Paul Theroux Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Paul Edward Theroux (thuh-REW) is the primary delineator in fiction of Americans in exile and is the best-known American travel writer of his time. He is the son of Albert Eugene, who was a shoe-leather salesman, and Anne Dittami Theroux, a teacher. Among his six siblings is novelist Alexander Theroux. Young Theroux sought privacy from his large family by reading and decided to become a writer when he was fourteen.

After high school, he attended the University of Maine for one year and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1963. He then briefly went to graduate school at Syracuse University before joining the Peace Corps. He taught English at Soche Hill College in Limbe, Malawi, until October, 1965, when he was arrested and deported for spying and aiding revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the country’s dictator. Theroux had volunteered to be a messenger for the dictator’s leading opponent, not realizing that the man was plotting an assassination. Expelled from the Peace Corps, he lectured at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, until 1968. His first novel, Waldo, was published in 1967, the year he married Anne Castle, a fellow teacher; they have two sons. Theroux taught Jacobean drama at the University of Singapore from 1968 until 1971, when he decided to write full-time. He lived for many years in England, his wife’s native country. Following their divorce, he returned to the United States and settled in East Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Theroux’s fiction reflects his experiences: Most of it deals with exiles, usually Americans, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and England. Fong and the Indians presents a Chinese Catholic living in Kenya and subjected to the prejudice of Africans, Americans, and the British. Jungle Lovers chronicles two Americans trying to improve the lives of the citizens of Malawi and discovering strong resistance to change. Since Theroux’s fiction is ironic and skeptical, the Americans’ motives are ambiguous. The hero of Saint Jack, perhaps Theroux’s best novel, is a middle-aged American hustler and pimp in Singapore. The Black House, a subtle horror tale, concerns an English anthropologist who returns to England after years in Uganda to find himself so alienated that he has an affair with a...

(The entire section is 943 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Paul Edward Theroux was born of French Canadian and Italian parentage in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1941, the third of the seven children of Albert and Anne Theroux. Literature and writing were important aspects of his early life. Albert Theroux, a leather salesman, read daily to the family from the classics and encouraged the publication of family newspapers. For his efforts, he was rewarded with two novelists among his children: Paul and his brother Alexander.

After conventional public schooling and a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts, Theroux volunteered for the Peace Corps in 1963 to escape the draft. He taught English in Malawi for two years until he was expelled for his unwitting involvement in the convolutions of African politics. From Malawi, Theroux went to Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he lectured on seventeenth century English literature and maintained a careful political stance during the beginnings of Idi Amin’s rise to power. At Makerere, Theroux met V. S. Naipaul, who became for a time his literary mentor. Theroux left Uganda in 1968 after being trapped in a street riot and went to Singapore, where he spent the next three years lecturing at the university.

Throughout this period, Theroux was writing prodigiously, both fiction and reportage, which he published in a variety of African and European journals. In 1967, he married Anne Castle, then also a teacher, and fathered two sons, Louis and...

(The entire section is 405 words.)