Remembering Outsider Colin Wilson

Book on alienation still an ‘Angry Young Man’ classic

Remembering Outsider Colin Wilson

Written by a 24-year-old Englishman in the Reading Room of the British Museum while he was living in a sleeping bag on London’s Hampstead Heath.

Remembering Colin Wilson

Died on this day, December 5, 2013, in Cornwall. He was 82.

’The Outsider’ has been translated into more than thirty languages, including Russian and Chinese. It has never been out of print since being published on May 28, 1956.

The book sold 20,000 copies in the first two months, immediately securing Wilson’s position amongst the “Angry Young Men” of British literature, alongside the likes of Kingsley Amis and John Osborne.

“It seemed to me at the time,” Wilson said on the 50th anniversary of its publication,  “one of the most important books ever written, and fifty years later it still seems one of the most important books I’ve ever written.”

Remembering Outsider Colin Wilson

Wilson analyses the works and lives of various authors and artists, including Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, H.G. Wells, Franz Kafka, T.S. Eliot, Hermann Hesse, Rainer Rilke, T.E. Lawrence, and Vincent Van Gogh.

”It struck me,” Wilson wrote in his notebook two years before he wrote the book, “that I was in the position of so many of my favourite characters in fiction: Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, Camus’ Meursault, Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge — alone in my room, feeling totally cut off from the rest of society. It was not a position I relished. Yet an inner compulsion had forced me into this position of isolation. I began writing about it in my journal. And then, quite suddenly, I saw that I had the makings of a book. I turned to the back of my journal and wrote at the head of the page: ‘Notes for a book The Outsider in Literature’…”

Remembering Outsider Colin Wilson

Following the immediate success of ‘The Outsider,’ Wilson wrote more than 150 books in a variety of genres — serial killers, alien abductions, criminology and the occult. His science fiction novels such as ‘The Spider World’ trilogy and ’The Space Vampires’ gave him a loyal cult following.

But he never achieved the same success as he did with ‘The Outsider’ and literary critics never let him forget it. Wilson often spoke of “the tremendous backlash, and the attacks on me which I found pretty hard going.”