Monday, January 18, 2010

Colin Wilson: an outsider in Brockley library

The always excellent Another Nickel in the Machine has an interesting piece on the the writer Colin Wilson. Wilson was feted as a genius after the publication of his book The Outsider in 1956, which popularised existentialism. Soon though the newspapers turned on him when it became known that - shock horror- he had left his wife and child and was living with his girlfriend Joy. Wilson may never have regained his reputation as the English Jean-Paul Sartre, but he has done OK as a writer, publishing continuously ever since, especially books on the paranormal.

As Another Nickel... documents part of the early myth was that he had written the book while sleeping rough on Hampstead Heath and studying in the British Library. This may have been partly true but, as Wilson has subsequently confirmed, the title was conceived in New Cross. In his book 'The angry years: the rise and fall of the angry young men' (2007) he writes: ''By September 1954, the autumn rains had driven me back indoors, and I took a room in the auspiciously named Endwell Road in New Cross, and found a job in the Lyons Corner House in Leicester Square. Joy had now become a librarian in Stanmore, and we were so far apart that I saw her only at weekends having convinced my landlady - a kindly soul named Mrs Harris - that we were married and obliged to live apart until Joy passed her librarianship exam'.

Wilson spent Christmas Day 1954 in his room 'dining on egg, bacon and tinned tomatoes... and that afternoon headed a page in my journal: "Notes for a book The Outsider in Literature", followed by the words: "To show that the outsider is evidence of a particular type of moral development that has its finest fruit in the Christian tradition"... In the local library I had discovered an excellent section on the mystics, and I had been reading Jacob Boehme and Saint John of the Cross. Within an hour I had sketched out the whole book'.

In his autobiography 'Dreaming to Some Purpose', Wilson states that the exact address was 31 Endwell Road and that 'Brockley Public Library had the best collection of the mystics in London - most of them in the reserve section in the basement'. Before the book was published he had moved back across the river, but evidently the local library had almost as much of a role as the British library in the conception of his best known work.


Rob said...

I'm sorry I missed all the Brockley/South London bit out of Colin Wilson's story! Thanks for the link and the kind words.


Scott Wood said...

Not so far from where Harry Price lived... like it.

Unknown said...

I've read Dreaming to Some Purpose.
He says that Mrs Harris, his landlady at Endwell Road, was the only nice landlady that he ever had.

Andy said...

Scott Im researching a ghost story in Deptford and was interested in your comment "not far from where Harry Price lived". I investigated and researched Borely sometime ago and would appreciate the info on where HP lived. Also does Colin Wilson still reside near Deptford and if so whats the best way to contact him as I feel he may be able to help me with my research into the paranormal in Deptford.



Transpontine said...

Andy, the details of where Harry Price lived are in an earlier post, here:

I think Colin Wilson only lived locally for a few months.

Andy said...

Scott, thanks for the information on HP, CW and the link. I would also like to thank you for the introduction of my blog. Its always encouraging to a novice blogger such as myself to carry on with research and input especially with help and inspiration of, may I say, "Well seasoned Bloggers" such as yourself. Thanks again for your kind comments