17 January 1899|
|Died||12 January 1960
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
|Pen name||Nevil Shute|
|Nationality||British, emigrated to Australia 1950|
Nevil Shute Norway (17 January 1899 – 12 January 1960) was an English novelist and aeronautical engineer who spent his later years in Australia. He used his full name in his engineering career and Nevil Shute as his pen name to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels.
Born in Somerset Road, Ealing, west London, he was educated at the Dragon School, Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford, from which he graduated in 1922 with a 3rd class degree in engineering science. Shute's father, Arthur Hamilton Norway, became head of the Post Office in Ireland before the First World War and was based at the main post office in Dublin in 1916 at the time of the Easter Rising. Nevil was later commended for his role as a stretcher bearer during the rising. His elder brother, Fred Norway, died of wounds in France in 1915.
Shute attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, but because of his stammer was unable to take up a commission in the Royal Flying Corps, instead serving in World War I as a soldier in the Suffolk Regiment.
Career in aviation
An aeronautical engineer as well as a pilot, he began his engineering career with de Havilland Aircraft Company. (He used his pen-name as an author, to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels.)
Dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities for advancement, he took a position in 1924 with Vickers Ltd., where he was involved with the development of airships, working as Chief Calculator (stress engineer) on the R100 airship project for the Vickers subsidiary Airship Guarantee Company. In 1929 he was promoted to Deputy Chief Engineer of the R100 project under Barnes Wallis and when Wallis left the project he became the Chief Engineer.
The R100 was a prototype for passenger-carrying airships that would serve the needs of Britain's empire. The government-funded but privately developed R100 was a success in that it made a successful 1930 return trip to and from Canada and while in Canada undertook local trips to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls from Montreal. But the fatal 1930 crash in France of its government-developed counterpart R101 while flying to India ended British interest in dirigibles. The Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, was killed in the crash along with many senior figures in the airship development program. The R100 was immediately grounded and subsequently scrapped. Shute gives a detailed account of the development of the two airships in his 1954 autobiographical work, Slide Rule. His account is very critical of the R101 design and management team, and strongly hints that senior team members were complicit in concealing flaws in the airship's design and construction.
A site was available in a former trolley bus garage on Piccadilly, York. Despite setbacks and tribulations, including the usual problem of the start-up business, liquidity, Airspeed Limited eventually gained significant recognition when its Envoy aircraft was chosen for the King's Flight. With the approach of war a military version of the Envoy was developed, to be called the Airspeed Oxford. The Oxford became the standard advanced multi-engined trainer for the RAF and British Commonwealth, with over 8,500 being built.
On 7 March 1931, Shute married Frances Mary Heaton, a 28-year-old medical practitioner. They had two daughters, Heather and Shirley.
By the outbreak of World War II, Shute was already a rising novelist. Even as war seemed imminent he was working on military projects with his former Vickers boss Sir Dennistoun Burney. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a sub-lieutenant and quickly ended up in what would become the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. There he was a head of engineering, working on secret weapons such as Panjandrum, a job that appealed to the engineer in him. His celebrity as a writer caused the Ministry of Information to send him to the Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944 and later to Burma as a correspondent. He finished the war with the rank of lieutenant commander RNVR.
Shute's first novel, the novella Stephen Morris, was written in 1923, but not published until 1961.
Shute's novels are written in a simple, highly readable style, with clearly delineated plot lines. Where there is a romantic element, sex is referred to only obliquely. Many of the stories are introduced by a narrator who is not a character in the story. The most common theme in Shute's novels is the dignity of work, spanning all classes, whether an Eastern European bar "hostess" (Ruined City) or brilliant boffin (No Highway).
Another recurrent theme is the bridging of social barriers such as class (Lonely Road and Landfall), race (The Chequer Board) or religion (Round the Bend). The Australian novels are individual hymns to that country, with subtle disparagement of the mores of the USA (Beyond the Black Stump) and overt antipathy towards the post-World War II socialist government of Shute's native Britain (The Far Country and In the Wet).
Shute's heroes tended to be like himself: middle class solicitors, doctors, accountants, bank managers, engineers, generally university graduates. However (as in Trustee from the Toolroom), Shute valued the honest artisan and his social integrity and contributions to society more than the contributions of the upper classes.
Aviation and engineering provide the backdrop for many of Shute's novels. He identified how engineering, science and design could improve human life and more than once used the apparently anonymous epigram "It has been said an engineer is a man who can do for five shillings what any fool can do for a pound...."
Several of Shute's novels explore the boundary between accepted science and rational belief on the one hand, and mystical or paranormal possibilities, including reincarnation, on the other hand. Shute does this by including elements that can be considered fantasy or science fiction in novels that are classified as mainstream. These are based in elements that would be considered religious, mystical, or psychic phenomena in the British vernacular when they were written. These include: Buddhist astrology and folk prophecy in "The Chequer Board"; the effective use of a ouija board in "No Highway"; a messiah figure in "Round the Bend"; and past and future lives with a psychic connection, near-future science fiction, and Aboriginal psychic powers in "In the Wet."
