrative skill and his powers of acute observation and graphic description. Though labeled a successful middlebrow novelist, he managed to create in The Stars Look Down a classic work of 20th-century British fiction.



Pamela Lyndon Travers

born Aug. 9, 1899, Maryborough, Queen., Austl.
died April 23, 1996, London, Eng.

Australian-born English writer known for her Mary Poppins books, which have been widely translated and were the basis for the motion picture Mary Poppins (1964).

As a dancer and actress in Australia, she changed her name to P.L. Travers. She subsequently moved to England, where she worked as a journalist and became friendly with the poets William Butler Yeats and AE (George William Russell). AE published some of her poems in The Irish Statesman. In the 1930s she wrote drama criticism for the New English Weekly. Her first book, Mary Poppins (1934), about a magical, good-hearted, and exceedingly efficient nanny, was an immediate success. Two years later, after she began writing sequels, Travers decided to write full-time. She traveled throughout Europe and the United States lecturing and gaining new material for her stories. During World War II she worked in the British Ministry of Information. From 1965 to 1971 she was writer-in-residence at such colleges as Radcliffe, Smith, and Scripps in the United States. She later served as a contributing editor (1976–96) to Parabola, a journal on mythology. She never married but adopted a son. Later works include several travel books and a collection of essays, What the Bee Knows: Reflections on Myth, Symbol, and Story (1989).



A. A. Milne

born Jan. 18, 1882, London, Eng.
died Jan. 31, 1956, Hartfield, Sussex

English humorist, the originator of the immensely popular stories of Christopher Robin and his toy bear, Winnie-the-Pooh.

Milne attended Westminster School, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1906 he joined the staff of Punch, writing humorous verse and whimsical essays in a style that quickly dated. He achieved considerable success with a series of light comedies such as Mr. Pim Passes By (1921) and Michael and Mary (1930). Milne also wrote one memorable detective novel, The Red House Mystery (1922); and a children’s play, Make-Believe (1918), before stumbling upon his true literary métier with some verses written for his son Christopher Robin. These grew into the collections When We Were Very Young (1924) and Now We Are Six (1927). These remain classics of light verse for children.

His most popular works were the two sets of stories about the adventures of Christopher Robin and his toy animals—Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Rabbit, Owl, and Eeyore—as told in Winnie-the-Pooh (1926) and The House at Pooh Corner (1928). Ernest Shepard’s illustrations added to the books’ charm. In 1929 Milne adapted another children’s classic, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, for the stage as Toad of Toad Hall. A decade later he wrote his autobiography, It’s Too Late Now.




T. H. White

born May 29, 1906, Bombay, India
died Jan. 17, 1964, Piraeus, Greece

English novelist, social historian, and satirist who was best known for his brilliant adaptation of Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th-century romance, Morte Darthur, into a quartet of novels called The Once and Future King.

White was educated at Cheltenham College and at Cambridge. He taught at Stowe School (1930–36), and while there he attained his first real critical success with an autobiographical volume, England Have My Bones (1936). He afterward devoted himself exclusively to writing and to studying such recondite subjects as the Arthurian legends, which were to provide the material for his books. White was by nature a recluse, for long periods isolating himself from human society and spending his time hunting, fishing, and looking after his strange collection of pets.

The Once and Future King (1958) comprises The Sword in the Stone (1939), The Queen of Air and Darkness—first published as The Witch in the Wood (1940)—The Ill-Made Knight (1941), and The Candle in the Wind. The Once and Future King was adapted in 1960 into a highly successful musical play, Camelot; a motion picture, also called Camelot (1967), was based on the play. White’s other works include The Goshawk (1951), a study of falconry, and two works of social history, The Age of Scandal (1950) and The Scandalmonger (1951).



Mary Norton

born Dec. 10, 1903, London, Eng.
died Aug. 29, 1992, Hartland, Devon

British children’s writer most famous for her series on the Borrowers, a resourceful race of beings only 6 inches (15 cm) tall, who secretly share houses with humans and “borrow” what they need from them.

Norton was educated in a convent school in London and trained as an actress with the Old Vic Shakespeare company in London. She lived in Portugal from 1927 until the outbreak of World War II. While working for the British Purchasing Commission in the United States (1940–43), she published The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons (1943) before returning to London to write the sequel, Bonfires and Broomsticks (1947). The two stories, which concern the adventures of three children and an amateur witch, were later combined into a single volume, Bed-Knob and Broomstick (1957; filmed as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971).

