Stuart Holroyd was one of the earliest Angry Young Men and without him there would have been no Angry Young Men at all. The Angries were created by the media as a result of a happy accident, the appearance of two remarkable works within a few weeks of one another. John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger had its first performance at the Royal Court Theatre on the 8th of May 1956 and Colin Wilson’s book The Outsider was published a few weeks later on the 28th. The writers of these very different works were both in their mid-twenties. Journalists linked them, without paying too much attention to what either was trying to say, and saw them as the spearhead of a new literary movement. However, if it hadn’t been for Stuart Holroyd, Colin Wilson would not have written The Outsider when he did.
Holroyd moved to London from Blackpool in September 1952 at the age of 19 with the intention of becoming a playwright. He wrote several plays while supporting himself by doing various menial jobs and also by writing for a number of journals, including The Poetry Review. In February 1954, he married his childhood sweetheart, Anne Freeman, and around the same time found a more rewarding job working as Hugh Schonfield’s part-time secretary. Later that year, Holroyd met and became friendly with Colin Wilson whom he described as having a dynamic personality and a Shavian gift for conversation.
From an early age, Wilson had wanted to be a novelist and, since the age of eighteen, he had been writing and rewriting a massive novel based on the murders committed by Jack the Ripper. This would eventually become Ritual in the Dark. He often wrote in the Reading Room of the British Museum where he met and befriended the novelist Angus Wilson who worked there as a Deputy Superintendent. Towards the end of 1954, Wilson heard rumours that Angus was planning to leave the Museum so that he could devote all his time to writing. Angus had offered to read Wilson's novel and Wilson wanted to give him a typewritten version of the first part before he left. Unfortunately, Wilson did not own or have access to a typewriter. He needed to earn some money to buy one. Over the Christmas period, he worked at the Post Office in St Martin’s le Grand sorting the Christmas mail and by doing overtime he was able to earn enough money to buy a second-hand typewriter. He immediately settled down to typing up the handwritten version of the first part of his novel. This took longer than expected as he ran out of money and so had to get another job. Early in 1955, he found work in a laundry in Deptford, but this did not last long. The work was physically very demanding, but the last straw came when his journal was stolen. This journal contained entries made during the whole of the previous year. Fortunately, he found a much more convivial job as a washer-up in a coffee house in the Haymarket. As he started work at 5.30 in the afternoon, he was able to type up his novel during the day. He gave the typewritten version of the first part of his novel to Angus on the day Angus left the Museum. That was the 31st of March 1955. Wilson, then, felt at a loose end. He didn’t know what to do. He did not want to continue writing the novel until he found out what Angus thought of it.
Meanwhile, Holroyd’s great-aunt Annie had died on the 3rd of December 1954. The family gathered at her home after the funeral and started bickering about who should inherit her various possessions. Holroyd wrote a humorous account of what happened and this was well received by his friends. Schonfield suggested to Holroyd that he should turn his story into a novel, but he wasn’t keen on doing that. He was more receptive to another of Schonfield’s suggestions. Holroyd had written two articles for The Poetry Review on Eliot and Rilke; Schonfield suggested to him that he should expand these into a book. Holroyd took his empoyer’s advice and, around February 1955, started working on what would become Emergence from Chaos. When he had written the opening chapters of this critical book, he showed them to Wilson. Wilson decided to write a critical book himself. Although friendly with Holroyd and the novelist Bill Hopkins, Wilson also saw them as competitors. He believed he could write a better novel than Hopkins and a better critical work than Holroyd. Not long after seeing the opening chapters of Holroyd’s book, Wilson wrote, at the back of his journal, an outline for a book he provisionally called The Outsider in Literature. He started writing it soon afterwards. He wrote quickly and submitted the completed manuscript to Victor Gollanz in the autumn of 1955. Holroyd, however, wrote more slowly than Wilson. Whereas Wilson had been thinking about Outsiders for many years and had made voluminous notes about them in his journals, Holroyd had to intersperse writing with doing additional research on his various themes. This meant that Emergence from Chaos wasn’t finished until November 1956 and was only published in May 1957.
Sources and references
The above account of how Colin Wilson came to write The Outsider is based on what he says in the autobiographical introduction to Religion and the Rebel (1957), pp. 37–38, and on Holroyd's recollections of the period. In various later writings, Wilson states that he outlined The Outsider on Christmas Day 1954 and started writing it a few days later. To the best of my knowledge, he first explicitly says this in the American edition of his autobiography Voyage to a Beginning (1969), pp. 197–198. The account found in the English edition (pp. 114–116) is similar to what he says in Religion and the Rebel. In the English edition, he states that he planned The Outsider around the time he started working at the coffee house in the Haymarket in early 1955 (p. 114).
- Stuart Holroyd, "The Poet, the Saint and the Modern World: Part I", The Poetry Review, vol. XLVI.3 (July–September 1955), pp. 149–153. In the first of his two articles comparing Rilke ("the poet") and Eliot ("the saint"), Holroyd focuses on Rilke's Duino Elegies.
- Stuart Holroyd, "The Poet, the Saint and the Modern World: Part II", The Poetry Review, vol. XLVI.4 (October–December 1955), pp. 223–227. In the second of his two articles comparing Rilke and Eliot, Holroyd focuses on Eliot's Four Quartets.
- Stuart Holroyd, Emergence from Chaos, London, Victor Gollancz, 1957.
- Colin Wilson, The Outsider, London, Victor Gollancz, 1956.
- Colin Wilson, Religion and the Rebel, London, Victor Gollancz, 1957.
- Colin Wilson, Ritual in the Dark, London, Victor Gollancz, 1960.
- Colin Wilson, Voyage to a Beginning: A Preliminary Autobiography, London, Cecil and Amelia Woolf, 1969.
- Colin Wilson, Voyage to a Beginning: An Intellectual Autobiography, New York, Crown Publishers, 1969.
I’ve published an article about Stuart Holroyd as well as a short monograph. Elsewhere on this website I have made available a bibliography of Holroyd's writings. I’m continuing to research his life as I plan to write a lengthy account of his early life. I am, therefore, keen to hear from anyone who thinks they have any relevant information. Please email me at antoni.dillerREMOVE@cantabREMOVE.net with anything that you think I might find interesting. I am especially keen to hear from anyone who knew him in the 1950s.
- Antoni Diller, "Holroyd in London", in Paul Newman (ed.), Abraxas Unbound: Colin Wilson, Literature, Philosophy, Ideas, Poetry & Fiction, vol. 1, [St Austell, Abraxas, 2007, ISSN 1753-7657], pages 23–32; the first three paragraphs of this paper are available on this website as is a summary.
- Antoni Diller, Stuart Holroyd: Years of Anger and Beyond, [Nottingham, Paupers' Press, 2011, ISBN 9780946650149], this book can be bought from Paupers' Press or Amazon (UK). Carole Cusack has written a review of my monograph in Literature & Aesthetics, vol. 29.1 (2019), pp. 165–166.
- Antoni Diller, "Stuart Holroyd", Literary Encyclopedia, ISSN 1747–678X, first published 30 April 2014. If you or your institution have subscribed to the Literary Encyclopedia, you can read this article online; it's not available in any other format.
- Antoni Diller, "Stuart Holroyd: Contraries", Literary Encyclopedia, ISSN 1747–678X, first published 9 December 2014. If you or your institution have subscribed to the Literary Encyclopedia, you can read this article online; it's not available in any other format.
© Antoni Diller (updated 31 May 2021)