Julian Gustave Symons (the name rhymes with “women’s”) was born on May 30, 1912, in London, the last child in a family of seven. His parents were Minnie Louise Bull Symons and Morris Albert Symons, but Julian never learned his father’s original name or nationality. A seller of secondhand goods until World War I brought him profits as an auctioneer, the elder Symons was a strict Victorian-era father.
As a child, Julian Symons suffered from a stammer that placed him in remedial education despite his intelligence. Although he overcame his speech problems and excelled as a student, Symons nevertheless ended his formal education at the age of fourteen and began an intense program of self-education that encompassed all that was best in literature. Symons worked variously as a shorthand typist, a secretary in an engineering firm, and an advertising copywriter and executive, all in London, before he became established as an important and prolific writer of crime fiction.
At first glance, Symons’s literary career appears to fall rather neatly into two distinct and contradictory phases: radical poet in the 1930’s and Tory writer of crime fiction. A founder of the important little magazine Twentieth Century Verse and its editor from 1937 to 1939, Symons was one of a group of young poets who in the 1930’s were the heirs apparent to Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden. Before the outbreak of World War II, Symons was already the author of two volumes of poetry and was acquiring a reputation...
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