Saturday Ramble: Colin Wilson — not so angry a young man
Colin Wilson, author and “existentialist” philosopher might not generally be regarded as a mystic, but it takes one to know one.
Sadly, he died on December 5th at the age of 82.
In my schooldays I read all his books to date thanks to a well-stocked Edwardian public library in my town. His Big Book was his first, The Outsider, an exhilarating trawl through the psychology and philosophy of the recent past by someone who doesn’t easily fit into polite society, ie, himself.
It was an unexpected success, confounding the London literary elite, who regularly gave him the cold shoulder, despite his being named as one of the glamorous “Angry Young Men” of the 1950s, a title he always denied.
Colin hailed from Leicester, left school at 16 and went to a technical college. He worked for a while as a lab technician and succeeded in getting thrown out of the RAF. All the while he was working on his magnum opus, The Outsider.
As a result, he was sometimes ignored by the London literary establishment who rather looked down on him. They are still at it.
Here’s Terry Eagleton in The Guardian in August. Apparently, he found solace “in the appearance of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider in 1956. It was one of the first books I ever bought, and I can still recall the awe with which I read on the dust jacket the portentous words ‘This is the most remarkable book on which this reviewer has ever had to pass judgment’. Perhaps the guy had only previously reviewed Enid Blyton, given that The Outsider is second-rate, off-the-peg philosophy from start to finish. There was also a glowing commendation from Cyril Connolly, who later confessed he hadn’t read it. The book was declared by one commentator to have turned its 24-year-old author into the most controversial intellectual in Britain. So it did, but only for about six weeks. He went on to publish a rather dismal series of potboilers on crime and the occult.”
He did indeed, but mainly to fund his more serious work. If that’s the level of integrity shown by London reviewers to a young writer’s output, you can stick them.
Not surprisingly, Colin put down roots in the small Cornish seaside town of Gorran Haven — about as far as you can get from the Metropolis without swimming out to the Scilly Islands.
About five years ago I struck up an intermittent correspondence with Colin Wilson who kindly endorsed my last book, The Eternal Quest for Immortality.
I’m relieved it wasn’t Terry Eagleton.
To be published soon: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world.