William Sansom Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

William Sansom (SAN-suhm) wrote novels, essays, travel books, and children’s books, but he is also arguably one of the most important writers of short stories to emerge from England after World War II. He was born on January 18, 1912, in London, England, the son of Ernest Brooks and Mabel (Clark) Sansom. The product of a comfortable middle-class upbringing, Sansom attended Uppingham School. After he graduated in 1940 Sansom studied for a short while on the Continent, where he cultivated an interest in the arts. Without receiving a degree, Sansom returned to London after only a few months. Sansom worked in a bank for a short while before deciding to assist the fire department in the monumental task of putting out the fires caused by the Blitz of 1940-1941. His account of what he saw as an auxiliary fireman, in a book entitled Jim Braidy, marked the beginning of his literary career.

Sansom spent the next five years honing his skills as a short-story writer. In his first collection of short stories, Fireman Flower, Sansom once again attracted public attention through his vivid portrayal of the horrors of the bombing of London. The subjects and moods of these early stories focused on death and terror. Although Sansom was criticized for his wordy style, he was praised for the precision with which he analyzed character and motive.

Two more volumes of short stories came out in 1948. The stories collected in South center on the reactions of typical Englishmen to situations outside their normal realm of experience. The majority of the stories in Something Terrible, Something Lovely deal with characters who are thrust into horrible situations. The power of these stories is derived from the fact that they contain realistic descriptions of people and places.

Sansom’s first novel, The Body, is also the most highly praised. The Body is a psychological portrayal of Henry Bishop, a suburban Londoner who suspects his wife of twenty years of infidelity. Even though some...

(The entire section is 838 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Sansom was born in London, the only child of Ernest Brooks, a naval architect, and Mabel Clark. His father encouraged him to enter the banking profession and, with this career in mind, Sansom, after preparatory school, lived in Bonn, Germany, for three years, learned German and other foreign languages, and traveled throughout Europe. On his return to London, he trained and later worked in the Anglo-German Bank for five years. From the ages of seventeen to twenty-three, he was stricken with an odd vocal problem in not being able to control his modulation, speaking only in whispers or shouts. This nightmarish experience eventually resonated in a number of the short stories.

Following a stint in banking, Sansom became an advertising copywriter; while working at the advertising agency, he met a fellow worker, Norman Cameron, a poet and a translator, who strongly influenced Sansom’s life. These kindred spirits discussed literature, politics, and art. A visit to a surrealist exhibition became a turning point in Sansom’s life. He said, “I was immediately addicted forever.” Indeed, there are countless reverberations of surrealism in his short stories and novels. Cameron encouraged Sansom to read Arthur Rimbaud, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Ernest Hemingway, all of them impinging in theme and style on Sansom’s writing. Along with his work in advertising, Sansom composed jazz at night, played the piano at a nightclub, and also participated in running this same nightclub. Unfit for military service during World War II, Sansom joined the National Fire Brigade and continued to serve until the end of the war. This fortuitous experience became a rich mine for future stories and novels. Many of the National Fire Brigade fire fighters lost their lives or limbs and became the unsung heroes of the war. This terrifying...

(The entire section is 745 words.)