Edition cover

  • ISBN10: 0099471477
  • ISBN13: 9780099471479
  • Paperback
  • 398 pages
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Dreaming to Some Purpose
by Colin Wilson

Reviewed by marka

Rating: 4 out of 5

  • Posted 14 years ago
  • Viewed 1596 times, 0 comments
  • Average user rating: (4/5)

An Alternative to Suicide

Colin Wilson became an overnight sensation one morning in May 1956. This in itself is unremarkable, particularly as he has rarely let a year elapse without reminding us. What remains extraordinary, half a century later, is the utterly non-commercial nature of the book that made him: a repetitious, allusory thesis on the philosophical 'Outsider.'

Now, his autobiography reveals how much he – the writer – in truth deserved it. The simply wrought sketch of a suburban childhood in pre-War Leicester is the modest, workaday background to a boy who harboured an enormous capacity for self-belief. The one hopeful trait too often sapped and discarded from the guilt of being born into the working class of the 1930s’. To his credit, young Wilson’s was so great it survived an inevitable, seemingly endless purgatory of dead end manual labouring. His one route out was to write his way out, but only after a misguided detour contemplating suicide. What saved him – according to Dreaming to Some Purpose – was a burgeoning optimism; one he found he could virtually switch on or off at will. The enigma of the mind would prove a lucrative power source he’d harness, explore and utilise for the rest of his writing career.

Post-War, he takes us through various compromising bids to conform. From working the land, to marrying Mary - his first wife - while strenuously avoiding the shackles of fatherhood. Still restless for independent thought, his first visit to France, not offering the romantically pure Leftist diversion he’d hoped, proved revelatory in a very different way. Standing upon the Avenue de Chatillon gave him what he calls his first ‘Peak Experience’: an out-of-body feeling of delight affording a perceived problem to be diminished to nothing. Perhaps inadvertently, he’d discovered the unique and half-hidden power of the brain’s right hemisphere at that moment. It was a decisive turning point. So empowered, he returned to England to became a full-time outsider; no longer as a romantic delusion, but a full-time way of life. Beginning his first novel – Ritual in the Dark – he also embarks upon The Outsider itself, inspired by his voracious appetite for Western and Middle European Philosophy and the newfound joys of research in the British Museum.

Wilson’s self-belief is fired again to its next level; first as an anarchist proclaiming from Speakers Corner; next via a second trip to France to a job for The Paris Review and the chance to immerse himself in the burgeoning nouvelle vague. When this falls through, he finds himself too penniless to live there as intended. With newfound writer friends, Bill Hopkins and Christopher Logue, they return to London intent on being published. For Wilson, the aged denizen of The British Museum’s Reading Room, novelist Angus Wilson, becomes the catalyst, offering to proof read Ritual.

The subsequent publication of The Outsider (1956) made Colin Wilson’s name but – as the book shows – swiftly disillusioned him in the fallout connected with fame; the literati snobbery, internecine bickering, speculation, and backlash, seemingly no part of his expectation. He withdrew from the media spotlight as best he could a couple of years later, to Cornwall, where he’s remained ever since.

Wilson’s story is certainly a cautionary tale for any wannabe author. In its own terms it is one of undoubted success; how branching out alone and sticking to what you believe can ultimately bear fruit. Yet, even today, after fifty years and over one-hundred-and-twenty published titles to his name, Dreaming reveals how Wilson still keeps himself, his second wife Joy, their modest Cornish cottage and bank account in the black, through continuous writing. Hardly fair on someone still so productive aged 76. The true writer is a slave to his craft. Then, if oblivion is the only alternative, that is no alternative at all.

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