Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
John Barrington Wain was a British man of letters of major importance, most famous for his early novel Hurry on Down and for his prize-winning biography of Samuel Johnson. He was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, on March 14, 1925, the son of Arnold A. Wain and Anne Wain. A man of humble background, Arnold Wain had become a dentist, the first professional person in his family. Generous and compassionate, he served as a preacher in the Church army, a city councillor, and a magistrate, and he became a model for his son, who paid tribute to his father in Dear Shadows.
After attending school at Newcastle-under-Lyme, Wain, who had been rejected by the army for poor eyesight, went to Oxford and entered St. John’s College. At Oxford University, he met Charles Williams and was tutored by C. S. Lewis. He also came to know Richard Burton and with him participated in Shakespeare productions under the direction of the dynamic, unconventional don Nevill Coghill. Nevill inspired his students to love Shakespeare and, by acting on his convictions in the face of criticism from his peers, became another role model for Wain. In 1946 Wain received his B.A.; from 1946 to 1949, when he received his M.A., he was Fereday Fellow at Oxford. Meanwhile, in 1947, he married Marianne Urmston and became a lecturer in English at the University of Reading, where he remained until 1955. He resigned this position to become a freelance writer. The next...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
John Barrington Wain was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1925, the son of a dentist. After he was found unfit to join the armed forces because of poor eyesight, he went in 1943 to St. John’s College, Oxford, being graduated in 1946 and staying on for three years as a Fereday Fellow. At Oxford he began to publish his first verse and met Kingsley Amis and Philip Larkin, both of whom spoke both respectfully and venomously of him in conversation and memoir. He left teaching and became a full-time writer in 1955. In 1953, he served as host of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s “First Reading” program, which became a springboard for the British movement poets. Although he objected to being classified as one of the “Angry Young Men,” the label stuck. Because Wain, Amis, and John Osborne, all near thirty years old, were writing social protest and caustic humor, they were inevitably—if artificially—grouped by critics. Despite their individual differences, they did have the collective effect of sharpening England’s social sensibility and invigorating its literature. Wain and his second wife Eirian James had three sons; she died in 1988. He married Patricia Dunn the next year. In 1994, Wain died of a stroke.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Although his world was that of the twentieth century, John Wain was very much an eighteenth century man. He delighted in pointing out that he and eighteenth century writer Samuel Johnson were born in the same district (“The Potteries”) and in much the same social milieu; that he attended the same university as Johnson (Oxford, where he served from 1973 to 1978 as a professor of poetry); and that he knew, like Johnson, the Grub Street experiences and “the unremitting struggle to write enduring books against the background of an unstable existence.” What chiefly interests the critic in surveying Wain’s formative years are the reasons for his increasingly sober outlook. Wain’s autobiography, Sprightly Running, remains the best account of his formative years as well as offering engaging statements of many of his opinions. In it, the reader finds some of the profound and lasting effects on Wain’s writing of his childhood, his adolescence, and his years at Oxford.
John Barrington Wain was born on March 14, 1925, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, an industrial city given over to pottery and coal mining. Here, as in other English cities, a move upward in social status is signaled by a move up in geographical terms. Therefore, the Wain family’s move three years later to Penkhull—a manufacturing complex of kilns and factories and, incidentally, the setting for Wain’s third novel, The Contenders—marked a step up into the...
(The entire section is 1356 words.)