Rex Warner was described by the distinguished British author and literary critic V. S. Pritchett as “the only outstanding novelist of ideas whom the decade of ideas produced.” Warner was preeminently a novelist of ideas, a translator from Greek and Latin of great distinction, and a classicist of uncommon breadth and style. Reginald Ernest Warner was born in 1905. Educated at St. George’s School in Harpenden, he there showed his prowess at cricket and rugby football as well as in debating contemporary issues and in writing poetry, all the while excelling in classical studies. He was awarded a scholarship to Wadham College, Oxford, and was tutored by the renowned classicist Sir Maurice Bowra. While he obtained a first-class pass in classical moderations, he had to take a leave of absence and did not distinguish himself in his final examinations; as a result, he had to dismiss the possibility of a university appointment in the classics.
While at Oxford, however, Warner became close friends with Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, and W. H. Auden, who encouraged his writing of poetry and included his work in journals and anthologies. It was there, too, that his interest in politics (the Great Strike of 1926) and philosophy developed. An immediate result was his essay on education in The Mind in Chains: Socialism and the Cultural Revolution (1937), edited by Day Lewis. Another was his pamphlet We’re Not Going to Do Nothing (published under Day Lewis’s name in 1937), a reply to Aldous Huxley’s open question, What are the British going to do about the growing imminence of war in Europe? Huxley advocated nonviolent resistance to war, violence being morally wrong. Warner advocated a world alliance of socialist states under the leadership of the labor movement in Great Britain, guided by the principle of production for use rather than for profit. This belief lasted throughout his lifetime and informed his fictions, though it became more...
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