Norton’s most famous book, The Borrowers (1952), featuring the tiny Clock family, earned her a Carnegie Medal (a British award for outstanding fiction for children) and quickly became a children’s classic. The complete miniature universe that Norton created earned her comparison to such imaginative writers as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll. Four sequels, The Borrowers Afield (1955), The Borrowers Afloat (1959), The Borrowers Aloft (1961), and The Borrowers Avenged (1982), tell of the Clock family’s continuing struggles to survive after they have been chased out of their home. The Borrowers tales were adapted for television in the early 1970s and again in 1992 and filmed in 1997. Norton also wrote Are All the Giants Dead? (1975), a humorous story about aging fairy-tale characters.

Norton’s books were illustrated by Erik Blegvad, Diana Stanley, and Pauline Baynes.



Frances Hodgson Burnett

born Nov. 24, 1849, Manchester, Eng.
died Oct. 29, 1924, Plandome, N.Y., U.S.

American playwright and author who wrote the popular novel Little Lord Fauntleroy.

Frances Hodgson grew up in increasingly straitened circumstances after the death of her father in 1854. In 1865 the family immigrated to the United States and settled in New Market, near Knoxville, Tennessee, where the promise of support from a maternal uncle failed to materialize. In 1868 Hodgson managed to place a story with Godey’s Lady’s Book. Within a few years she was being published regularly in Godey’s, Peterson’s Ladies’ Magazine, Scribner’s Monthly, and Harper’s. In 1873, after a year’s visit to England, she married Dr. Swan Moses Burnett of New Market (divorced 1898).

Burnett’s first novel, That Lass o’ Lowrie’s, which had been serialized in Scribner’s, was published in 1877. Like her short stories, the book combined a remarkable gift for realistic detail in portraying scenes of working-class life—unusual in that day—with a plot consisting of the most romantic and improbable of turns. After moving with her husband to Washington, D.C., Burnett wrote the novels Haworth’s (1879), Louisiana (1880), A Fair Barbarian (1881), and Through One Administration (1883), as well as a play, Esmeralda (1881), written with actor-playwright William Gillette.

In 1886 Burnett’s most famous and successful book appeared. First serialized in St. Nicholas magazine, Little Lord Fauntleroy was intended as a children’s book, but it had its greatest appeal to mothers. It established the main character’s long curls (based on her son Vivian’s) and velvet suit with lace collar (based on Oscar Wilde’s attire) as a mother’s model for small boys, who generally hated it. The book sold more than half a million copies, and Burnett’s income was increased by her dramatized version, which quickly became a repertory standard on the order of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1888 she won a lawsuit in England over the dramatic rights to Little Lord Fauntleroy, establishing a precedent that was incorporated into British copyright law in 1911.

Her later books include Sara Crewe (1888), dramatized as The Little Princess (1905), and The Secret Garden (1909), both of which were also written for children. The Lady of Quality (1896) has been considered the best of her other plays. These, like most of her 40-odd novels, stress sentimental, romantic themes. In 1893 she published a memoir of her youth, The One I Knew Best of All. From the mid-1890s she lived mainly in England, but in 1909 she built a house in Plandome, Long Island, New York, where she died in 1924. Her son Vivian Burnett, the model for Little Lord Fauntleroy, wrote a biography of her in 1927 entitled The Romantick Lady.



Hugh Lofting

born Jan. 14, 1886, Maidenhead, Berkshire, Eng.
died Sept. 26, 1947, Santa Monica, Calif., U.S.

English-born American author of a series of children’s classics about Dr. Dolittle, a chubby, gentle, eccentric physician to animals, who learns the language of animals from his parrot, Polynesia, so that he can treat their complaints more efficiently. Much of the wit and charm of the stories lies in their matter-of-fact treatment of the doctor’s bachelor household in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, where his housekeeper, Dab-Dab, is a duck and his visitors and patients are animals.

Lofting attended a Jesuit boarding school in Derbyshire from the age of eight. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, in 1904–05 and completed his studies in civil engineering at the London Polytechnic in 1906–07. His work took him to Africa, the West Indies, and Canada, but in 1912 he decided to become a writer and settled in New York City. He lived most of his life in the United States, but the ambience of all his books is English. Since Dr. Dolittle was originally created to entertain Lofting’s children in letters he sent from the front during World War I, it is not surprising that he was a firm opponent of war, violence, and cruelty. After serving in Flanders and France, Lofting was wounded and invalided out. The Story of Dr. Dolittle, the first of his series, appeared in 1920 and won instant success. He wrote one Dr. Dolittle book a year until 1927, and these seven are generally considered the best of the series—certainly the sunniest. The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle (1922) won the Newbery Medal as the best children’s book of the year.

