A.N. Wilson

A.N. Wilson is the author of many works of fiction and non-fiction.


Let me guess

12 February 2009

When coming into college and seeing the flag at half-mast, Maurice Bowra said to the porter: ‘Don’t tell me. Let me guess.’ Surely a brilliant remark? Or looking up at the New Bodleian building opposite Wadham, adorned with strange squiggly motifs: ‘Lambs’-tails from Shakespeare?’ When thwarted in a committee by a don named Baker: ‘I’ve met my Bakerloo.’ When Warden Sumner’s coffin...

There’s a moment in this book – some time in the 1960s – when Christopher Logue and Adrian Mitchell have been asked to Hintlesham Hall in Suffolk to do a poetry reading. They ring the doorbell and a liveried footman tells them that they should go to the servants’ entrance. ‘I said, let’s leave. “No,” Adrian said. “We’ve come all this way. We’ll earn our money.” ’ They are given high tea in the servants’ hall: two pieces of Spam, sliced bread, margarine, an apple, a piece of seed cake. Water and/or tea to drink. When they are finally invited in to read, ‘Adrian and I decided to give our best … We read. By best, we meant bluntest. I added a number of “fucks” and “cunts” to otherwise quite decorous poems. Then we left.’’‘

I have been trying to explain to myself how such a book as this held my uninterrupted attention from first to last. I read it almost at a sitting. This was certainly not because of any previous obsession with either V.S. Naipaul or Paul Theroux. True, I regard Naipaul as one of the most enthralling writers of our time, even though the subjects he has covered – India, Africa, the putrefaction of the post-colonial world – are not ones which engage my interest or my imagination. It is him writing about them, rather than these places themselves, which fascinates me. For this reason, I regard as almost his most triumphant book the one which his true disciple, Paul Theroux, thinks marks the great falling-off: The Enigma of Arrival. This is a book about Naipaul having stopped writing. He is living in Wiltshire within a stone’s throw of a large house in which a scarcely-disguised Stephen Tennant is, like England, gathering dust and going to seed. Nothing happens in the book, yet the writing is hypnotic.’


Sparrow v. Rowse

1 October 1998

I recently read A.L. Rowse's All Souls and Appeasement and can only hang my head in shame at J.B. Paul's devastating letter (Letters, 10 December 1998). The explanation, but no excuse, is that I wrote the Sparrow review miles from my books and had no chance to check. I stupidly thought All Souls and Appeasement was fired off during the early Forties … Mea maxima culpa. Rowse's attitude to the appeasers...

This Trying Time: John Sparrow

A.N. Wilson, 1 October 1998

John Hanbury Angus Sparrow (1906-92) was a devotee of the poetry of A.E. Housman. He wrote a vivid introduction to Housman’s verse, whose tight control, both of metre and of homosexual passion, found obvious echoes in his own character. Sparrow was also co-author of A.E. Housman: An Annotated Hand-List, one of the few excursions into modern bibliography made by this great collector, 17th century bibliographer and connoisseur of Renaissance Latin, who counselled aspiring bibliomaniacs: (1) never lend anyone a book; (2) never sell a book; (3) never give anyone a book; (4) never read a book.

Blame it on Darwin

Jonathan Rée, 5 October 2017

When​ the 22-year-old Charles Darwin joined HMS Beagle in 1831 he took a copy of Paradise Lost with him, and over the next five years he read it many times, in Brazil, Patagonia, Tahiti, New...

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Half-Resurrection Man

Keith Hopkins, 19 June 1997

There were many St Pauls in Antiquity. Even more are still being invented. About each, there are stories, doubts, ambiguities. One problem is that Paul is an icon of early Christianity, and of...

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It’s Mummie

Jenny Diski, 16 December 1993

‘It was not ever thus in England,’ says A.N. Wilson, stilting his prose in deference to the text he’s introducing. He’s speaking of the deluge of intimacies we can expect...

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Send them to Eton!

Linda Colley, 19 August 1993

The question is: what is the question? This summer has seen a bumper crop of books all ostensibly addressing the problems of the British monarchy. The blurbs have been in technicolour: ‘the...

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Tea or Eucharist?

Anthony Howard, 3 December 1992

‘We asked for bread, and you gave us a stone’: the cry that rang out from the gallery of Church House, Westminster, after one of the earliest debates over women’s ordination...

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Stephen Wall, 27 September 1990

In his new novel William Boyd returns to Africa, the scene of his first successes, but not to the west of A Good Man in Africa or the east of An Ice-Cream War. Brazzaville Beach goes for the...

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C.H. Sisson, 22 February 1990

C.S. Lewis was born in 1898, the son of a Belfast solicitor. He was educated first at home, then in England at a preparatory school, at Malvern (for one term only), and by a private tutor. So...

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Jack and Leo

John Sutherland, 27 July 1989

Jack London has had difficulty emerging from the blur of his own heroic lies, his family’s whitewash, and the libels of his biographers. All accounts agree, however, that London’s was...

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End of the Century

John Sutherland, 13 October 1988

It would be interesting to place Jay McInerney and David Holbrook as neighbours at E.M. Forster’s imaginary table. Both novelists are fascinated by decadence – that much they have in...

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Speaking for England

Patrick Parrinder, 21 May 1987

Here is the note of a quite distinctive sort of English novelist: Not everybody in Britain on that night in November was alone, incapacitated, or in gaol. Nevertheless, over the country...

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Liza Jarrett’s Hard Life

Paul Driver, 4 December 1986

Of the five new novels grouped here, only one, I think, breathes something of that ‘air of reality (solidity of specification)’ which seemed to Henry James ‘the supreme virtue...

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Christopher Ricks, 21 November 1985

A.N. Wilson is something of an anachronism, and it was timely of him to make anachronism the nub of his new novel about the old days, Gentlemen in England. The title itself, in the England of...

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Literary Man

J.I.M. Stewart, 7 June 1984

In the third volume of the Lyttelton Hart-Davis Letters George Lyttelton records Hilaire Belloc’s having told him that his mother ‘had seen Napoleon after his return from Elba and he...

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Tristram Rushdie

Pat Rogers, 15 September 1983

Four titles, and an abstract noun apiece – well, Melvyn Bragg has two, but it’s the well-known coupling as in (exactly as in, that’s rather the trouble) a fight for...

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Rescuing the bishops

Blair Worden, 21 April 1983

The publication of Patrick Collinson’s The Religion of Protestants is a stirring event in the rediscovery of Early Modern England. Unmistakably the work of a historian who has reflected on...

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Dark Places

John Sutherland, 18 November 1982

With Wise Virgin, A.N. Wilson continues his bleak investigation of trauma. The Healing Art (his most acclaimed novel so far) scrutinised human sensibility under the sentence of terminal cancer.

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Another A.N. Wilson

Michael Irwin, 3 December 1981

The Sweets of Pimlico, published in 1977, was an assured and attractive first novel. It moved well. The light, fluent, shapely narrative encompassed with equal facility episodes of mannered...

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The British Dimension

Rosalind Mitchison, 16 October 1980

The first three books are studies within the narrow élite of landed society in a small, rapidly modernising country – Scotland. They concern men who took for granted the perpetuation...

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