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Nicholas Mosley Biography

Nicholas Mosley comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Lord Ravensdale in London, 1923; eldest son of Sir Oswald Mosley; became 3rd Baron Ravensdale, 1966; succeeded to the baronetcy of his father, 1980. Education: Eton College, Berkshire, 1937-42; Ballio College, Oxford, 1946-47. Military Service: Served in the Rifle Brigade, 1942-46; Captain; Military Cross, 1944. Awards: Whitbread Book of the Year award, 1990. Made a peer (Lord Ravensdale) in 1966.



Spaces of the Dark. London, Hart Davis, 1951.

The Rainbearers. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1955.

Corruption. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1957; Boston, LittleBrown, 1958.

Meeting Place. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962.

Accident. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1965; New York, CowardMcCann, 1966.

Assassins. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1966; New York, CowardMcCann, 1967; revised edition, London, Minerva, 1993.

Impossible Object. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, Coward McCann, 1969; revised edition, London, Minerva, 1993.

Natalie Natalia. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, Coward McCann, 1971.

Catastrophe Practice: Plays for Not Acting, and Cypher: A Novel(includes Skylight, Landfall, Cell). London, Secker and Warburg, 1979; Elmwood Park, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1989; revised edition, London, Minerva, 1992.

Imago Bird. London, Secker and Warburg, 1980; Elmwood Park, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1989; revised edition, London, Minerva, 1991.

Serpent. London, Secker and Warburg, 1981; Elmwood Park, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1990; revised edition, London, Minerva, 1992.

Judith. London, Secker and Warburg, 1986; Elmwood Park, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1991.

Hopeful Monsters. London, Secker and Warburg, 1990; ElmwoodPark, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1991.

Children of Darkness and Light. London, Secker & Warburg, 1996;Normal, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1997.



The Assassination of Trotsky, with Masolini d'Amico, 1972; Impossible Object, 1975.


Life Drawing, with John Napper. London, Studio, 1954.

African Switchback (travel). London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1958.

The Life of Raymond Raynes. London, Faith Press, 1961.

Experience and Religion: A Lay Essay in Theology. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1965; Philadelphia, United Church Press, 1967.

The Assassination of Trotsky. London, Joseph, 1972.

Julian Grenfell: His Life and the Times of His Death 1888-1915. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Holt Rinehart, 1976.

Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley 1896-1933. London, Secker and Warburg, 1982; with Beyond the Pale, Elmwood Park, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1991.

Beyond the Pale: Sir Oswald Mosley and Family 1933-1980. London, Secker and Warburg, 1983; with Rules of the Game, Elmwood Park, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1991.

Efforts at Truth: An Autobiography. London, Secker and Warburg, 1994; Normal, Illinois, Dalkey Archive Press, 1995.

Editor, The Faith: Instructions on the Christian Faith, by RaymondRaynes. London, Faith Press, 1961.


Critical Studies:

"Nicholas Mosley Issue" of Review of Contemporary Fiction (Elmwood Park, Illinois), vol. 2, no. 2, 1982.

My novels are attempts to see how life works: I hope to learn from them.

* * *

Since 1951 Nicholas Mosley has published thirteen novels as well as a miscellaneous assortment of other books, notably biographies, and although his fiction has not won widespread popularity or much academic recognition, he is acknowledged in the literary world to be one of the most individual and innovative English novelists of his generation. What is most striking about his oeuvre as a whole is his ability to break free from one mode of writing and to experiment with something very different in his constant quest for appropriate forms and authentic expression. This adaptability is particularly interesting when viewed in light of the political career of his somewhat notorious father, Sir Oswald Mosely, who at one time or another during the 1920s and 1930s belonged to virtually every major political party in England before forming his own British Union of Fascists.

