A. N. Wilson

A. N. Wilson

Andrew Norman Wilson (born 27 October, 1950), is an English writer, known for his critical biographies, novels and works of popular and cultural history. He is also a columnist for the London "Evening Standard" and was an occasional contributor to the "Daily Mail","Times Literary Supplement", "New Statesman", "The Spectator" and "The Observer". In 2006, he was the victim of a notable literary hoax played by a rival biographer.

Life and work

A. N. Wilson was educated at Rugby School and New College, Oxford. Destined originally for ordination in the Church of England, Wilson entered St Stephen's House, the Anglo-Catholic theological hall at Oxford, but left at the end of his first year. He later became a convert to Roman Catholicism, but reverted to the Church of England. In the late 1980s he publicly stated that he was an atheist, and published a pamphlet "Against Religion" in the Chatto & Windus CounterBlasts series; however, religious and ecclesiological themes continue to inform his work.

His particular slant on biography, and to some extent his take on the Victorian era topics he has covered in "God's Funeral" and "The Victorians", can be traced to this religious ambivalence. His books on Leo Tolstoy (Whitbread Award for best biography of 1988), C. S. Lewis, Hilaire Belloc, and Jesus Christ are all simultaneously sympathetic to and critical of religious belief.

Despite a reputation gained early in his career of being a 'Young Fogey', Wilson is also noted for mischief, for example in comments on the parentage of Queen Victoria, and his dissenting views, which many found disrespectful, of Iris Murdoch.Fact|date=January 2008

He has also excited controversy through the expression of his views on the Middle East, at one point stating that Israel no longer has a right to exist. (When asked if this should be accomplished by force he refused to answer.) Fact|date=January 2008

Betjeman letter hoax

In August 2006 Wilson's biography of Sir John Betjeman was published. It was then discovered that he had been the victim of a hoax and had included a letter (to Anglo-Irish writer, Honor Tracy) which purported to be by Betjeman detailing a previously unknown love affair, but which he acknowledged to be a fiction, when it was pointed out that it contained an acrostic spelling out an insulting message to him.cite news
last = Brooks
first = Richard
title = Betjeman love letter is horrid hoax
publisher = "The Sunday Times"
date = 2006-08-27
url = http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2330457,00.html
accessdate = 2006-08-28
] The letter was sent to Wilson by "Eve de Harben", who then wrote to a journalist to reveal the hoax. The acrostic spelt out "AN Wilson is a shit" and "Eve de Harben" is an anagram of "Ever been had". Bevis Hillier, Wilson's arch rival and Betjeman's authorised biographer, was an immediate suspect but initially denied all knowledge. A week after the hoax was publicised, however, Hillier admitted responsibility, stating that "When a newspaper started billing Wilson’s book as 'the big one', it was just too much."cite news
last = Brooks
first = Richard
title = Betjeman biographer confesses to literary hoax
publisher = "The Sunday Times"
date = 2006-09-03
url = http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2087-2340567,00.html
accessdate = 2006-09-05

Wilson later claimed that he has struck back with a hidden message of his own in a reprinting of the book. That has yet to be discovered.cite news
last = Marre
first = Oliver
title = Pendennis
publisher = "The Observer"
date = 2006-09-10
url = http://observer.guardian.co.uk/7days/story/0,,1868891,00.html
accessdate = 2006-09-11

Darling Honor, I loved yesterday. All day, I've thought of nothing else. No other love I've had means so much. Was it just an aberration on your part, or will you meet me at Mrs Holmes's again - say on Saturday? I won't be able to sleep until I have your answer. Love has given me a miss for so long, and now this miracle has happened. Sex is a part of it, of course, but I have a Romaunt of the Rose feeling about it too. On Saturday we could have lunch at Fortt's, then go back to Mrs H's. Never mind if you can't make it then. I am free on Sunday too or Sunday week. Signal me tomorrow as to whether and when you can come. Anthony Powell has written to me, and mentions you admiringly. Some of his comments about the Army are v funny. He's somebody I'd like to know better when the war is over. I find his letters funnier than his books. Tinkerty-tonk, my darling. I pray I'll hear from you tomorrow. If I don't I'll visit your office in a fake beard.All love, JB

Notes and references


*A N Wilson has completed biographies on Hilaire Belloc, Tolstoy, C. S. Lewis, John Milton, Sir Walter Scott and Jesus.


*"The Laird of Abbotsford"
*"The Life of John Milton" A Biography
*"Hilaire Belloc" A Biography
*"How Can We Know?"
*"Penfriends From Porlock"
*"Tolstoy" A Biography
*"C. S. Lewis: A Biography"
*"Jesus": A Life (1992)
*"The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor" published by Sinclair Stephenson (London) in (1993).
*"The Victorians"
*"Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her"
*"" (2004)
*"After the Victorians" (2005)
*"Betjeman" (2006)


*"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)
*"Dream Children" (1998)
*"My Name Is Legion" (2004)
*"A Jealous Ghost" (2005)
*"Winnie and Wolf" (2007) (Longlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize)

*a novel sequence referred to as "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)

External links

*James Atlas [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE5D8103FF93BA25753C1A964958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all "'The Busy, Busy Wasp'",] "New York Times", 18 October 1992
* [http://www.solcon.nl/arendsmilde/cslewis/reflections/e-definitivebiography.htm On ANW's biography of C. S. Lewis]
* Gilbert Meilaender [http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=774 "Psychoanalyzing C. S. Lewis"] "Christian Century", May 16-23, 1990, pp. 525-529.

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