Julian (Gustave) Symons 1912–
English novelist, short story writer, poet, editor, historian, critic, biographer, and scriptwriter.
While Symons is well regarded as a poet, critic, and biographer, he is best known as the author of many highly praised crime novels. Unlike many authors of crime fiction, Symons is less concerned with presenting a baffling mystery than he is with exploring the state of society. From a skeptical and ironic perspective, Symons chronicles a world of decay, corruption, and alienation in which the distinction between lawbreaker and law keeper is often vague. Several of Symons's novels have Victorian or other historical settings, while others take place in the present. Critics claim that Symons's best fiction transcends the limitations of the mystery novel to stand as original and thought-provoking literature.
Symons first made his name in the 1930s as a poet, publishing two volumes of verse and editing a poetry journal. His reputation as a critic was also established before he published his first crime novel, and he has continued to write criticism, including books on Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle. Symons's interest in crime fiction has developed over his career. He initially viewed those works as secondary to his poetry and criticism but now sees them as an ideal forum for exploring the modern world. "If you want to show the violence that lives behind the bland faces most of us present to the world," he comments, "what better vehicle can you have than the crime novel?"
Symons's later publications reflect the diversity of his writings. Bloody Murder (1972) is a history of crime fiction built on the thesis that the plot-centered detective fiction of the 1920s and 1930s has given way to psychological crime novels that emphasize character and motivation. The Tell-Tale Heart: The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe (1978) is an unusual literary biography in that Symons refrains from conjecture as to the relationship between Poe's life and works. Two of Symons's recent fictional works reflect many of his recurrent thematic concerns. The Tigers of Subtopia (1983), a short story collection, features accounts of violence and cruelty in an apparently peaceful suburb, while The Name of Annabel Lee (1983) is a novel of failed love set against a backdrop of cultural decadence.
(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 3.)