Brian Martin

A.N. Wilson has many regrets

In a lively, frank memoir, Confessions, covering the first half of his life, Wilson expresses shame for his youthful ambition and infidelities

A.N. Wilson. [Alamy]

‘Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults.’ A.N. Wilson seems, on the surface, to have taken to heart the wise words of the Anglican general confession.

Aged 71, he looks back on his life and career and records his regrets and failures both private and professional. His major concern is the failure of his marriage, at the age of 20, to Katherine Duncan-Jones, the Renaissance scholar. Katherine, ten years his senior, was a distinctive Oxford figure, recognisable by her sideways limp and for riding a wicker-basketed sit-up-and-beg bicycle. In later years they reconciled and met weekly for lunch. Wilson records Katherine’s sad, slow descent into dementia, which mimics that of one of his chief mentors, Iris Murdoch. Wretched to watch the destruction of great minds.

Most important of his regrets about his professional life are his indiscretion after lunch with the Queen Mother and his mischievous alteration of a book review by Bel Mooney for this magazine. The first made Katherine, among many others, very angry; the second earned him the sack as literary editor.

He now says that he cannot believe that the ‘young fogey’ of the 1970s and 1980s, dapper, elegantly suited, was him. He describes himself as thrustingly ambitious, full of himself and unfaithful not only to his wife but to his own better nature.

He was an ardent self-promoter. He cites the example of David Jenkins, Bishop of Durham, who, ‘showed addiction for cheap publicity’. Wilson reportedly said in the 1970s that he would be prepared to hang naked upside down from a hot-air balloon if it brought publicity. Naturally this eagerness to capture the public eye brought him enemies. He repelled them, and has done so since. He has been described as reptilian, with a venomous bite; his critical dismissals have been cruel.

Yet he became a prolific novelist, historian and biographer.

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