The novels the younger Mosely wrote during the 1950s form a distinct group and can be considered as the first phase in his growth as a writer. The three published novels of this decade, Spaces of the Dark, The Rainbearers, and Corruption, are essentially realistic in mode, although they explore beneath the level of character and society to locate a metaphysical or spiritual malaise in modern Western civilization. All three novels are mainly set in the postwar world, although they look back both directly and indirectly to the war itself, and not surprisingly they reveal the influence of the dominant European philosophical movement of the 1940s and 1950s, existentialism. Spaces of the Dark (a phrase from T.S. Elliot's "Rhapsody on a Windy Night") is an ambitious attempt at a tragic novel whose protagonist, Paul Shaun, is torn apart by guilt and angst as a result of a wartime incident in which he killed a close friend and fellow officer. The past again casts its shadow on the present in The Rainbearers, and, although this novel lacks the tragic intensity of his first novel, the emphasis is on unrealized potential, lost possibilities, and failure. Corruption, in which the Venetian setting plays an important part, is structurally and stylistically more complex than Spaces of the Dark and The Rainbearers, and differs from them in being a first-person narrative. The title could be that of a medieval morality play, and the characters in this analysis of modern decadence and corruption function symbolically as well as realistically. Until its later stages, Corruption emanates a similar type of doom-laden fatalism and pessimism as the earlier novels, but then there is a crucial episode in which the oppression and bleakness lift to produce an unexpectedly open ending rather than a tragic denouement. This shift, marked by the adoption of a simpler idiom, may be inconsistent but it dramatizes Mosley's subversion of his own tragic pretensions as he discovers light at the end of the existential tunnel his fiction had been probing in the 1950s.

Five years separate Corruption from his next novel, Meeting Place, a transitional novel inaugurating the second phase of his development, ending with Natalie Natalia in 1971. Mosley now discards many of the features of his previous novels, which had been long, exhaustively analytical, densely written (Henry James and William Faulkner are important influences), and sometimes convoluted to the point of turgidity. The prose is simpler, sentences and paragraphs shorter, and the style more visually immediate, indeed cinematic. Furthermore, the narrative method is elliptical, selective, and discontinuous, and involves intercutting between the various strands of the plot with its Murdochian network of relationships. Comedy, conspicuous by its absence from the earlier novels, plays an important part in Meeting Place, which also features a broader range of characters than its predecessors and is remarkable for its positive conclusion, embodying Mosley's new commitment to the possibilities of renewal, growth, and creativity. With Meeting Place Mosley liberated himself from his preoccupations of the 1950s and therefore prepared the way for his first major achievement, Accident, subsequently turned into a distinguished film by Joseph Losey using a screenplay by Harold Pinter. The story in Accident is very simple: a version of the eternal triangle narrated by an Oxford philosophy don, Stephen Jervis, who knows the three people involved. Mosley's way of telling the story, however, is highly original because the unorthodox style enacts both the indeterminacy of reality and the inevitable tentativeness of human attempts to apprehend it. By using verbal fragments and staccato rhythms, Mosley captures the disjointed, ambiguous, even contradictory nature of experience in a way that may owe something to the French nouveau roman and its underlying phenomenology. Yet although Accident begins with a death and incorporates disintegration and severed relationships, it is not pessimistic; the end, with the birth of a baby to the narrator's wife, looks forward, not back, and emphasizes continuity, not finality.

In Assassins Mosley applies the methods of Accident to the world of public affairs and politics by narrating the attempted assassination of an Eastern bloc leader in England. The subject matter is that of the political thriller, but Mosley completely transforms and revitalizes that genre without, however, achieving such subtlety and profundity as he did in Accident. The most difficult of the novels belonging to his second phase is Impossible Object, which at first sight seems to be a collection of short stories about love and marriage but proves to be a complex study in multiple viewpoint. By means of certain repetitions and patterns, Mosley provides his readers with a key to decode his collage of narratives and reassemble the fragments, but the reflexivity of the novel, as in Accident, draws attention to the impossibility of ever being able to fix or represent something as fluid and relativistic as reality. Natalie Natalia, one of Mosley's finest achievements, is less consciously experimental and more accessible than Impossible Object, but again displays his willingness to take risks with both language and narrative technique. The story line about a politician, Anthony Greville, and involving love, adultery, shame, and breakdown is unexceptional, but Mosley's way of treating familiar material is, as usual, startlingly different, and illuminates it in unexpected, mind-opening ways. The title, providing two names for the same woman, Greville's mistress, epitomizes Mosley's preoccupation with the enigmatic inconsistencies of life, because she is a living contradiction, both ravenous Natalie and angelic Natalia.

After Natalie Natalia Mosley published no fiction for eight years, and then in 1979 he launched by far his most ambitious project with Catastrophe Practice, initially intended to be the first of a group of seven novels, although he subsequently reduced the number to five. Catastrophe Practice, a compilation of three "plays not for acting" (with prefaces and a concluding essay) and a novella-length piece of fiction, is much more abstract than any of his other work. Catastrophe Theory is a mathematical attempt to account for discontinuities in the natural world: Catastrophe Practice is Mosley's attempt to create a literary form capable of encompassing and articulating the discontinuities of human experience. Superficially, the book is fragmented and dislocated, but by means of a complicated arrangement of correspondences and cross-references, including the appearance of the six principal characters in various guises in different sections, Mosley creates a form of unity out of apparent disunity and chaos. Running through Catastrophe Practice is a strain of polemic about the need to free consciousness, language, and art from the confines of convention, and also to rescue modern art from its devotion to versions of negativity—failure, disillusionment, pessimism, despair.