Wearying of his hero, Lofting tried to get rid of him by sending him to the moon (Dr. Dolittle in the Moon, 1928), but popular demand compelled him to write Dr. Dolittle’s Return in 1933. The last of the series, Dr. Dolittle and the Secret Lake, was 13 years in the writing and was published posthumously in 1948.

A motion picture, Doctor Dolittle (1967), heightened the already worldwide interest in his books, and several were reissued with new illustrations—Lofting’s own apt and charming drawings had accompanied the original publications. Dr. Dolittle; A Treasury (1967) collected outstanding episodes from the series.

Lofting also wrote books in which the doctor did not appear, including The Story of Mrs. Tubbs (1923) and its sequel, Tommy, Tilly, and Mrs. Tubbs (1934).



Dodie Smith

Dorothy Gladys "Dodie" Smith (3 May 1896 – 24 November 1990) was an English novelist and playwright. Smith is best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians featuring Cruella de Vil. Her other works include I Capture the Castle and The Starlight Barking.

Dorothy was born on 3 May 1896 in Whitefield, near Bury in Lancashire. An only child, her parents were Ernest and Ella Smith (née Furber). Ernest was a bank manager; he died in 1898, when Dorothy was two years old. Dodie and her mother moved to Old Trafford to live with her grandparents. Dorothy's childhood home, known as Kingston House, was at 609 Stretford Road. where she lived with her mother, maternal grandparents, two aunts, and three uncles.[1] Today there is a blue plaque on the building, commemorating where Dorothy grew up. The formative years of Dorothy's childhood were spent at this house. But in 1910 Ella remarried and relocated with her new husband and the 14 year old Dodie to London. In 1914, Dodie entered the Academy (later Royal Academy) of Dramatic Art, and Ella died of breast cancer. During Ella's illness, mother and daughter became followers of Christian Science.

Dodie unsuccessfully pursued a career as an actress. In 1923, she took a job in Heals furniture store in London and became the toy buyer (and a mistress of the chairman, Ambrose Heal).[4] She authored her first play, Autumn Crocus, in 1931 under the pseudonym C.L. Anthony. Its success, and the discovery of her identity by journalists, inspired the newspaper headline, "Shopgirl Writes Play".

She spent most of her years as a writer living in a townhouse in London, where a plaque now commemorates her occupation. In 1939, she married Alec Beesley, another employee at Heal's.

During the 1940s, she and her husband moved to the United States due to legal difficulties with Beesley's stand as a conscientious objector. While living in the U.S. and feeling homesick for England, she wrote her first novel, I Capture the Castle (1948). During the American interlude, the Beesleys became friends with writers Christopher Isherwood, Charles Brackett, and John Van Druten. In Smith's memoirs, she credits Alec with making the suggestion to Van Druten that he adapt Isherwood's Sally Bowles story Goodbye to Berlin into a play (the Van Druten play, I Am A Camera, later became the musical Cabaret). In her memoirs, Smith acknowledges having received writing advice from her friend, the novelist A. J. Cronin.

Smith is best known for her novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) (which was adapted into the Disney animated film One Hundred and One Dalmatians). Her novel I Capture the Castle also has a devoted following (a film version was released in 2003).

Smith died in 1990 after naming Julian Barnes as her literary executor, a job she felt would not be much work. She was cremated. Her ashes were scattered in the wind. Barnes writes of the complicated task in his essay "Literary Executions", revealing among other things how he secured the return of the film rights to I Capture the Castle, which had been held by Disney since 1949[6] Smith's personal papers are housed in Boston University's Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, and include manuscripts, photographs, artwork, and correspondence (including letters from Christopher Isherwood and John Gielgud).


Agatha Christie

"The Mysterious Affair at Styles"

born Sept. 15, 1890, Torquay, Devon, Eng.
died Jan. 12, 1976, Wallingford, Oxfordshire

English detective novelist and playwright whose books have sold more than 100 million copies and have been translated into some 100 languages.

