A.N. Wilson

A.N. Wilson is an author and former literary editor of The Spectator.

The English were never an overtly religious lot

Generalisations about national characteristics are open to question. Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression one gets from reading the major works of English literature, or from studying the famous English men and women of politics, the military or the academic world, is that the English have not been an especially religious lot. Or, if you think that

The greatness of C.S. Lewis

He died on the very day that President Kennedy was assassinated, Friday 22 November 1963, so it is not surprising that the event was overshadowed at the time. With the passage of 60 years, C.S. Lewis’s reputation is undiminished and the sheer range of his achievements as a writer and teacher appears ever more prodigious.

The mad, bad and dangerous theories of Thomas Henry Huxley

Racism lies at the heart of the Victorian rewrite of the creation myth. What happened in prehistory, according to Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin’s representative on Earth, was that while Homo sapiens emerged from its primitive state among the other apes and lemurs, some – Europeans – developed at a faster rate. Humankind had evolved from

That’s no lady

Did I enjoy this novel? Yes! Nevertheless, it dismayed me. How could John Banville, whom I’ve admired so much ever since he published his first short stories, whose great novel The Sea deservedly won the Booker and whose thrillers, written under the pseudonym Benjamin Black, so hauntingly evoke 1950s Dublin, have wasted however long it

Queen Elizabeth II: 1926-2022

33 min listen

On this week’s podcast: We reflect on the life and the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. For The Spectator, A.N. Wilson writes that Queen Elizabeth was a constant in a country that has changed so much, and he is joined on the Edition podcast by Graham Viney author of Last Hurrah: The 1947 Tour of Southern Africa and

The Queen’s strength was that she did not change

Her task – did she ever quite realise it? – was to preside over a country in decline; and not merely to preside over it, but to be the nation’s anaesthetic, creating the illusion that the nightmare was not happening. When she was born, at 17 Bruton Street, by Caesarean section, on 21 April 1926,

Arnold Bennett’s success made him loathed by other writers

Virginia Woolf admitted to her journal: ‘I haven’t that reality gift.’ Her contemporary Arnold Bennett had it in spades. He was a great novelist, as anyone who has read Riceyman’s Steps or the Clayhanger trilogy would attest. Being also the contemporary of Henry James, Joseph Conrad and D.H. Lawrence – you might say this was

Paradise and paradox: an inner pilgrimage into John Milton

When E. Nesbit published Wet Magic in 1913 (a charming novel in which the children encounter a mermaid), she took it for granted that her young readers would immediately pick up the references to ‘Sabrina Fair’ from Milton’s Comus. Phrases from Milton were part of the language — ‘Tomorrow to fresh woods’; ‘Better to reign

Did Britain commit a war crime in Dresden? A conversation

  In February 1945, the Allies, led by Sir Arthur Harris and Bomber Command, destroyed the historic city of Dresden, killing 25,000, most of them civilians. For the 75th anniversary, Sinclair McKay, author of a recent book on the bombing raid, and A.N. Wilson discuss whether it should be regarded as a ‘war crime’.  

Conning the dons

In 2010, Adam Sisman published a masterly biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was not merely one of the best historians of his generation but also a former intelligence officer, fascinated by tricks, lies and fraud. He himself wrote a mischievous series of anonymous articles for The Spectator, purporting to emanate from the 17th-century pen of

Uncle Tom Wedgwood and all

Readers of Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage will remember that its author set out to write a life of D.H. Lawrence and somehow it never got written. In the course of the story, however, we travel to many of the scenes where Lawrence lived and wrote, and a hilarious  journey it is. Emma Darwin,

Poet, novelist and arms-dealer

When H.H. Asquith, as prime minister, visited Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, during the first world war, he found a vast noisy factory churning out the most sophisticated means of destroying human life. The firm, Armstrong Whitworth, would, during that war, supply Britain with 12 armoured ships, 11 cruisers, 11 submarines, eight sloops, two floating power

Rich man, poor man, friar, saint

This passionate series of engagements with the life of St Francis will stay in my mind for a very long time — I hope forever. Ann Wroe describes it as ‘A Life in Songs’, and it does, indeed, rehearse the familiar story of the rich young merchant’s son dispossessing himself, and giving his life to

Prejudice and Popery

Once won, rights and freedoms are taken for granted. We all find it difficult to imagine life before the Married Women’s Property Act, when everything belonging to a wife — goods, chattels, children — automatically became the sole property of her husband. Those born since the 1960s can’t really envisage what it was like for

Enoch Powell’s problem was vanity – not racism

The anniversary of the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech by Enoch Powell reminded me of my stint as literary editor of this mag. If you are responsible for finding book reviews each week, you come to cherish the regulars, such as Enoch, who are prepared to review anything. His besetting sin was not racism so much

Diary – 26 April 2018

Dining in splendour beneath Van Dycks as we forked in the delicious venison, it was hard not to agree with my neighbour that we were in illustrious company and in one of the most beautiful rooms in England. Our hosts had, however, as we agreed, been bold in the choice of multinational guests, many of

Trials and Trinitarians

John Calvin believed that human nature was a ‘permanent factory of idols’; the mind conceived them, and the hand gave them birth. Isaac Newton acquired a copy of Calvin’s Institutes when he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661 as a teenager. By the time he was a mature man, however, Newton’s determined effort