Study Guide

Angus Wilson

Angus Wilson Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson was born on the south coast of England in the small resort town of Bexhill, not far from Brighton. He was the last child of William and Maude Johnstone-Wilson. His father was a Londoner but descended from a wealthy Scottish family; his mother came from South Africa. The youngest of six brothers, the next oldest being thirteen years his senior, Angus was reared in adult company and was a lonely, highly imaginative, and even more highly strung youngster. Childhood has always loomed large in his fiction, but it was not until Setting the World on Fire that Wilson wrote a novel that approached a Bildungsroman; it is a story about two brothers growing up in postwar England. Though his heroes are not typically teenagers or young men, his work is very concerned with young people both in his short fiction and in novels such as No Laughing Matter and As If by Magic.{$S[A]Johnstone-Wilson, Angus Frank[Johnstone Wilson, Angus Frank];Wilson, Angus}

Although the elder Johnstone-Wilsons had once been affluent, the postwar period saw them, like many others, fallen on harder times. Their shabby genteel existence colored Angus’s earliest years as the family moved from hotel to hotel, often only a step or two ahead of their creditors. If his mother does not appear directly in his fiction, his father often does, especially in the early stories, as a kind of raffish old sport—for example, in the character of Mr. Gorringe in “A Story of Historical Interest” or Trevor in “The Wrong Set.” Wilson’s sympathies with women other than his mother, whom he dearly loved, appear otherwise in extended portraits, such as those of Meg Eliot in The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot and Sylvia Calvert in Late Call. Both of these women confront the bleak emptiness in their lives after being widowed, each in a different way and each successfully when she is finally able to face the loneliness that Wilson views as an essential part of the human condition.

For years before and after World War II, Wilson worked in the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books, eventually becoming assistant superintendent of the Reading Room. He wrote his first short story, “Raspberry Jam,” in his thirties. Before long he attained literary prominence, first as a short-story writer, then as a novelist. His first novel, Hemlock and After, is the story of a man...

(The entire section is 991 words.)

Angus Wilson Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson was born on August 11, 1913, in the small resort town of Bexhill near Hastings on England’s south coast. Although his father was descended from a wealthy Scottish family, the Wilsons lead a somewhat threadbare existence after World War I, moving from hotel to hotel. As a result, Wilson attended a number of different schools until he enrolled in a preparatory school run by an older brother. In 1927, he entered Westminster School as a day student, living with his parents in London in a small hotel. With the assistance of a legacy he received after his mother’s death, he went to Merton College, Oxford University, in 1932 to study medieval history.

From 1936 through the early 1950’s Wilson worked for the British Museum’s Department of Printed Books. During World War II, he was assigned to the Foreign Office and came close to suffering a nervous breakdown. After the war, when he returned to the British Museum, he was put in charge of replacing the thousands of books destroyed in the bombings. In the late 1940’s, Wilson began publishing short stories in a number of journals before putting them together in two collections published in 1949 and 1950. As a result of his increasing literary recognition, he quit the museum to devote himself to writing in 1955, moving out of London to a cottage in a village in Suffolk. In his last years, he traveled widely and taught at several American universities, particularly in California.

Angus Wilson Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson was born in Bexhill, Sussex, England, on August 11, 1913, the sixth son of a middle-class family. His father was of Scottish extraction; his mother came from South Africa, and he spent some time there as a child. In constant financial troubles, his parents tried to maintain pretense and appearance, which left a deep impression on Wilson: At a very early age, he became aware of the chasm separating the real world and the world of fantasy into which many people escape to avoid the unpleasant facts of their lives. Frequently lonely (he was thirteen years younger than his next older brother), he realized that his clowning ability made him popular with the schoolchildren. He attended prep school in Seaford; from there he went to Westminster School and then to Merton College, Oxford. At the University of Oxford, his history training was on the Marxist line; that fact and his left-wing political activities in the 1930’s account for his Labour sympathies.

In 1937, Wilson started work at the British Museum and, with an interruption during World War II, he stayed there until 1955. During the war, he was associated with an interservice organization attached to the foreign office, and for a while he lived in the country in a home with a Methodist widow and her daughter. During this time, he had a serious nervous breakdown; his psychotherapist suggested creative writing as therapy. In 1946, Wilson rejoined the staff at the British Museum and, at the same time, started writing seriously. His first published writing, the short story “Raspberry Jam” (1946), reflects his personal crisis and foreshadows the dark atmosphere of most of his work to come. The whole experience at the British Museum, situated in London’s sophisticated Bloomsbury district and especially his...

(The entire section is 735 words.)