Angus Wilson Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Angus Wilson enjoyed initial success with the publication of his first two short-story collections, he is better known as a novelist, particularly for Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956) and The Old Men at the Zoo (1961). Wilson is also an important literary critic, having published studies ofÉmile Zola, Charles Dickens, and Rudyard Kipling. He also wrote a play, a study of the influence of television on the arts, and a book on the relationship between his life and his fiction.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Angus Wilson was a guest lecturer, honorary fellow, and professor at a number of universities in England and America. In 1958, his third novel, The Middle Age of Mrs. Eliot, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the French Prize for Best Foreign Novel. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1958 and was Chairman of England’s National Book League between 1971 and 1974. He was made Companion of the Order of the British Empire in 1968 and Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 1972. He was awarded a knighthood in 1980.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Angus Wilson started his literary career in 1946, at the age of thirty-three, by writing short stories. The earliest stories were published in Horizon. The Wrong Set, and Other Stories (1949), Such Darling Dodos, and Other Stories (1950), and A Bit off the Map, and Other Stories (1957) deal with the same problems and use the same imagery as his novels. Wilson also wrote drama, and in the 1970’s, he became a leading reviewer of fiction. His literary journalism and criticism for The Spectator, The Observer, and The London Magazine center mainly on the problem of the English novel. The range of writers he discussed in articles, introductions, or lectures is wide and includes, among others, the Victorians, the Bloomsbury Group, Aldous Huxley, D. H. Lawrence, John Cowper Powys, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevski, Irving Shaw, Robert Penn Warren, and William Golding.

Wilson also published three full-length literary monographs: Émile Zola: An Introductory Study of His Novels (1952), The World of Charles Dickens (1970), and The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Works (1977). Wilson’s many lectures and articles display his concern with a wide range of problems relevant to the second half of the twentieth century. Most important for the study and understanding of his art is the volume The Wild Garden: Or, Speaking of Writing (1963), which contains lectures given in California in 1960. Some of his criticism was collected in Diversity and Depth in Fiction: Selected Critical Writings of Angus Wilson (1983). Written over several decades are the essays collected in Reflections in a Writer’s Eye: Travel Pieces (1986).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Most critics agree that by the 1980’s, Angus Wilson had secured a place among the most distinguished contemporary British novelists. He even became recognized outside the English-speaking world, particularly in France. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the number of interviews with the artist increased, signifying his growing recognition among critics. Whether the critics use Stephen Spender’s terminology of “modern” and “contemporary” or speak of experimental, psychological, aesthetic, or modern versus the traditional, sociological English novel, they all try to assess Wilson in relation to these categories. Some contend that Wilson’s main concern rests with the sociological aspects of human life, but almost all critics concede that his interest goes beyond social issues. Without abandoning his commitment to depicting reality, Wilson was always committed to probing deeper into the dark depths of the human self. This concern with the inner self separates him sharply from the “angry” writers who also wrote in the 1950’s: Kingsley Amis, John Wain, and Alan Sillitoe. Wilson, however, was dedicated to experimenting both in content and method. In his novels and critical writings, he emerged as a champion for a new type of novel, standing between the traditional and the experimental.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Brooke, Allen. “The Mimetic Brilliance of Angus Wilson.” New Criterion 15 (October, 1996): 28-37. In this biographical essay, Brooke describes Wilson’s childhood and youth, his early literary career, his homosexual relationship with Tony Garrett, his disillusionment with communism, and his declining final years.

Conradi, Peter. Angus Wilson. Plymouth, England: Northcote House, 1997. A very fine introduction to Wilson’s work, including a biographical outline, a section on his stories, chapters on his major novels, notes, and a very useful annotated bibliography.

Drabble, Margaret. Angus Wilson: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. A detailed biography of Wilson in which his friend Margaret Drabble shows the autobiographical sources of much of his fiction in his early years. Drabble describes Wilson’s long-term homosexual relationship with Anthony Garrett and analyzes his obsession with the nature of evil in relationship to his mother’s Christian faith.

Faulkner, Peter. Angus Wilson: Mimic and Moralist. London: Secker and Warburg, 1980. Discusses the satirist’s negative judgment on the patterns of life around him in Wilson’s early stories. Provides summary analyses of many of the stories in Wilson’s first two collections, focusing on his developing satiric style.

Gardner, Averil. Angus Wilson. Boston: Twayne, 1985. In this general introduction to...

(The entire section is 643 words.)