Educated at home by her mother, Christie began writing detective fiction while working as a nurse during World War I. Her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), introduced Hercule Poirot, her eccentric and egotistic Belgian detective; Poirot reappeared in about 25 novels and many short stories before returning to Styles, where, in Curtain (1975), he died. The elderly spinster Miss Jane Marple, her other principal detective figure, first appeared in Murder at the Vicarage (1930). Christie’s first major recognition came with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), which was followed by some 75 novels that usually made best-seller lists and were serialized in popular magazines in England and the United States. Her plays include The Mousetrap (1952), which set a world record for the longest continuous run at one theatre (8,862 performances—more than 21 years—at the Ambassadors Theatre, London) and then moved to another theatre, and Witness for the Prosecution (1953), which, like many of her works, was adapted into a successful film (1957). Other notable film adaptations include Murder on the Orient Express (1933; film, 1974) and Death on the Nile (1937; film, 1978). Her works were also adapted for television.

In 1926 Christie’s mother died, and her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, requested a divorce. In a move she never fully explained, Christie disappeared and, after several highly-publicized days, was discovered registered in a hotel under the name of the woman her husband wished to marry. In 1930 Christie married the archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan; thereafter she spent several months each year on expeditions in Iraq and Syria with him. She also wrote romantic nondetective novels, such as Absent in the Spring (1944), under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. Her Autobiography (1977) appeared posthumously. She was created a Dame of the British Empire in 1971.




J. R. R. Tolkien

English author
in full John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

born January 3, 1892, Bloemfontein, South Africa
died September 2, 1973, Bournemouth, Hampshire, England

English writer and scholar who achieved fame with his children’s book The Hobbit (1937) and his richly inventive epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings (1954–55).

At age four Tolkien, with his mother and younger brother, settled near Birmingham, England, after his father, a bank manager, died in South Africa. In 1900 his mother converted to Roman Catholicism, a faith her elder son also practiced devoutly. On her death in 1904, her boys became wards of a Catholic priest. Four years later Tolkien fell in love with another orphan, Edith Bratt, who would inspire his fictional character Lúthien Tinúviel. His guardian, however, disapproved, and not until his 21st birthday could Tolkien ask Edith to marry him. In the meantime, he attended King Edward’s School in Birmingham and Exeter College, Oxford (B.A., 1915; M.A., 1919). During World War I he saw action in the Somme. After the Armistice he was briefly on the staff of The Oxford English Dictionary (then called The New English Dictionary). For most of his adult life, he taught English language and literature, specializing in Old and Middle English, at the universities of Leeds (1920–25) and Oxford (1925–59). Often busy with academic duties and also acting as an examiner for other universities, he produced few but influential scholarly publications, notably a standard edition of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1925; with E.V. Gordon), a landmark lecture on Beowulf (Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, 1936), and an edition of the Ancrene Wisse (1962).

In private, Tolkien amused himself by writing an elaborate series of fantasy tales, often dark and sorrowful, set in a world of his own creation. He made this “legendarium,” which eventually became The Silmarillion, partly to provide a setting in which “Elvish” languages he had invented could exist. But his tales of Arda and Middle-earth also grew from a desire to tell stories, influenced by a love of myths and legends. To entertain his four children, he devised lighter fare, lively and often humorous. The longest and most important of these stories, begun about 1930, was The Hobbit, a coming-of-age fantasy about a comfort-loving “hobbit” (a smaller relative of Man) who joins a quest for a dragon’s treasure. In 1937 The Hobbit was published, with pictures by the author (an accomplished amateur artist), and was so popular that its publisher asked for a sequel. The result, 17 years later, was Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, a modern version of the heroic epic. A few elements from The Hobbit were carried over, in particular a magic ring, now revealed to be the One Ring, which must be destroyed before it can be used by the terrible Dark Lord, Sauron, to rule the world. But The Lord of the Rings is also an extension of Tolkien’s Silmarillion tales, which gave the new book a “history” in which Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Men were already established. Contrary to statements often made by critics, it was not written specifically for children, nor is it a trilogy, though it is often published in three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King. It was divided originally because of its bulk and to reduce the risk to its publisher should it fail to sell. In fact it proved immensely popular. On its publication in paperback in the United States in 1965, it attained cult status on college campuses. Although some critics disparage it, several polls since 1996 have named The Lord of the Rings the best book of the 20th century, and its success made it possible for other authors to thrive by writing fantasy fiction. It had sold more than 50 million copies in some 30 languages by the turn of the 21st century. A film version of The Lord of the Rings by New Zealand director Peter Jackson, released in three installments in 2001–03, achieved worldwide critical and financial success.

