William Sansom Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Sansom’s writings include literary criticism, biography, especially Proust and His World (1973), essays such as The Birth of a Story (1972), travel articles, and literary commentaries such as The Icicle and the Sun (1958) and Blue Skies, Brown Studies (1961). He has also written three children’s books, with illustrations, and nine novels, with the three outstanding ones being The Body (1949), The Loving Eye (1956), and The Cautious Heart (1958).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Known by many critics as the quintessential short-fiction stylist, William Sansom evoked high praise from Elizabeth Bowen, who called him a “short-storyist par excellence; the short-storyist by birth, addiction and destiny.” His stories display a keen interest not only in surrealism and grotesque horror but also in fantasy, comedy, and downright playfulness. Influenced by music and art and by his work in film, Sansom wrote cameo portrayals of all social classes, both English and continental. His two collections of short stories, South and The Passionate North, are innovations in travel stories, a blending of the travel article and fiction. Rather than following the traditional pattern of character and plot, Sansom favored the aesthetic of places, objects, and people, not the emphasis on conflicts and feelings. Sansom said this of his literary ethos:A writer lives best, in a state of astonishment. Beneath any feeling he has of the good or evil of the world lies a deeper one of wonder at it all. To transmit that feeling, he writes.

He received the Society of Authors Award in 1946 and 1947. The Royal Society of Literature elected him as Fellow in 1951.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Allen, Walter. The Short Story in English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981. Discusses Sansom’s “Old Man Alone,” “The Wall,” and “How Claeys Dies”; argues that Sansom transmits a Poe-Bierce horror in a Defoesque way.

Beachcroft, T. O. The Modest Art: A Survey of the Short Story in English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. A brief discussion of Sansom’s prose style; claims he is a master of sensuous and atmospheric effects; comments on his being influenced by Kafka and the similarity of his comic stories to those of V. S. Pritchett.

Bernard, Jeffrey. “Low Life: Very Much in Love.” The Spectator 274 (June, 1995): 54. In this tribute, Bernard remembers meeting Sansom.

Chalpin, Lila. William Sansom. Boston: Twayne, 1980. This short volume is a clear approach to Sansom’s life and work, particularly tracing the development of his fictional techniques. Contains a comprehensive treatment of the early fiction, the novels, and travel books, and the later short stories. Chalpin stresses the influence of Edgar Allan Poe rather than Franz Kafka. Chalpin, like many other commentators, laments the critical neglect of a first-class short-story writer. Includes a chronology of his life and work and a bibliography.

Hanson, Clare. Short Stories and Short...

(The entire section is 485 words.)