William Sansom Essay - Sansom, William (Vol. 2)

Sansom, William (Vol. 2)

Sansom, William 1912–

British novelist and short story writer. As the latter, he is considered especially masterly. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

William Sansom … expends much talent on themes that are basically trivial, or on characters who are unduly shallow…. Sansom's comic talent is obvious, although his themes often dissipate it. He is interested in sensitive people: in frustrated individuals seeing happiness, artistic people mocked by reality, drifters who must find some workable order in a blundering universe. But often his interest in them makes them less, not more, than what they are, and reduces their scale until their lives and their problems seem unimportant.

Frederick R. Karl, in his A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1961, 1962, 1971, 1972 by Frederick R. Karl), Farrar, Straus, 1962, pp. 285-86.

It seems plain that such fantasticated writing as Sansom's, delightful as it is and even stimulating in that it makes the familiar world unfamiliar by showing it to us from unexpected angles, must exclude him from at least nine-tenths of the usual material of fiction. When he subdues his style and relies on a more nearly normal angle of vision, as in The Cautious Heart (1958), he can write sad, muted comedy of middle-aged love set in a notable evocation of London after dark.

Walter Allen, in his The Modern Novel: In Britain and the United States (copyright © 1964 by Walter Allen; published by E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc. in a paperback edition and used with their permission), Dutton, 1964, p. 269.

William Sansom's volume of stories, Fireman Flower, which took a lot of its material from Sansom's own experience in the National Fire Service in wartime London, conjured Kafka visions out of burning buildings and imitated the master's flat wordy style with such skill that it was evident Sansom had a large talent for mimicry. This was confirmed in his first novel, The Body—a superb book, perhaps his best…. Sansom's ear, matching his eye, renders the idiom and rhythms of post-war lower-middle-class English with a terrible exactness….

His love of the surface of physical life sometimes carries him away: a lust for word-manipulation serving not (as with Joyce) a musical end but a pictorial one is a characteristic of his short stories as well as his novels, and the occasional banality of some of his plots—hidden under the decoration—comes out more clearly in those slighter works. But the novels always hold the attention and often educate the reader into taking a fresh, rain-washed, look at the world of sensation, especially visual sensation.

Anthony Burgess, in his The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction (reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Co., Inc.; © 1967 by Anthony Burgess), Norton, 1967, pp. 109-10.

[William] Sansom is certainly one of the best short story writers in England now. The best, some people would say. This makes it all the sadder, that so much of this book [Hans Feet in Love] is so poor. If you set 'Episode at Gastein', one of the most successful earlier stories, against an average 'Chapter' here ('Secrets of Hans's Harem' for instance) the trivialization of the theme and treatment in the later work is very apparent.

Gavin Ewart, in London Magazine, October-November, 1971, p. 160.