Several shorter works by Tolkien appeared during his lifetime. These include a mock-medieval story, Farmer Giles of Ham (1949); The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Other Verses from the Red Book (1962), poetry related to The Lord of the Rings; Tree and Leaf (1964), with the seminal lecture “On Fairy-Stories” and the tale “Leaf by Niggle”; and the fantasy Smith of Wootton Major (1967). Tolkien in his old age failed to complete The Silmarillion, the “prequel” to The Lord of the Rings, and left it to his youngest son, Christopher, to edit and publish (1977). Christopher likewise compiled The Children of Húrin (2007; also published as Narn I Chin Hurin: The Tale of the Children of Hurin) from his father’s unfinished manuscripts; it too is set in Middle-earth prior to The Lord of the Rings. Among other posthumous works by Tolkien are The Father Christmas Letters (1976), Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (1980), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (1981), Mr. Bliss (1982), and Roverandom (1998). The History of Middle-earth (1983–96) traces the writing of the “legendarium,” including The Lord of the Rings, through its various stages.

Wayne G. Hammond



John Boynton Priestley

born , Sept. 13, 1894, Bradford, Yorkshire, Eng.
died Aug. 14, 1984, Alveston, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

British novelist, playwright, and essayist, noted for his varied output and his ability for shrewd characterization.

Priestley served in the infantry in World War I (1914–19) and then studied English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., 1922). He thereafter worked as a journalist and first established a reputation with the essays collected in The English Comic Characters (1925) and The English Novel (1927). He achieved enormous popular success with The Good Companions (1929), a picaresque novel about a group of traveling performers. This was followed in 1930 by his most solidly crafted novel, Angel Pavement, a sombre, realistic depiction of the lives of a group of office workers in London. Among his other more important novels are Bright Day (1946) and Lost Empires (1965).

Priestley was also a prolific dramatist, and he achieved early successes on the stage with such robust, good-humoured comedies as Laburnum Grove (1933) and When We Are Married (1938). Influenced by the time theories of John William Dunne, he experimented with expressionistic psychological drama—e.g., Time and the Conways and I Have Been Here Before (both 1937) and Johnson over Jordan (1939). He also used time distortion as the basis for a mystery drama with moral overtones, An Inspector Calls (1946). Many of his plays featured skillful characterizations of ordinary people in domestic settings.

An adept radio speaker, he had a wide audience for his patriotic broadcasts during World War II and for his subsequent Sunday evening programs. Priestley’s large literary output of more than 120 books was complemented by his status as a commentator and literary spokesman for his countrymen, a role he sustained through his forceful and engaging public personality. Priestley refused both a knighthood and a peerage, but he accepted the Order of Merit in 1977.

A revival of interest in and a reappraisal of Priestley’s work occurred in the 1970s. During that decade he produced, among other works, Found, Lost, Found, or The English Way of Life (1976).



Ian Fleming

born May 28, 1908, London, England
died August 12, 1964, Canterbury, Kent

suspense-fiction novelist whose character James Bond, the stylish, high-living British secret service agent 007, became one of the most successful and widely imitated heroes of 20th-century popular fiction.

The son of a Conservative MP and the grandson of a Scottish banker, Fleming was born into a family of wealth and privilege and was educated in England, Germany, and Switzerland. Before settling down as a full-time writer, Fleming was a journalist in Moscow (1929–33), a banker and stockbroker (1935–39), a high-ranking officer in British naval intelligence during World War II, and foreign manager of the London Sunday Times (1945–49).

Casino Royale (1953) was the first of his 12 James Bond novels. Packed with violent action, hairbreadth escapes, international espionage, clever spy gadgets, intrigue, and gorgeous women, the books became international best sellers. The Bond books gained wide popularity in the United States after the newly elected president, John F. Kennedy, named a Bond novel on his list of favourite books in 1961.

Bond, with his propensity for gambling and fast cars, became the prototype of the handsome, clever playboy-hero of the late 1950s and ’60s. He was the symbol in the West of the burgeoning consumer age, indulging in only the best brand-name products and enjoying access to the foremost electronic gadgets of his day. To some readers, Bond’s incessant name-dropping of commercial products was off-putting, but the tactic enabled Fleming to create a realism unusual in the popular fiction of his day. Bond’s mannerisms and quirks, from the way he liked his martinis (“shaken, not stirred”) to the way he introduced himself (“Bond, James Bond”), soon became famous around the world. All the Bond novels, notably From Russia, with Love (1957), Dr. No (1958), Goldfinger (1959), and Thunderball (1961), were made into popular motion pictures, although many deviated from Fleming’s original plots.