Mosley conceived the subsequent novels in the sequence to be self-contained yet interrelated books, each concentrating on one or two of the main figures in Catastrophe Practice itself. After the complexities of the very demanding Catastrophe Practice, Imago Bird is an immediately engaging and relatively straightforward novel, which presents a wide spectrum of contemporary life through the innocent eyes of its 18-year-old narrator, Bert. In trying to come to terms with the randomness of experience and to reconcile inner and outer reality, Bert apprehends the essential theatricality of adult life—how human beings allocate stereotyped parts to themselves and then proceed to act these out in a fictional illusion they mistake for reality. While believing themselves to be free, people, whether establishment politicians, media personalities, or dedicated revolutionaries, have imprisoned themselves in linguistic and behavioral conventions. Imago Bird, like its predecessor, is about the need to break out of the cage of false consciousness. Serpent is more intricate and less satisfactory than Imago Bird. Mosley interweaves a screenplay about the Jewish revolt against the Romans at Masada with contemporary events involving its writer, Jason, and a crisis in Israel. Parallels emerge between past and present, especially concerning the polarities of devotion and reason and of the individual and society. After Serpent Mosley temporarily shelved work on his large-scale project in order to write two books about his father, who had recently died, leaving all his papers to his son.

Five years after publishing Serpent, Mosley returned to his Catastrophe Practice series with Judith, and four years later completed the quintet of novels with the large-scale Hopeful Monsters, which deservedly won the Whitbread award, one of Britain's most prestigious literary prizes. Judith is cast in the form of three letters from Judith herself to other main characters in the sequence, each letter describing a separate episode in her life. At the narrative level there is a radical discontinuity between these episodes, but at a metaphorical level the narrative leaps can be interpreted as a progression towards a new conception of unity. Judith's training as an actress makes her particularly sensitive to the constantly shifting levels of stage or in life. Brecht's influence on Mosley's novel sequence is evident in Judith's awareness of the way in which people often speak as though in quotation marks. Judith is very much a novel about the enigma of human consciousness, including the consciousness of consciousness. The complex biblical symbolism, especially recurring references to the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge, and the story of Judith and Holofernes, develops motifs present in the earlier novels and points forward to Hopeful Monsters.

In this concluding novel Mosley ambitiously attempts to pursue the main themes of the sequence in relation to the political history of the twentieth century as well as to the history of science, especially the consequences of Einstein's theories. Major issues in the philosophy of language and the philosophy of science are interwoven with important historical events, as experienced by the two principal characters, Eleanor Anders and Max Ackerman, between whom the narrative alternates until the concluding section by a "correlator" (who turns out to be Jason). Eleanor's interest in anthropology and psychiatry and Max's in biology, theoretical physics, and cybernetics mean that crucial intellectual problems about the nature of matter, reality, subjectivity, and objectivity provide a way of interpreting the ideological and existential traumas of Europe, particularly between the two world wars. Mosley introduces such philosophers as Husserl, Heidegger, and Wittegenstein into the narrative as much as he introduces political figures like Rosa Luxemburg, Hitler, and Franco. Max's involvement in the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons during World War II foregrounds the impossibility of an ivory-tower approach to scientific research, remote from ethical questions and political manipulation. As the culmination of the Catastrophe Practice sequence, Hopeful Monsters suggests an unorthodox way of coming to terms with the human condition in the twentieth century, facing up to the worst (the Spanish Civil War, Stalin's purges, the Nazi Holocaust) while not abandoning hope in human potentialities—a theme that, given his family history, must no doubt have special meaning for Mosley. Despite its length, Hopeful Monsters is one of Mosley's most accessible novels, possessing an urgent narrative drive that makes the high intellectual content palatable rather than indigestible. It is a novel of ideas in the best sense of the term. Many of the themes from the earlier book reappear in Children of Darkness and Light, though this time the focus is primarily spiritual rather than intellectual. Harry, an alcoholic journalist who once reported on alleged visitations by the Virgin Mary in the wartorn Balkans, now hears of similar appearances in Cumbria. Though these manifestations may be linked with nuclear pollution, there is also a possibility that the children who see the visions have, through mutation, become beings on a higher plane.

Peter Lewis

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