With the subtitle “Life, Loves, Letters “, this is the book that truly explores the somewhat shadowy author of the bestselling “The Day of the Triffids” among other clever and successful science fiction novels. John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Benyon Harris was an intensely private man in many ways, who ordered many of his own papers to be destroyed at his death by the great love of his life, Grace. Binns has used details unearthed very carefully from various sources to give this highly successful picture of a man who wrote so brilliantly of alternative ways of living, especially appreciating his thoughts on the way that society “downgraded” women by marriage. His letters which survive give an enchanting view of a man who loved a woman very deeply for a long time, but who he refused to compromise in an institution he distrusted.
This is a moving portrait of a thinker, writer and feminist in a time of difficult peace and challenging war. A man who struggled with school until he encountered a totally unique institution, and who chose to live for most of his adult life in a community on the physical edge of Bloomsbury, if not getting involved in the curious situations which that society implied. He is shown as an innovator in terms of literary output, quietly using alternative views to influence his readers. I was fascinated and very grateful to have the opportunity to read this excellent biography of a long term literary hero.
This book carefully reveals details of his parents; his father being a pretentious politician and lawyer who gave his sons pretentious names to seek a link with famous families. George Harris was a cheat who tried to gain every possible financial benefit from his wife’s wealthy family, and their acrimonious breakup was another off putting factor when it came to views on marriage. John remained close to his mother and brother throughout their lives. The book really came alive for me when the letters between John and Grace were printed. John wrote beautiful letters to her throughout the war years, as he tried to persuade her to stay out of a London which was being regularly bombed. He was aware of what made a good letter as he was spending his time censoring letters in a government department. He vividly described the bombing raids and described the evacuation from the club in which he lived. One person got separated from the rest , and he wrote of the man “greeting us with the enthusiasm of a shipwrecked sailor” .
The account of John’s early literary endeavours and as he moves into his world famous novels is fascinating, with some unique pieces about stories that had small or obscure publications. Influences such as the puffball mushrooms in the countryside around were a direct influence on certain books; the breakdown of society in Day of Triffids was from what he saw in the immediate aftermath of war.
This book forms a very satisfactory insight into the life and times of a great twentieth century writer. Many people like myself have devoured Wyndham’s books as the most accessible of science fiction. It was fascinating to learn about what influenced some important novels and read about the person who created them. I recommend this for all those who enjoy literary biographies.