Fleming’s books were roundly criticized by many highbrow critics and novelists. Paul Johnson lambasted the Bond phenomenon in a famous essay titled “Sex, Snobbery, and Sadism,” and the spy novelist David Cornwall (John le Carré) criticized Bond’s immorality (“He’s a sort of licensed criminal who, in the name of false patriotism, approves of nasty crimes”). Feminists have long objected to Bond’s chauvinistic ways, and the Soviet Union, as the enemy in so many of Bond’s Cold War capers, attacked Fleming for creating “a world where laws are written with a pistol barrel.” Fleming countered that “Bond is not a hero, nor is he depicted as being very likeable or admirable.…He’s not a bad man, but he is ruthless and self-indulgent. He enjoys the fight—but he also enjoys the prizes.”

Despite (or because of) such criticism, the Bond stories grew in popularity. The 007 trademark became one of the most successful in merchandising history, giving birth in the 1960s to a spate of Bond-related products, from toys and games to clothes and toiletries. James Bond films continued into the 21st century, and they have reportedly grossed more than $1 billion. The book series was also continued after Fleming’s death, by such writers as Kingsley Amis (Colonel Sun [1968], under the pen name Robert Markham) and Sebastian Faulks (Devil May Care [2008]). Charlie Higson wrote a series of Young Bond novels for younger readers, one of which (SilverFin [2005]) was adapted into a graphic novel. The Moneypenny Diaries, which debuted in 2005, was a series written by Samantha Weinberg as the fictional editor Kate Westbrook. The books chronicle the adventures of Miss Moneypenny, a well-known side character in the original novels. There are numerous Bond-related Internet sites and fan clubs around the world.

Fleming also published two collections of short stories featuring Bond. In addition, he wrote a children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964), which was made into a feature film and whose main character, Commander Pott, perhaps summarized best the Fleming/Bond philosophy of life: “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” Fleming’s life and personality—from his wartime service and his caving and shark hunting to his and his family’s hobnobbing with the rich and famous (when Fleming’s father died, Winston Churchill wrote the obituary)—made him, in the opinion of many, a more compelling figure than even Bond, and as such he has been the subject of several biographies, including Andrew Lycett’s Ian Fleming (1995).



C. S. Lewis

born Nov. 29, 1898, Belfast, Ire. [now in Northern Ireland]
died Nov. 22, 1963, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Eng.

British scholar, novelist, and author of about 40 books, most of them on Christian apologetics, the most widely known being The Screwtape Letters. He also achieved fame with a trilogy of science-fiction novels and with the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven children’s books that have become classics of fantasy literature.

During World War I, Lewis fought in France with the Somerset Light Infantry and was wounded in 1917. The following year he went to University College, Oxford, where he achieved an outstanding record as a classical scholar. From 1925 to 1954 he was a fellow and tutor of Magdalen College, Oxford, and from 1954 to 1963 he was professor of medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Cambridge.

Lewis lapsed into atheism in his teens but experienced a reconversion to Christianity in 1931. His first work to attract attention was The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism (1933). In 1936 came the critical and characteristic Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, considered by many to be his finest scholarly work. The first of his science fiction novels (a genre then scarcely known), Out of the Silent Planet (1938), was followed by the equally remarkable fictions Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945). These three books, which form one of the best of all science fiction trilogies, centre on an English linguist named Ransom who voyages to Mars and Venus and becomes involved in a cosmic struggle between good and evil in the solar system.

Lewis’ The Problem of Pain (1940) brought him wide recognition as a lay expositor of Christian apologetics, but it was far exceeded by the fictional best-selling Screwtape Letters (1942). This satire consists of 31 letters in which an elderly, experienced devil named Screwtape instructs his junior, Wormwood, in the subtle art of tempting a young Christian convert. Lewis’ first story for children was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950; filmed 2005), the first of seven tales about the kingdom of Narnia. The Narnia books are exciting, often humorous, inventive, and, in the final scenes of The Last Battle (1956), deeply moving. Notable among Lewis’ other books are a volume of autobiography, Surprised by Joy; The Shape of My Early Life (1955), and a novel based on the story of Psyche and Cupid, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (1956).





