Barry Unsworth

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Barry Unsworth 1930–

(Full name Barry Forster Unsworth) English novelist.

The following entry presents an overview of Unsworth's career through 1997. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Vol. 76.

Unsworth is widely respected for his historical novels that range in setting from medieval Yorkshire to early twentieth-century Turkey. Using the past as a springboard to explore larger universal themes of greed, betrayal, and the function and effect of art in human life, Unsworth concentrates on moral ambiguities and hidden complexities of seemingly minor decisions.

Biographical Information

Unsworth was born in Durham, England, in 1930. He graduated with an English degree from the University of Manchester in 1951. In the 1960s he moved his family to Greece and Turkey, where he worked as an English lecturer for the British Council at the Universities of Athens and Istanbul. Unsworth moved back to England in 1970 to teach at the Lennox Cook School of English, a private school that provided English classes to non-English speakers. In the late 1970s Unsworth earned a creative writing fellowship from Charlotte Mason College, Ambleside. In 1982 he was appointed Northern Arts Literary Fellow at the Universities of Durham and Newcastle. From 1984 to 1985 Unsworth was writer in residence at Liverpool University. In the early 1980s Unsworth visited Venice, Italy, to do research for his novel, Stone Virgin (1985). Later in the decade he moved to Scandinavia, living first in Sweden and then Finland, where he finished his Booker Prize-winning novel, Sacred Hunger (1992). After Sacred Hunger was published, Unsworth moved to the Umbrian countryside in Italy, where he still lives.

Major Works

Unsworth gained critical success with his novel Mooncranker's Gift (1973), winning the Heinemann Fiction Award. Told mostly in flashback, Mooncranker's Gift is the story of James Farnaby, who, in the midst of an adolescent religious obsession, is given the gift of a crucifix made of sausages by his middle-aged neighbor, Mooncranker. After masturbating in the garden one day, Farnaby sees the crucifix, rotting and infested with worms. His horror at the sight haunts him for years, until he encounters Mooncranker ten years later in Istanbul. Unsworth continued his critical success in 1980 with Pascali's Island, his first effort in the historical novel genre. Set on an island in the Aegean at the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1908, Pascali's Island is told as a monthly report from Basil Pascali, an agent working undercover for the last Ottoman sultan. As he writes his report, he embellishes certain aspects of his efforts and confesses various professional trangressions, eventually realizing that the work he has devoted eighteen years to is futile. In Rage of the Vulture (1982) Unsworth again explored events at the fall of the Ottoman Empire, but from the perspectives of the sultan and the British Captain Robert Markham and his young son, Henry. Unsworth's next novel, Stone Virgin (1985) explores the...

(The entire section is 708 words.)