Nevil Shute Norway

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nevil Shute (shewt) was born Nevil Shute Norway in Ealing, Middlesex, England, the second and only surviving child of Arthur Hamilton Norway, a civil servant working for the post office, and the former Mary Louisa Gadsden. Shute spent a few miserable early years at Hammersmith School, but after a period of truancy was sent to Lynam’s School in Oxford. Shute recalled this time as a happy introduction to Oxford, where he eventually returned to Balliol College as a mathematics student, graduating in 1922. During the Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland, in April, 1916, Shute served as a volunteer stretcher-bearer and later entered the Royal Flying Corps. He was discharged because of a stammer he developed during early childhood.

In 1922 Shute joined the de Havilland Aircraft Company as an aeronautical engineer. He was deputy chief on the rigid airship project, building the R100, one of the last of the British airships. During the next six years, Shute worked as a deputy chief engineer during the day and in the evenings wrote his first novels, of which two were published: Marazan in 1926 and The Mysterious Aviator (also known as So Disdained) in 1928. At this time, he wrote two other novels, Stephen Morris and Pilotage, which were posthumously published in one volume entitled Stephen Morris in 1961.

In 1930, after the crash of the government-built R101 virtually ended the aircraft industry in England, Shute founded his own company, Airspeed, Ltd., which designed and manufactured airplanes. From 1930 to 1938, Airspeed, Ltd. produced a number of small recreational and commercial airplanes, immersing Shute daily in intense aeronautical design and construction. During this time, he met his future wife, Frances Mary Heaton, a young doctor, at a recreational flying club. Despite his busy schedule, Shute continued writing in the evenings and published two more novels, Lonely Road in 1932, and Kindling (also known as Ruined City) in 1938.

By 1939, Shute felt economically secure, so he decided to try writing full time. However, with the advent of World War II a few months later, he joined the British navy and was assigned to the Admiralty’s Department of Miscellaneous Weapons Development, remaining there until 1944. During these years, while serving as the head of the engineering section, he wrote five more novels: Ordeal (1939; also known as What Happened to the Corbetts), An Old Captivity (1940), Landfall: A Channel Story (1940), Pied Piper (1942), and Pastoral (1944). After the war ended in 1945, Shute published Most Secret (1945), a novel he had written in 1941 but had been censored during the war because of its sensitive subject matter. He served as a correspondent for the Ministry of Information and traveled to Burma, where he wrote a film script, Vinland the Good (1946), and gathered material he later used in The Chequer Board (1947).

In 1948, he published No Highway, an aeronautical mystery concerned with the recent discovery of metal fatigue; flew his own plane to Australia and back; and researched three new novels: A Town Like Alice (1950), Round the Bend (1951), and The Far Country (1952). Shute suffered a heart attack in 1952, after which he decided to move his family to Australia. After that move, his novels generally were about his adopted country. He wrote In the Wet (1953), expressing his many concerns about the future of the British Empire. He also wrote his autobiography, Slide Rule: The Autobiography of an Engineer (1954), primarily covering his life up to his founding of Airspeed.

After recovering from his heart attack, Shute explored the Australian outback and traveled to the United States to explore the Rocky Mountains. While he traveled, he gathered material for two more novels: The Breaking Wave (1955; also known as Requiem for a Wren) and Beyond the Black Stump (1956). Despite suffering a second heart attack, Shute bought a sports car, took up racing, and began his most widely known novel, On the Beach (1957). He completed another novel, The Rainbow and the Rose , in 1958,...

(The entire section is 1,180 words.)