E. H. Gombrich

"World History for Children"    PART I, PART II, PART III, PART IV, PART V, PART VI, PART VII

born March 30, 1909, Vienna, Austria-Hungary [now in Austria]
died November 3, 2001, London, England

Austrian-born art historian who was one of the field’s greatest popularizers, introducing art to a wide audience through his best-known book, The Story of Art (1950; 16th rev. ed. 1995).
Studied art history under Julius von Schlosser at the University of Vienna. In 1936 he moved to London, where he became a research assistant at the Warburg Institute. During World War II he worked at the British Broadcasting Corporation, translating German-language radio broadcasts. In 1946 he returned to the institute and held a series of positions there before becoming director in 1959; he remained at the post until his retirement in 1976. Also held academic appointments at the Universities of Oxford, London, and Cambridge, as well as at Harvard and Cornell universities in the United States.
First book, Weltgeschichte für Kinder (1936; “World History for Children”), led to the idea of an art book for children. The result was The Story of Art, a clearly written work that appealed to both youth and adults. Eschewing aesthetics and art criticism, which he considered too deeply rooted in personal emotions, focused on iconography and innovations in technique, taste, and form as demonstrated in specific works by individual artists. He also had little use for modernism, which he derided as overly commercial and too often bent on novelty for its own sake. An international best seller, The Story of Art was translated into more than 20 languages. Also influential was Art and Illusion (1960), in which examined how people perceive images. Other notable works included Meditations on a Hobby Horse, and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (1963), The Sense of Order (1979), and The Image and the Eye (1981). The recipient of numerous honours, Gombrich was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1960. He later was made a Commander of the British Empire (1966), knighted (1972), and appointed a member of the Order of Merit (1988).



Roald Dahl

born Sept. 13, 1916, Llandaff, Wales
died Nov. 23, 1990, Oxford, Eng.

British writer, a popular author of ingenious, irreverent children’s books and of adult horror stories.

Following his graduation from Repton, a renowned British public school, in 1932, Dahl avoided a university education and joined an expedition to Newfoundland. He worked from 1937 to 1939 in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now in Tanzania), but he enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) when World War II broke out. Flying as a fighter pilot, he was seriously injured in a crash landing in Libya. He served with his squadron in Greece and then in Syria before doing a stint (1942–43) as assistant air attaché in Washington, D.C. There the novelist C.S. Forester encouraged him to write about his most exciting RAF adventures, which were published by the Saturday Evening Post.

Dahl’s first book, The Gremlins (1943), was written for Walt Disney but was largely unsuccessful. However, he achieved best-seller status with Someone like You (1953; rev. ed. 1961), a collection of stories for adults, which was followed by Kiss, Kiss (1959). His children’s book James and the Giant Peach (1961; film 1996), written for his own children, was a popular success, as was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964), which was made into the films Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). His other works for young readers include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970; film 2009), The Enormous Crocodile (1978), and Matilda (1988; film 1996). Dahl also wrote several scripts for movies, among them You Only Live Twice (1967) and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).





Arthur C. Clarke

born Dec. 16, 1917, Minehead, Somerset, Eng.
died March 19, 2008, Colombo, Sri L.

English writer who is notable for both his science fiction and his nonfiction.

Clarke was interested in science from childhood, but he lacked the means for higher education. He worked as a government auditor from 1936 to 1941 and joined a small, advanced group that called itself the British Interplanetary Society. From 1941 to 1946 Clarke served in the Royal Air Force, becoming a radar instructor and technician. While in the service he published his first science-fiction stories and in 1945 wrote an article entitled “Extra-Terrestrial Relays” for Wireless World. The article envisioned a communications satellite system that would relay radio and television signals throughout the world; this system was in operation two decades later.

In 1948 Clarke secured a bachelor of science degree from King’s College in London. He went on to write more than 20 novels and 30 nonfiction books and is especially known for such novels as Against the Fall of Night (1953), Childhood’s End (1953), The City and the Stars (1956), Rendezvous with Rama (1973; winner of Nebula and Hugo awards), The Fountains of Paradise (1979; winner of Nebula and Hugo awards), and The Songs of Distant Earth (1986). Collections of Clarke’s essays and lectures include Voices from the Sky (1965), The View from Serendip (1977), Ascent to Orbit: A Scientific Autobiography (1984), Astounding Days: A Science Fictional Autobiography (1989), and By Space Possessed (1993).

In the 1950s Clarke developed an interest in undersea exploration and moved to Sri Lanka, where he embarked on a second career combining skin diving and photography; he produced a succession of books, the first of which was The Coast of Coral (1956).

Stanley Kubrick’s hugely successful film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was based on Clarke’s short story The Sentinel (1951), which Clarke and Kubrick subsequently developed into a novel (1968), published under the same name as the movie. A sequel novel, 2010: Odyssey Two (1982), by Clarke alone, was released as a film in 1984. In 1997 he published 3001: The Final Odyssey. Clarke was knighted in 2000.



Doris Lessing

born Oct. 22, 1919, Kermānshāh, Persia [now Iran]

British writer whose novels and short stories are largely concerned with people involved in the social and political upheavals of the 20th century. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.

