A. N. Wilson

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Andrew Norman Wilson (born 1950)[1] is an English writer and newspaper columnist known for his critical biographies, novels and works of popular history. He is an occasional columnist for the Daily Mail and a former columnist for the London Evening Standard. He has been an occasional contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, New Statesman, The Spectator and The Observer. His latest book, Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker (2017), has been severely criticised for its various errors.

Life and work[edit]

Wilson was born in Stone in Staffordshire[1] to a father who became the managing director of Wedgwood, the pottery company.[2] He was educated at Hillstone School, Great Malvern in Worcestershire, and Rugby School from the age of 13, where he read Mao and Marx in his spare time. While at Rugby, he wrote an article for the school magazine arguing that public schools should be abolished. The national press became interested in the story, with the Daily Express headlining its account "Red rebel in Tom Brown's school".[3] "Reporters arrived at the school gates, wanting to interview me, but my housemaster, wisely, would not let me talk to them," Wilson told Hunter Davies in 1993.[2] After New College, Oxford, he taught English at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood for two years and then spent seven years as a lecturer in medieval literature at St Hugh's College and New College, Oxford. He married the Shakespearean scholar Katherine Duncan-Jones in 1971. They had two daughters, Emily Wilson (born 1971) and Beatrice "Bee" Wilson (born 1974), and divorced in 1990.

A prolific journalist and author of non-fiction, Wilson has also written over twenty works of fiction. For the latter he has won the Somerset Maugham Prize and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. His novels also include such historical works as The Potter’s Hand (a study of the family life of Josiah Wedgwood) and Resolution, a fictional account of Captain James Cook’s second voyage.

In the early 1990s, in the wake of the Fatwah against Salman Rushdie and the continuing troubles in Northern Ireland, Wilson published a pamphlet Against Religion in the Chatto & Windus CounterBlasts series. He wrote biographies of Jesus and St Paul, and a history of atheism in the 19th century entitled God's Funeral, describing its growth as due to influences ranging from David Hume to Sigmund Freud. These and many other of his books such as those on Leo Tolstoy (Whitbread Award for best biography of 1988), C. S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc are simultaneously sympathetic to religious belief and critical of it.

In August 2006, Wilson's biography of Sir John Betjeman was published. It was later discovered that another biographer, Bevis Hillier, had sent him a forged letter which was included in the book.[4]

In 2001 Wilson published Dante in Love (2011) presenting a study of the great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri, as an artist and philosopher, also depicting an in-depth portrait of medieval Florence to help readers understand the literary and cultural background which engendered the Tuscan's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy.

In addition to his many biographies, Wilson has written three books covering entire eras, The Victorians (2002), After the Victorians (2005), and The Elizabethans (2011), the latter described as "the exhilarating story of the Elizabethan age".[citation needed] Significant novels of Wilson include Scandal about the Profumo affair, The Vicar of Sorrows about a clergyman who has lost his faith dealing with the death of his mother, and Dream Children about paedophilia. His 2007 novel Winnie and Wolf was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

Critiques of Wilson's work[edit]

The Daily Telegraph said that "Wilson's forte is the character and he brilliantly conveys Betjeman's odd mixture of introspection and sociability, gaiety and melancholia, exhibition and self-disgust..."[5]

About Wilson’s most recent novel, Resolution, The Times (London) referred to it as ‘a work of genius’.[6]

Kathryn Hughes wrote in The Guardian of Wilson’s biography of Queen Victoria, Victoria: A Life, ‘Subtle, thoughtful ... a shimmering and rather wonderful biography.’[7] Daisy Godwin in The Sunday Times review stated that, ‘This won't be the last biography of Victoria but it is certainly the most interesting and original in a long time’.[8]

Wilson's Hitler: A Short Biography was criticised by the historian Richard J. Evans in a review in the New Statesman for factual inaccuracies, lack of original research, and analysis, and personal biases.[9]

Wilson's biography Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker, (2017), has been criticised by John van Wyhe in the New Scientist for confusing Darwin's theory of natural selection with Lamarckism at one point, as well as other scientific, historical and editorial errors.[10] Kathryn Hughes in The Guardian wrote it is "cheap attempt to ruffle feathers", with a dubious grasp of science and attempted character assassination.[11] In The Evening Standard, Adrian Woolfson says that "..while for the greater part a lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history" Wilson's "speculations on evolutionary theory," produce a book that is "fatally flawed, mischievous, and ultimately misleading".[12] Steve Jones, an emeritus of University College London, commented in The Sunday Times: "In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories."[13] The geneticist and former editor of Nature, Adam Rutherford, called the book "deranged" and said Wilson "would fail GCSE biology catastrophically."[14][15]

Bibliography and broadcasting[edit]

Books[edit]

Non-fiction[edit]

