Colin Wilson

The writer Colin Wilson has died at the age of 82.

As a young man (24) he wrote ‘The Outsider’, a book that was hailed by the literary and critical world as a work of genius. The book was remarkable in many ways, above all for the wide grasp such a young man had of the ideas that had been advanced by a huge range of writers and philosophers.

Colin Wilson drinking wine in a cup with girlfriend Joy
Colin Wilson with girlfriend Joy.
Image from ‘Another Nickel in the Machine’.

There was a subsequent reaction as those who had praised his work so extravagantly decided they had gone too far. Inevitably they covered their own embarrassment by reassessing him much less favourably.

One of the books he wrote was titled ‘Sex and the Intelligent Teenager’. There may never have been a more misleading title in the history of publishing. The book was in many ways a pared down version of his earlier work, ‘Origins of the Sexual Impulse’, in which he examines some of the philosophical and mystic ideas that permeate his work. Of course the book is interesting, but it is not in any way an introduction to sex that would feel relevant to the average teenager, no matter how intelligent.

He also wrote a book about classical music, ‘Brandy of the Damned’. In it, he analyses at length the merits of the great composers and their work with a confidence that I found extraordinary. How, I repeatedly wondered, could he discern so much where in all too many cases all I could hear was music that meandered on for rather a long time. I also agonised over the title. ‘Brandy of the damned’. What did it mean? I never could decide.

I am in no position to assess the merit of Colin’s work, but he did hold me in thrall for a few years, as he did many others. And if one of his lasting achievements was to expose the fallibility of the critical establishment, that was something worth doing, even if not what he intended.

Rest in peace, Colin. Your work undoubtedly enriched the lives of many readers.

There’s a long and interesting piece about Colin here.


2 thoughts on “Colin Wilson

  1. Your last sentence I find very interesting indeed; he certainly succeeded there! Nice choice of not too obvious CW books, too – Sex & the Intelligent Teenager, Brandy of the Damned, great stuff. The title of the latter is a quote from Wilson’s idol GBS – “Hell is full of musical amateurs: music is the brandy of the damned. May not one lost soul be permitted to abstain?”
    RIP CW.

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