Peter Vansittart

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Peter Vansittart OBE, FRSL (27 August 1920 – 4 October 2008) was an English writer. He had 50 novels published between 1942 and 2008; he also wrote historical studies, memoirs, stories for children and three anthologies: Voices from the Great War (his most popular book), Voices 1870-1914 and Voices of the Revolution. He received an OBE in 2008 for his services to literature.[1]


He was born in Bedford in 1920, the son of Edwin Morris and Mignon Vansittart. He was a distant cousin of Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs between 1930 and 1938. Peter Vansittart was educated at Marlborough House School, Haileybury College and Worcester College, Oxford, although he spent only a year at Oxford[2] and did not graduate. He worked as a schoolteacher at progressive schools — most notably Burgess Hill School, Hampstead — for 25 years before becoming a full-time writer. He wrote a novel about his time as a schoolteacher called Broken Canes.[3] For many years he made money by letting rooms in a house in Hampstead which he bought for £200 in cash from an acquaintance in a pub in the 1940s. This inspired his novel Landlord. After living in London for much of his life, Vansittart moved to Suffolk to a house inherited from his mother.

He died on October 4, 2008 at Ipswich Hospital aged 88.[4]

Writing career[edit]

Vansittart’s novels span eras from 2000 BC to AD 1986. For several decades he was acclaimed as England’s greatest living historical novelist. He said of his work, “My novels have been appreciated, if not always enjoyed, more by critics than the reading public, which shows no sign of enjoying them at all. This must be partly due to my obsession with language and speculation at the expense of narrative, however much I relish narrative in others.” [5]

In his works, Vansittart expressed his fascination with how time transforms historical facts into fantasy and myth. He said, “I was long impressed by the woeful distinction between the historical Macbeth and Shakespeare's: by the swift transformation of E.M. Forster's very English Mrs. Moore into an Indian goddess. Such phenomena relate very immediately to my own work, in which myth can be all too real, and the real degenerate into fantasy.”

Secret Protocols, his last novel (and planned as such), is set in World War II and was published in 2007.




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