A. N. Wilson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Despite the regularity with which A. N. Wilson produces novels, he has never been limited to that form alone. He is one of the best-known journalists in Great Britain, having served as literary editor to The Spectator, the prestigious weekly journal of conservative social and political opinion, and as the literary editor of the Evening Standard. His own writing for these publications has not been confined to reviewing books; he often publishes commentary on social and political subjects. Wilson has a special interest in religion, and aside from his occasional essays on that subject, he has published a study of the layman’s dilemma in matters of Christian belief, How Can We Know? (1985), and historical biographies of Jesus and of the apostle Paul. He has taught at the University of Oxford and has published biographies of writers Sir Walter Scott, John Milton, Hilaire Belloc, Leo Tolstoy, and C. S. Lewis. After a memoir about Iris Murdoch, he published a life of poet John Betjeman. The latter attracted international attention when it was discovered that Wilson had unknowingly included in his biography a hoax letter. He has also published volumes of essays and reviews, including Pen Friends from Porlock (1988) and Eminent Victorians (1989), as well as children’s books, mostly about cats, such as Stray (1987) and The Tabitha Stories (1988).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The Sweets of Pimlico gained for A. N. Wilson the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1978, and The Healing Art won three prizes, including the Somerset Maugham Award for 1980 and the Arts Council National Book Award for 1981. Wise Virgin brought him the W. H. Smith Annual Literary Award in 1983, and his study of Scott, The Laird of Abbotsford: A View of Sir Walter Scott (1980), won the Rhys Prize for him once again. Another of his biographies, Tolstoy (1988), won the Whitbread Award in 1988. His novel Winnie and Wolf was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

There are several formidable writers in Wilson’s generation, but it is possible to distinguish Wilson as one of the best of the satirists and, as such, one of the most perceptive commentators on Great Britain in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Given his talent, and his capacity to comment attractively (if sometimes improperly) on the excesses of his society, it is not surprising that he has become something of a public personality, the literary figure most often identified with the “Young Fogeys,” that amorphous group of literary, social, and political figures who espouse the principles of landowning Toryism and look with nostalgia back to the old Empire and to the days when High Anglicanism was a spiritual power in the land. Part of their conservatism is sheer mischief-making, part of it a matter of temperament and class, but in Wilson’s case, it is a love for the aesthetic detail of what he sees as a richer and more caring society (which does not stop him from making wicked fun of it).


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Atlas, James. “‘A Busy, Busy Wasp.’” The New York Times Magazine, October 18, 1992, pp. 34-40. A profile presaging Wilson’s Jesus.

CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 10, no. 8/9 (June/July, 1990): 1-16. Introduction is by Jerry L. Daniel, and articles are by John Fitzpatrick, George Sayer, and Eugene McGovern. The entire issue is devoted to reviews of Wilson’s 1990 biography of C. S. Lewis, which are mostly unfavorable because of disagreement with his biographical approach and speculative interpretation.

Landrum, David W. “Is There Life After Jesus? Spiritual Perception in A. N. Wilson’s The Vicar of Sorrows.” Christianity and Literature 44 (Spring/Summer, 1995): 359-368. A discussion of Wilson’s first novel after he declared his unbelief in Christianity. Wilson deals much more seriously here with the problem of evil and other difficult religious questions than in his other fiction.

Weales, Gerald. “Jesus Who?” The Gettysburg Review 6, no. 4 (Autumn, 1993): 688-696. A comparison of Gore Vidal’s treatment of Christ in his novel Live from Golgotha (1992) to Wilson’s treatment of Christ in Jesus.

Weinberg, Jacob. “A. N. Wilson: Prolific to a Fault.” Newsweek 112(September 13, 1988): 75. A short but well-written essay, interspersed with comments by Wilson, on his novels and biographies. Also concerns Wilson as a “Young Fogey,” a term used to describe young members of the Conservative party in England.

Wolfe, Gregory. “Off Center, on Target.” Chronicles 10, no. 10 (1986): 35-36. Wolfe’s essay concerns Wilson’s affinities with Evelyn Waugh, particularly in terms of their style and in their perspectives on Western Christianity. Sees Wilson as in the tradition of P. G. Wodehouse, who epitomized the light comic novel, but in Wilson’s hands that novel becomes a vehicle for satire and social criticism.