Twenty-four of his novels and novellas have been published. Many of his books were filmed, including Lonely Road, Landfall, Pied Piper (1942 and 1990 (as Crossing to Freedom)), On the Beach (in 1959 and also in 2000), No Highway (in 1951) and A Town Like Alice (in 1956). The last was serialised for Australian television in 1981, and in 1997 a six-part radio version of A Town Like Alice was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 starring Jason Connery, Becky Hindley, Bernard Hepton and Virginia McKenna, who had starred as the novel's heroine, Jean Paget, in the film version. The work was dramatised by Moya O'Shea, produced by Tracey Neale and David Blount and directed by David Blount. It won a Sony Award in 1998. The Far Country was made as a TV movie in 1988.
Post war activities
In 1948, after World War II, he flew his own Percival Proctor light aeroplane to Australia and back, with the writer James Riddell. On his return home, concerned about the general decline in his home country, he decided that he and his family would emigrate and so, in 1950, he settled with his wife and two daughters on farmland at Langwarrin, south-east of Melbourne. In Slide Rule, quoting from the diary he kept during the R100's successful test flight to Canada, Shute had written in 1930, "I would never have believed after a fortnight's stay I should be so sorry to leave a country." In 1954 he introduced that quote, "For the first time in my life I saw how people live in an English-speaking country outside England," and said it was interesting in the light of his later decision to emigrate to Australia. Although he intended to remain in Australia, he did not take out Australian citizenship, but at that time it would have been an unnecessary formality as he would have had the same rights as an Australian citizen because he was a British subject.
In the 1950s and 1960s he was one of the world's best-selling novelists, although his popularity has since declined, at least in Australia. However, he retains a core of dedicated readers who share information through various web pages such as The Nevil Shute Foundation.
- Stephen Morris (1923, published 1961) ISBN 1-84232-297-4 (with Pilotage: a young pilot takes on a daring and dangerous mission.
- Pilotage (1924, published 1961): a continuation of "Stephen Morris."
- Marazan (1926) ISBN 1-84232-265-6: a convict rescues a downed pilot who helps him break up a drug ring.
- So Disdained (1928) ISBN 1-84232-294-X: published in the US as The Mysterious Aviator, and written soon after the General Strike of 1926, reflected the debate in British Society about socialism. The principled narrator initially chooses loyalty to a friend who betrayed Britain to Russia, over loyalty to his King and country. The book concludes with the narrator joining forces with Italian Fascists against a group of Russian spies.
- Lonely Road (1932) ISBN 1-84232-261-3: This novel deals with conspiracies and counterconspiracies, and experiments with writing styles.
- Ruined City (1938) ISBN 1-84232-290-7: US title: Kindling. A rich banker revives a town economically with a shipbuilding company through questionable financial dealings. He goes to jail for fraud, but the shipyard revives. Ruined City was distilled from Shute's experiences in trying to set up his own aircraft company.
- What Happened to the Corbetts (1938) ISBN 1-84232-302-4: U.S Title: Ordeal. Foretells the German bombing of Southampton early in WWII.
- An Old Captivity (1940) ISBN 1-84232-275-3: the story of a pilot hired to take aerial photographs of a site in Greenland, who suffers a drug-induced flashback to Viking times.
- Landfall: A Channel Story (1940) ISBN 1-84232-258-3. A young RAF pilot and a British barmaid fall in love. His career suffers a setback when he is thought to have sunk a British submarine in error, but he is vindicated.
- Pied Piper (1942) ISBN 1-84232-278-8. An old man rescues seven children (one of them the niece of a Gestapo officer) from France during the Nazi invasion.
- Most Secret (1942, published 1945) ISBN 1-84232-269-9. Unconventional attacks on German forces during WWII, using a French fishing boat.
- Pastoral (1944) ISBN 1-84232-277-X. Crew relations and love at an airbase in rural surroundings in wartime England.
- Vinland the Good (film script, 1946) ISBN 1-889439-11-8
- The Seafarers (1946-7, published 2000) ISBN 1-889439-32-0. The story of a dashing British naval Lieutenant and a Wren who meet right at the end of the Second World War. Their romance is blighted by differences in social background and economic constraints; in unhappiness each turns to odd jobs in boating circles.
- The Chequer Board (1947) ISBN 1-84232-248-6: A dying man looks up three wartime comrades, one of which sees Burma during Japanese occupation and in its independence period after the war. The novel contains an interesting discussion of racism in the US and in the US Army stationed in Britain: British townsfolk prefer the company of black soldiers.
- No Highway (1948) ISBN 1-84232-273-7. Set in Britain and Canada, an eccentric "boffin" at RAE Farnborough predicts metal fatigue in a new airliner, but is not believed. Interestingly, the Comet failed for just this reason several years later, in 1954.
- A Town Like Alice (1950) ISBN 1-84232-300-8: US title: The Legacy. The hero and heroine meet while both are prisoners of the Japanese in Malaya (now Malaysia). After the war they seek each other out and reunite in a small Australian town that would have no future if not for her plans to turn it into "a town like Alice."
- Round the Bend (1951) ISBN 1-84232-289-3. About a new religion developing around an aircraft mechanic. Shute considered this his best novel. It tackles racism, condemning the White Australia policy.
- The Far Country (1952) ISBN 1-84232-251-6: A young woman travels to Australia. A condemnation of British socialism and the national health service.
- In the Wet (1953) ISBN 1-84232-254-0. An Anglican priest tells the story of an Australian aviator. This embraces a drug-induced flash forward to Britain in the 1980s. The novel criticises British socialism and anti-monarchism democratic sentiment.
- Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer (1954) ISBN 1-84232-291-5; (1964: Ballantine, New York)
- Requiem for a Wren (1955; US title: The Breaking Wave) ISBN 1-84232-286-9. The story of a young British woman who, plagued with guilt after shooting down a plane carrying Polish refugees in World War II, moves to Australia to work anonymously for the parents of her (now deceased) Australian lover, whilst the lover's brother searches for her in Britain. The title echoes William Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun.
- Beyond the Black Stump (1956) ISBN 1-84232-246-X: The ethical standards of an unconventional family living in a remote part of Australia are compared with those of a conventional family living in Oregon.
- On the Beach (1957) ISBN 1-84232-276-1. Shute's best-known novel, is set in Melbourne, whose population is awaiting death from the effects of an atomic war. It was serialised in more than 40 newspapers, and adapted into a 1959 film starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. In 2007, Gideon Haigh wrote an article in The Monthly arguing that On the Beach is Australia's most important novel: "Most novels of apocalypse posit at least a group of survivors and the semblance of hope. On The Beach allows nothing of the kind."
- The Rainbow and the Rose (1958) ISBN 1-84232-283-4: One man's three love stories; narration shifts from the narrator to the main character and back.
- Trustee from the Toolroom (1960) ISBN 1-84232-301-6. Shute's last novel, about the recovery of a lost legacy of diamonds from a wrecked sailboat. Set in Britain, the Pacific Islands and the US northwest.
Shute's works can be divided into three sequential thematic categories, centred round World War II:
The Pre-War category comprises Stephen Morris, Pilotage, Marazan, So Disdained, Lonely Road, Ruined City and An Old Captivity; also the film script Vinland the Good.
The War category comprises What Happened to the Corbetts, Landfall, Pied Piper, Pastoral, Most Secret, The Chequer Board and The Seafarers.
Most novels in the Post-War category are at least partially set in Shute's adopted country of Australia. It comprises No Highway, A Town Like Alice, Round the Bend, The Far Country, In the Wet, Requiem for a Wren, Beyond the Black Stump, On the Beach, The Rainbow and the Rose and Trustee from the Toolroom.
Norway Road and Nevil Shute Road at Portsmouth Airport, Hampshire were both named after him. Shute Avenue in Berwick, Victoria was named after him, when the farm used for filming the 1959 film On the Beach was subdivided for housing.
- Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer (1954) ISBN 1-84232-291-5 pages 44–45; (1964) p. 63.
- Quote from Shute's autobiography Slide Rule, 2nd ed., London: Pan, 1969, p.63
- "Nevil Shute: profile". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
- Croft (2002)
- Slide Rule, (1964), pp. 113–114.
- "Citizenship in Australia – Fact sheet 187". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
- "Remaindered with little honour in his adopted land"
- "Photo Timeline 1951 – 1960 page 5". Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. Retrieved 11 June 2013.
- "Books: The Two Lives of Nevil Shute", Time, 25 January 1960. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
- Milgram, Shoshana. "The Seafarers". Book Review. Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
- Haigh, Gideon (June 2007). "Shute the Messenger – How the end of the world came to Melbourne (6800 words)". The Monthly (24). Retrieved 12 September 2013.
- Haigh, Gideon (1 June 2007). "Shute's sands of time". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
- Alice Springs public library history Retrieved 29 April 2013
- 100 Best Novels Retrieved 2 May 2013
- Smith, Julian Nevil Shute: A Biography The Paper Tiger, Creskill, NJ (2002) ISBN 1-889439-30-4.
- Croft, Julian (2000) 'Norway, Nevil Shute (1899–1960)' in Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 15 Melbourne University Press, pp 498–499 Accessed 14 June 2007
- Giffuni, Cathy (1988) Nevil Shute, a bibliography Adelaide: Auslib Press ISBN 0-9589895-7-5.
- Haigh, Gideon (2007) 'Shute's sands of time' in The Daily Telegraph http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,,21826948-5001031,00.html Accessed 14 June 2007
- Anderson, John, Parallel Motion – a biography of Nevil Shute Norway The Paper Tiger, (2011) ISBN 978-1-889439-37-2
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