Her family was living in Persia at the time of her birth but moved to a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she lived from age five until she settled in England in 1949. In her early adult years she was an active communist. In Pursuit of the English (1960) tells of her initial months in England, and Going Home (1957) describes her reaction to Rhodesia on a return visit. In 1994 she published the first volume of an autobiography, Under My Skin; a second volume, Walking in the Shade, appeared in 1997.

Her first published book, The Grass Is Singing (1950), is about a white farmer and his wife and their African servant in Rhodesia. Among her most substantial works is the series Children of Violence (1952–69), a five-novel sequence that centres on Martha Quest, who grows up in southern Africa and settles in England. The Golden Notebook (1962), in which a woman writer attempts to come to terms with the life of her times through her art, is one of the most complex and the most widely read of her novels. The Memoirs of a Survivor (1975) is a prophetic fantasy that explores psychological and social breakdown. A master of the short story, Lessing has published several collections, including The Story of a Non-Marrying Man (1972) and Stories (1978); her African stories are collected in This Was the Old Chief’s Country (1951) and The Sun Between Their Feet (1973).

Lessing turned to science fiction in a five-novel sequence titled Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–83). The novels The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) and If the Old Could… (1984) were published pseudonymously under the name Jane Somers to dramatize the problems of unknown writers. Subsequent novels include The Good Terrorist (1985), about a group of revolutionaries in London, and The Fifth Child (1988), a horror story, to which Ben, in the World (2000) is a sequel. The Sweetest Dream (2001) is a semiautobiographical novel set primarily in London during the 1960s, while the parable-like novel The Cleft (2007) considers the origins of human society. Her collection of essays Time Bites (2004) displays her wide-ranging interests, from women’s issues and politics to Sufism.



John Robert Fowles

born March 31, 1926, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England
died November 5, 2005, Lyme Regis, Dorset

English novelist, whose allusive and descriptive works combine psychological probings—chiefly of sex and love—with an interest in social and philosophical issues.

Fowles graduated from the University of Oxford in 1950 and taught in Greece, France, and Britain. His first novel, The Collector (1963; filmed 1965), about a shy man who kidnaps a girl in a hapless search for love, was an immediate success. This was followed by The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas (1964), a collection of essays reflecting Fowles’s views on such subjects as evolution, art, and politics. He returned to fiction with The Magus (1965, rev. ed. 1977; filmed 1968). Set on a Greek island, the book centres on an English schoolteacher who struggles to discern between fantasy and reality after befriending a mysterious local man. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969; filmed 1981), arguably Fowles’s best-known work, is a love story set in 19th-century England that richly documents the social mores of that time. An example of Fowles’s original style, the book combined elements of the Victorian novel with postmodern works and featured alternate endings.

Fowles’s later fictional works include The Ebony Tower (1974), a volume of collected novellas, Daniel Martin (1977), and Mantissa (1982). His last novel, A Maggot (1985), centred on a group of travelers in the 1700s and the mysterious events that occur during their journey. Fowles also wrote verse, adaptations of plays, and the text for several photographic studies. Wormholes, a collection of essays and writings, was published in 1998.






J. K. Rowling

born July 31, 1965, Chipping Sodbury, near Bristol, England

British author, creator of the popular and critically acclaimed Harry Potter series, about a young sorcerer in training.

After graduating from the University of Exeter in 1986, Rowling began working for Amnesty International in London, where she started to write the Harry Potter adventures. In the early 1990s she traveled to Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, but, after a brief marriage and the birth of her daughter, she returned to the United Kingdom, settling in Edinburgh. Living on public assistance between stints as a French teacher, she continued to write.

Rowling’s first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997; also published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), was an immediate success, appealing to both children (its intended audience) and adults. Featuring vivid descriptions and an imaginative story line, it followed the adventures of the unlikely hero Harry Potter, a lonely orphan who discovers that he is actually a wizard and enrolls in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The book received numerous awards, including the British Book Award. Succeeding volumes—Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2003), and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2005)—also were best sellers, available in more than 200 countries and some 60 languages. The seventh and final installment in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released in 2007.

Other works include the companion books Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through the Ages, both of which were published in 2001, with proceeds going to charity. The series sparked great enthusiasm among children and was credited with generating a new interest in reading. A film version of the first Harry Potter book was released in 2001 and became one of the top-grossing movies in the world. Other volumes were also made into highly successful films. In 2008 Rowling followed her successful Harry Potter series with The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a collection of fairy tales. Rowling was appointed OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in March 2001. In 2009 she was named a chevalier of the French Legion of Honour.




Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy