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Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (New York Review Books Classics)

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  496 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Gerald Middleton is a sixty-year-old self-proclaimed failure. Worse than that, he’s "a failure with a conscience." As a young man, he was involved in an archaeological dig that turned up an obscene idol in the coffin of a seventh-century bishop and scandalized a generation. The discovery was in fact the most outrageous archaeological hoax of the century, and Gerald has lon ...more
Kindle Edition, 350 pages
Published November 26th 2013 by NYRB Classics (first published 1956)
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Emma (Beware spoiler) I think it's at least partly about truth and the distortion of truth and history. The basis of the story is the big lie about the…more(Beware spoiler) I think it's at least partly about truth and the distortion of truth and history. The basis of the story is the big lie about the pagan figure found in a Christian tomb. Then, in individual people's histories, various versions of the past can be found (eg the experiences of Gerald's family as they were growing up) and it's hard to know which is the right version - or whether there is a "right" one, rather than just a difference in attitude. There is another big cover-up revealed at the end when we learn how Kay's arm was actually injured by her mother.(less)
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3.69  · 
Rating details
 ·  496 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Mar 25, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: buskers
Shelves: own, nyrb, fiction

Anthony Burgess blurbed that this was one of the five greatest novels of the [20th] century! I didn't see it, myself.

I had no idea what the book was about when I bought it. I was sucked in by that NYRB cover and John Tenniel's delightful Through the Looking Glass illustration. Once inside, I was pleased to find that the story took place within academia's sordid walls and involved an archeological excavation - a priapic wooden fertility idol is found in the tomb of a 7th century Christian bishop,
3.5 stars
"Part of the importance of Angus Wilson's work, then and now, was that he was the first respectable English novelist to bring the connections between the public bourgeois world of art, family, government, and property and the clandestine homosexual world of desire and danger together in a Great Tradition novel -- showing by his tone and style they were all one world and thereby conferring respectability on what had previously been risqué." (From the introduction by Jane Smiley)
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
The star of the show is estranged wife Inge. She's a Northern European dream ... if she didn't invent the Moomins, then it must have been someone very like her. I love that she's happy to be nice to her son's thieving labourer, but is all hysterical when anyone suggests that it isn't just "Radio Times" and cups of cocoa when they climb into bed together. I love her social democracy and her snobbishness. I love how infuriating and exasperating she is. I really love her little deals with God.

Daniel Polansky
A portrait of an aging academic and his wide if unloved circle of family and colleagues, with an engaging through line regarding the destructive effects of falsity. Three weeks in England was enough for my Anglophilia to rub thin, but reading this on the flight back to LA was nearly enough to make me buy a return ticket to Essex. Haha—I’m kidding, the sun never comes out and they’re all weird looking. Anyway, this was clever and enjoyable, I liked it more than I’d figured.
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, comedy, fiction
The hype is that this book is one of the 20th C classic British comedies, which only increased my overall disappointment as I plowed through page by page of not funny acid. I don't know if other readers have this experience but this is a book where I constantly looked at the page numbers and did the mental arithmetic to calculate what fraction of completion I had reached and how much trudging remained (on the plus side I did spend more time practicing my fractions).

The story of itself of a hist
Roderick Hart
Oct 18, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It is clear that the author had big ambitions for this book. One sign is the cast list at the beginning. There are numerous references to the excavation at Melpham, and the lengthy appendix on this subject must mean it is very important. Right? So it's strange to find it isn't. The pagan artefact found in the Christian tomb had either been placed there at the time or later. It turns out to have been later, as the joke of an embittered individual. But really, all this creaking apparatus is of no ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the second of Angus Wilson's books I've read, allowing me to engage in generalizations. 1950s England, a father of adult children is having a late mid-life crisis - there is also a significant gay theme, of which Wilson was noted as an unusually frank explorer for the time. This book is also a good early example of the campus novel, following Lucky Jim by only two years.
I thought when I started that this book was going to be satire, and particularly vicious satire at that. And then at some point, without my really even realizing it, there was a core of humanity that sprang up and surprised me. It made the characters more symapthetic, except the most truly awful ones (Yves, Alice Cresset), and these latter it made horrible rather than funny.

