Julian Barnes was born in Leicester, England, on January 19, 1946, to Albert and Kaye Barnes, who were French teachers and avid gardeners. He and his older brother Jonathan were raised in a very controlled environment, with no parental arguments, a mild interest in politics and none in religion, and a daily reading of The Times by their tight-lipped father. There were no spontaneous outbursts of any kind and few displays of affection. Childhood enthusiasms were sometimes doused by measured responses, and even efforts to gain approval for literary accomplishments in later years were stymied by terse acknowledgments.
Barnes initially attended schools in the Leicester area. When he was ten years old, the family moved to a London suburb and he won a scholarship to a private boys’ school. For seven years, he took the forty-five-minute train ride into the city, spending his commuting time doing his homework. He went on to study French and Russian at the City of London School and then psychology and philosophy at Magdalen College, Oxford, earning his B.A., with honors, in 1968.
At the time of his graduation from Oxford, Barnes was undecided about a career path. Inherent restlessness led him to intersperse several jobs with additional studies in contract law, but he doubted that the legal profession would engage him for long. In 1969, he accepted a job as a lexicographer for the supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary, a position he found both fascinating and tedious. He joked that as one of few males in a female-dominated office, he was often relegated to writing entries on sports references and on unpleasant or suggestive words. One of his greatest delights was in reading through earlier entries and finding humor in the work of fellow lexicographers. For example, the definition of “net” was “an expanse of holes held together with string.”
After three years, he was tired of his job and ready for a change. He devoted his days to writing, accepting freelance assignments when...
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