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The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives by…
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The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives

by Sebastian Faulks

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Fascinating book about three men who in their different ways seem to court death. Slightly too much detail for me, but brilliantly researched. I was especially struck by the destructive character of the sexuality of each, which I think is at the heart of Faulks' link between the three. In each the flaw of sexual energy tears at the integrity of the character, though alcohol and drugs come a close second. I found the portrait of public school and Oxbridge difficult to stomach and hope that I am not naive to think - and rejoice - that the world has changed to some degree. ( )
  AdrianChatfield | Aug 2, 2011 |
The book consists of short biographies of three British men who lived short, intense lives - Christopher Wood, artist; Richard Hillary, RAF pilot and writer; and Jeremy Wolfenden, journalist. ( )
  mari_reads | Aug 2, 2008 |
The Fatal Englishman is an unusual kind of biography. It traces the lives of three Englishmen - Christopher Wood, Richard Hillary and Jeremy Wolfenden - who shared no connection with one another other than their talent, their ambition, their arrogance, and their early and tragic deaths. Christopher 'Kit' Wood was a painter who moved in some up of the upper echelons of English and French bohemian society in the 1920s; Richard Hillary a fighter pilot in the RAF in the Battle of Britain, who wrote a book chronicling his short life and the horrific injuries which he received when his plane crashed; Jeremy Wolfenden was an outstandingly intelligent journalist, spy and alcoholic in the 1950s and 60s.

Most people will never have heard of these three men before they read this book; I certainly hadn't. Their lives were brief, and their legacies not to the forefront of contemporary culture. Wood was a minor artist; Hillary left only one slim volume of memoirs; Wolfenden's work as a journalist was ephemeral and is now mostly lost. However, Faulks uses their lives as a subtle way of exploring the evolution of English society over the course of the twentieth century, from the birth of Wood in 1901 to the death of Wolfenden in 1965. Wood is an example of the attitudes of the English towards the continent, towards art and culture after the tragedy of the Great War; Hillary, the attitudes and the tragedies experienced and felt by the British during the Battle of Britain; Wolfenden, the intricacies and double-play of the Cold War, and the perilous position held by gay men before the legalisation of homosexuality.

The writing throughout is excellent; and for the most part, Faulks resists the temptation of novelist-turned-biographer to embellish his work with fictional flourishes. The research is impeccable, and his knowledge of the periods in question is always displayed without showiness. For the most part, I agreed with his conclusions on the characters of those he was writing about, and about the periods in question (though I did have one or two little 'huh?' moments when he stated things like the fact that Kit Wood's mother didn't have to worry about him converting to Catholicism because he was attracted by the aesthetic, not the spiritual side; when really, that has seemed to me to be one of the primary motivations for Anglo-Catholic conversions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. but that's another discussion entirely, I suppose). An excellent book, that fascinates and saddens with thoughts of what-might-have-been in equal measure. ( )
3 vote siriaeve | Apr 26, 2008 |
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With love to William and Holly
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One day in the spring of 1921 a beautiful young Englisman set off for Paris to become the greatest painter the world had ever seen.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375727442, Paperback)

In The Fatal Englishman, his first work of nonfiction, Sebastian Faulks explores the lives of three remarkable men. Each had the seeds of greatness; each was a beacon to his generation and left something of value behind; yet each one died tragically young.
Christopher Wood, only twenty-nine when he killed himself, was a painter who lived most of his short life in the beau monde of 1920s Paris, where his charm, good looks, and the dissolute life that followed them sometimes frustrated his ambition and achievement as an artist.
Richard Hillary was a WWII fighter pilot who wrote a classic account of his
experiences, The Last Enemy, but died in a mysterious training accident while defying doctor’s orders to stay grounded after horrific burn injuries; he was twenty-three.
Jeremy Wolfenden, hailed by his contemporaries as the brightest Englishman of
his generation, rejected the call of academia to become a hack journalist in Cold War Moscow. A spy, alcoholic, and open homosexual at a time when such activity was still illegal, he died at the age of thirty-one, a victim of his own recklessness and of the peculiar pressures of his time.
Through the lives of these doomed young men, Faulks paints an oblique
portrait of English society as it changed in the twentieth century, from the Victorian era to the modern world.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:44 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"In his first work of nonfiction, Sebastian Faulks explores the lives of three remarkable men. Each had the seeds of greatness; each was a beacon to his generation and left something of value behind; yet each one died tragically young. Through their stories, Faulks paints an oblique portrait of English society as it changed, from the Victorian era to the modern world. Christopher Wood, only twenty-nine when he killed himself, was a painter who lived most of his short life in the beau monde of 1920s Paris, where his charm, good looks, and the dissolute life that followed them sometimes frustrated his ambition and achievement as an artist. Richard Hillary was a gallant WWII fighter pilot who wrote a classic account of his experiences, The Last Enemy, but died in a mysterious training accident while defying doctor's orders to stay grounded after horrific burn injuries; he was twenty-three. Jeremy Wolfenden, hailed as the brightest Englishman of his generation, rejected academia to become a hack journalist in Cold War Moscow. A spy, alcoholic, and open homosexual, he died at the age of thirty-one, a victim of his own recklessness and of the peculiar pressures of his time."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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