Alan Sillitoe Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Alan Sillitoe’s more than three dozen published books include novels, collections of poetry, books for children, as well as travel literature, essays, and plays. Four of his books, including The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and The Ragman’s Daughter have been made into films. His first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), was also produced in a stage adaptation, and his second, The General (1960), carried the film title Counterpoint.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Alan Sillitoe’s early novels and stories fall within the tradition of British working-class fiction established by Charles Dickens and Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell in the 1840’s and carried on by George Gissing, Arthur Morrison, and Walter Greenwood. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning won the Author’s Club Prize as the best English novel in 1958, and Sillitoe’s best-known story, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,” won the Hawthornden Prize in 1959 and is widely accepted as a modern classic on proletarian life. The General, which began as a short story in 1950, won the Nottingham Writers’ Club competition in 1960. Believing the concept of class is a degradation, Sillitoe was not so political in his later work, which showed a willingness to experiment in form and style. His stories have been frequently anthologized and have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

With his short-fiction collection The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1959), Alan Sillitoe (SIHL-ih-toh) reinforced the critical acclaim and popular recognition earned by his first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The collection’s title novella is now regarded as the archetypal Sillitoenarrative about a working-classprotagonist fighting an indifferent, oppressive society. Sillitoe continued to publish novellas and short stories of high quality and notable originality.

While his prose works carried on his sympathetic portrayal of working-class life, his steady output of poetry reflected significant changes in mood and theme over five decades. His early collection The Rats, and Other Poems (1960) is strident political-protest verse, with brief, vivid echoes of the fiction’s dark themes. His later poems develop hopeful themes: the definition of love in a postromantic age, the possibility of individual happiness amid political upheaval and oppression, and the consolation of nature. Sillitoe believed that he would ultimately be remembered for his poetry rather than his fiction. He also wrote several works of nonfiction, including his autobiography Life Without Armor (1996) and a memoir of his 1967 travels to Russia titled Gadfly in Russia (2007), as well as works of juvenile fiction, plays, and screenplays.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alan Sillitoe was one of the most successful of England’s“Angry Young Men,” who dramatically changed post-World War II literary culture. For their stark depiction of working-class life, Sillitoe’s first novel and his first story collection received prizes: the Author’s Club Award in 1958 for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and the Hawthornden Prize in 1960 for The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. In 1975, Sillitoe became a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society for his work in travel writing.

His critical and popular acclaim begin to wane in the 1970’s, when, after a half dozen books, Sillitoe showed little ability to go beyond the sociological themes and alienated heroes of his early work. His reputation rebounded a decade later, however, with the publication of Her Victory. In this and subsequent works, Sillitoe displayed an enlarged gallery of characters, a facility for different narrative forms, and an awareness that young rebels remain interesting even as they age and adapt. Sillitoe continued to experiment in his fiction, as is evident in his novels The Widower’s Son, Her Victory, Last Loves, The German Numbers Woman, and, in a return to his saga of the Seaton family, Birthday.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Atherton, Stanley S. Alan Sillitoe: A Critical Assessment. London: W. H. Allen, 1979. This study primarily emphasizes the revolutionary spirit of Sillitoe’s first novels, but it deals with short fiction and lesser works as well.

Hanson, Gillian Mary. Understanding Alan Sillitoe. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. A useful volume of Sillitoe criticism and appreciation.

Hensher, Philip. “Radical Sentiments.” Sunday Telegraph, July 23, 1995, p. B9. A discussion of the life and works of Sillitoe, focusing on his autobiography Life Without Armour and his The Collected Stories; discusses briefly “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” and the political nature of some of Sillitoe’s short stories.

Hitchcock, Peter. Working-Class Fiction in Theory and Practice: A Reading of Alan Sillitoe. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1989. A good examination of the writer’s themes and execution.

Kalliney, Peter. “Cities of Affluence: Masculinity, Class, and the Angry Young Man.” Modern Fiction Studies 47 (Spring, 2001): 92-117. Studies the class element in Sillitoe’s work and the way in which gender dynamics illustrate class dynamics.

Leonardi, Susan J. “The Long-Distance Runner (the Loneliness, Loveliness, Nunliness of).” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 13 (Spring, 1994): 57-66. An intertextual examination of how Grace Paley’s “The Long-Distance Runner” and Sara Maitland’s “The Loveliness of the Long-Distance Runner” rewrite Sillitoe’s “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.”

Penner, Allen Richard. Alan Sillitoe. Boston: Twayne, 1972. A useful midcareer overview of Sillitoe’s work. Penner offers a short biography and a helpful bibliography. The discussion covers Sillitoe’s poetry and fiction.

Rothschild, Joyce. “The Growth of a Writer: An Interview with Alan Sillitoe.” Southern Humanities Review 20 (Spring, 1986): 127-140. This interview sheds light on Sillitoe’s career and the irrelevance of class on his artistic sensibility. Sillitoe stresses the importance of character in his fiction.

Sawkins, John. The Long Apprenticeship: Alienation in the Early Work of Alan Sillitoe. New York: P. Lang, 2001. A semiotic reading of Silltoe’s work.

Skovmand, Michael, and Steffen Skovmand, eds. The Angry Young Men. Aarhus, Denmark: Akademisk Forlag, 1975. Hans Hauge’s essay on Sillitoe considers Saturday Night and Sunday Morning as a representative novel from an angry generation of young writers that included John Osborne, John Wain, John Braine, and Kingsley Amis.