Wilson was born in Bexhill, Sussex, England, to an English father and South African mother. He was educated at Westminster School and Merton College, Oxford, and in 1937 became a librarian in the British Museum's Department of Printed Books, working on the new General Catalogue. During World War II, he worked in the Naval section Hut 8 at the code-breaking establishment, Bletchley Park, translating Italian Naval codes. A wearer of large, brightly-coloured bow-ties, he was one of the "famous homosexuals" at Bletchley.
The work situation was stressful and led to a nervous breakdown, for which he was treated by Rolf-Werner Kosterlitz. He returned to the Museum after the end of the War, and it was there that he met Tony Garrett (born 1929), who was to be his companion for the rest of his life.
Wilson's first publication was a collection of short stories, The Wrong Set (1949), followed quickly by the daring novel Hemlock and After, which was a great success, prompting invitations to lecture in Europe.
He worked as a reviewer, and in 1955 he resigned from the British Museum to write full-time (although his financial situation did not justify doing so) and moved to Suffolk.
From 1957 he gave lectures further afield, in Japan, Switzerland, Australia, and the USA. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1968, and received many literary honours in succeeding years. He was knighted in 1980. His remaining years were spent battling ill health.
His writing, which has a strongly satirical vein, expresses his concern with preserving a liberal humanistic outlook in the face of fashionable doctrinaire temptations. Several of his works were adapted for television. He jointly helped to establish the creative writing course at masters level in 1970 at the University of East Anglia, which was then a groundbreaking initiative in the United Kingdom.
Angus Wilson: A Biography by Margaret Drabble
Paperback: 740 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (September 1997)
Amazon: Angus Wilson: A Biography
The first biography of literary lion (ANGLO-SAXON ATTITUDES) and gay pioneer Angus Wilson (1913-1991), captured brilliantly by one of our greatest novelists. In this vivid and absorbing biography, Margaret Drabble has created a portrait of an artist of enormous courage, a man who confronted challenge to the end.
Hemlock and After by Angus Wilson
Paperback: 246 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (June 1997)
Amazon: Hemlock and After
Published in 1952 in England, Hemlock and After, Angus Wilson's first novel, was considered so shocking that his American publisher refused to accept it. Bernard Sands--novelist, liberal, humanist--sets out to establish a writers' colony which is to be the climax of his career. But Sands has powerful enemies, and his own life is also complicated by his wife's illness and his own homosexual affairs.
The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity, and Bohemianism by Nicola Humble
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (April 15, 2004)
Amazon: The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity, and Bohemianism
"Middlebrow" has always been a dirty word, used disparagingly since its coinage in the mid-1920s for the sort of literature thought to be too easy, insular and smug. Aiming to rehabilitate the feminine middlebrow, Nicola Humble argues that the novels of writers such as Rosamund Lehmann, Elizabeth Taylor, Stella Gibbons, Nancy Mitford, played a powerful role in establishing and consolidating, but also in resisting, new class and gender identities in this period of volatile change for both women and the middle classes.