  • The Laird of Abbotsford: A View of Sir Walter Scott (1980)
  • The Life of John Milton: A Biography (1983)
  • Hilaire Belloc: A Biography (1985)
  • How Can We Know? (1985)
  • Penfriends from Porlock (1988)
  • Tolstoy: A Biography (1988)
  • C. S. Lewis: A Biography (1990)
  • Against Religion: Why We Should Live Without It (1991)
  • Jesus: A Life (1992)
  • The Faber Book of Church and Clergy (Editor) published by Faber & Faber (1992)
  • The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor published by Sinclair Stevenson (London, 1993)
  • Paul: The Mind of the Apostle (1997)
  • God's Funeral: The Decline of Faith in Western Civilization (1999)
  • The Victorians (2002)
  • Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her (2003)
  • London: A Short History (2004)
  • After the Victorians (2005)
  • Betjeman (2006)
  • Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English & American Literature (2007, illustrated by Barry Moser)
  • Our Times (2008)
  • Dante in Love (2011)
  • The Elizabethans (2011)
  • Hitler: A Short Biography (2011)
  • Victoria: A Life (2014)
  • The Book of the People: How to Read the Bible (2015)
  • Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker (2017)

Fiction[edit]

  • The Sweets of Pimlico (1977)
  • Unguarded Hours (1978)
  • Kindly Light (1979)
  • The Healing Art (1980)
  • Who Was Oswald Fish? (1981)
  • Wise Virgin (1982)
  • Scandal (1983)
  • Gentlemen in England (1983)
  • Love Unknown (1986)
  • Stray (1987)
  • The Vicar of Sorrows (1993)
  • The Tabitha Stories (1997)
  • Dream Children (1998)
  • My Name Is Legion (2004)
  • A Jealous Ghost (2005)
  • Winnie and Wolf (2007, long-listed for the 2007 Man Booker Prize) – fictional account of the relationship between Adolf Hitler and Winifred Wagner[16]
  • The Potter's Hand (2012)
  • Resolution (2016)

The Lampitt Chronicles

  • Incline Our Hearts (1988)
  • A Bottle in the Smoke (1990)
  • Daughters of Albion (1991)
  • Hearing Voices (1995)
  • A Watch in the Night (1996)

Broadcasting[edit]

Title Synopsis Broadcast Broadcaster
The Genius of Josiah Wedgwood Wilson explores the life of his great hero, Josiah Wedgwood. As one of the founding fathers of the Industrial Revolution, Wedgwood was a self-made, self-educated creative giant, whose other achievements might be better known if he were not so celebrated for his pottery. 19 April 2013 BBC[17]
Narnia's Lost Poet: The Secret Lives and Loves of C. S. Lewis Wilson, a biographer of Lewis, goes in search of the man behind Narnia – bestselling children's author, famous Christian writer, Oxford academic and an aspiring poet who never achieved the same success in writing verse as he did prose. 27 November 2013 BBC[18]
Return to Betjemanland Wilson travels to a landscape of beautiful houses and churches, beaches and seaside piers, where he examines the life and work of the poet and broadcaster Sir John Betjeman. 1 September 2014 BBC[19]
Queen Victoria's Letters: A Monarch Unveiled Wilson explores the personal life of Queen Victoria through her journals and letters in this psychological portrait of Britain's longest reigning monarch. 13 November 2014
20 November 2014
BBC[20]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ a b Davies, Hunter (12 January 1993). "Interview: In Bed With A.N. Wilson". The Independent. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  3. ^ Leith, William (12 September 1992). "Interview: Messing with the Messiah". The Independent. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  4. ^ Marre, Oliver (20 January 2006). "Pendennis". London: The Observer. Retrieved 11 September 2006. 
  5. ^ "Lucky to Have him: Lynn Barber reviews Betjeman by A N Wilson". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  6. ^ "Resolution by AN Wilson Reviewed by James Marriott". www.thetimes.co.uk. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  7. ^ "Victoria: A Life Review by Kathryn Hughes". www.theguardian.com. Retrieved 21 September 2017. 
  8. ^ "Victoria: A Life by AN Wilson Review by Daisy Godwin". www.thetimes.co.uk. 
  9. ^ Evans, Richard J. (12 March 2012). "Hitler: A Short Biography". New Statesman. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  10. ^ van Wyhe, John (21 August 2017). "'Radical' new biography of Darwin is unreliable and inaccurate". New Scientist. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  11. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (30 August 2017). "Charles Darwin by AN Wilson review – how wrong can a biography be?". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 August 2017. 
  12. ^ Woolfson, Adrian (24 August 2017). "Charles Darwin Victorian Mythmaker by A.N. Wilson review". The Evening Standard. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  13. ^ Jones, Steve (10 September 2017), "Book review: Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker by AN Wilson", The Sunday Times, retrieved 10 September 2017, (Subscription required (help)) .
  14. ^ "Customer Review". www.amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 11 September 2017. 
  15. ^ Londoner's Diary: Literati catfight over Darwinism London Evening Standard, 11 September 2017
  16. ^ Eagleton, Terry (4 August 2007). "Beauty and the beast". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 September 2017. 
  17. ^ BBC – The Genius of Josiah Wedgwood
  18. ^ BBC – Narnia's Lost Poet
  19. ^ BBC – Return to Betjemanland
  20. ^ BBC – Queen Victoria's Letters

External links[edit]