The British have had a long and distinguished line of satirical novelists intent upon putting society in its place. It began almost as soon as the novel in the works of Henry Fielding in the eighteenth century, continues in the works of Tobias Smollett, and was carried on in the novels of Charles Dickens. This tradition reached its most elegant expression in the early twentieth century with Evelyn Waugh, who has been succeeded first by Kingsley Amis and second by Andrew Norman Wilson. Wilson carries on the tradition within a much wider career as scholar, essayist, social critic, and sometime religious commentator.
Wilson’s wittily jaundiced eye for the middle to the upper classes of Britain is consistent with his own social background. He was educated at the lower-school level at one of the great English public schools, Rugby School, and went on from there to New College, Oxford. He was a prizewinning student and has had a career as an academic at Oxford University. He has also been rewarded for his literary work, winning the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1978 for The Sweets of Pimlico and in 1980 for The Laird of Abbotsford, the Somerset Maugham Award and the Arts Council National Book Award in 1981 for The Healing Art, the W. H. Smith Annual Literary Award in 1983 for Wise Virgin, and the Whitbread Prize for Best Biography for Tolstoy. Wilson is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is married and has two daughters.
Wilson is also a public personality, partly because of his further career as a journalist, writing for the quality press of England. He has had a long association with The Spectator, the conservative weekly journal of political comment, literary review, and social attack, often of a scurrilously witty stamp. Indeed, it is necessary to understand a peculiar mark of social satire in that it is not necessarily confined to writing of a liberal or leftish bent and can often be at its best in the hands of writers who espouse old social structures and old social values. Jonathan Swift was not a liberal, but he was devastatingly sensitive to the excesses of his society. Wilson, if less powerful than Swift, has strong inclinations to looking upon society as debased and sloppy in...
(The entire section is 931 words.)