All in all, the book was a pleasant surprise. I may try some of his others.
Shawn Thrasher
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I dug this book to the earth's core and back. Wilson had baked a layer cake, with layer after layer after layer troweled on to create a magnificently dense, thick, darkly bitter tragicomedy. The plot is a hypnotic spiral, turning round and round. Or maybe a drill, turning round and round, boring right into the pleasure centers of your brain. The characters are all terrible, horrible, hateful people; maybe even occasionally melodramatically so - but so, so fascinating. Would I want to live in thi ...more
Nick Duretta
Not really my cup of tea. This overblown tale of an aging scholar coming to terms with some harsh realities (realizing that his children, ex-wives and many friends are rather insufferable) and a minor scandal (an archeological relic he discovered as a youth turns out to have been a hoax) comes across like soap opera among the intellectual set. It's notable that Wilson was an openly gay author in the 1950s, but most of the wit and cleverness here was difficult for me to perceive.
Apr 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wilson, Angus. ANGLO-SAXON ATTITUDES. (1956). *****.
This is a marvelous novel, which, in spite of my high rating, will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. The story is set, primarily, in England, between the two wars – although the focus of the story occurred during an archeological dig in the years 1912-1914 by Professor Stokesay, Regius Professor of English History, and an authority on the 7th century. It was during his discovery and excavation of what was found to be the tomb of Bishop Eo
This was such an immense fun! It took me some time to warm up to the story, because there seemed to be a tad too many characters and I couldn't tell where it was going... But then! I don't remember when I started to like it, but it might have had something to do with the appearance of Vin and his set. I liked them a lot, the lowlifes! Especially Frank.
Inge was also fun to read about, but she was scary, even more than the horrible Alice or what was his name, Ives? Now that dude was evil! But fun.

I struggled like a novice hanging wallpaper to understand the author’s reason for writing this novel, which strangely entirely failed to awaken and enthuse my interest.

I must have restarted it at least five times; every time thinking that if I could JUST maintain my concentration & get into the plot & sub-plots, then I’d be bound to enjoy it. I am instead forced to be honest, admit failure, and face up to the fact that I have no shortage of other books queued up, and which I’d prefer to
Dec 10, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Dickensian list of characters and coincidences set in 1950s London. Hilarious caricatures contrast with all-too-fresh memories of wars and concentration camps giving a mysterious air to a generation that probably didn't see their circumstances as all that unusual.
Thom Dunn
Much better read if one is British or has a higher education in early English.
Sep 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The universe in this book is astounding. It is unfathomable that someone could write this.
Jan 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
lugesin seda raamatut, sest see on eluaeg mu ema riiulis olnud (eesti keeles välja antud 1970), aga pärast seda, kui ma varateismelisena kindlaks tegin, et mitte SELLES mõttes poosid, kaotasin ta vastu huvi, kuni nüüd hakkas hoopis see anglosaksi osa pealkirjast intrigeeriv tunduma.

no ta on väga anglosaksi küll ja ma ei kujuta hästi ette, palju seistmekümnendate nõukogude eesti lugeja sellest kõigest aru sai ja suhestuda suutis. aga mulle siin ja nüüd tundusid need vanaaegsed (tegevus toimub 191
Frank McAdam
Aug 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-fiction
I originally read this book many years ago for a course in Modern British Fiction, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time around as I did then. This is, very simply, one of the best British novels of the twentieth century. Angus Wilson had an incredible gift for characterization as well as a wickedly sly sense of humor. There's a scene toward the end of the book set at a black tie cocktail party that's uproariously funny. Behind the humor, though, is a great deal of pathos as Wilson sketc ...more
Becky Ankeny
Anglo-Saxon Attitudes fits into the comedy of manners sub-genre, focusing on an upper-middle-class English family. If I were to identify a theme, it is the absence of authenticity in most or all of the main characters, and thus their inability to connect intimately with anyone else. I didn't like any of the characters very well, but I didn't even dislike them very well, either, so when their comfortable self-indulgences backfired, I didn't actually care. The novel has to do with being honest abo ...more
Ashley Lambert-Maberly
An awfully good book, held back to 4 stars because I wasn't emotionally engaged (when compared to the somewhat similar John Irving, Charles Dickens, or Robertson Davies--it's that kind of book). A very large cast (dauntingly large at first, but eventually you work out that everyone knows everyone else, and what those relationships are, and the book narrows its focus to a particular person/family and you realise who are the leads and who are the supports).

Not as funny as I was expecting--really,
Sep 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Angus Wilson is brave. He also wrote this hilariously cynical book involving a wealthy family and its many branches and connections, all of them involved in lies.
Apr 25, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The story covers a year in the life of Gerald Middleton, his family, and some others who were peripherally-involved in an archaeological dig forty years previously.

The dig was led by Gerald's mentor, well-respected historian Lionel Stokesay, and revealed a controversial pagan idol in the tomb of one of the first Christian missionaries in England. Gerald has had reason to believe that Lionel's son Gilbert had something dishonest to do with the idol's ending up in the tomb, but has been too afraid
Justin Evans
Dec 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I suspect this one will gain on a second reading--it's hard for me, a late twentieth century, transplanted Australian, to really get the class issues that Wilson is, I'm pretty sure, out to examine. It's funny in places, in a very English/ironic way, and the characters are fantastic. There's not really any story, which I don't mind. And yet somehow it didn't grab me. Partly, I suspect, this is because of the ludicrously long chapters (this goes double for those particularly intellectual authors ...more
An unexpectedly entertaining treasure from the mid-20th century. Wilson wrote like I wish Jane Austen had, with droll scenes that retain realistic harsh edges, refined conversations that absolutely sizzle with conflict, and diverse settings and threads of story that entwine in a satisfying, if soap-operatic, entirety of plot. His language is slightly antiquated (so many characters "cry" instead of simply speaking) but his grasp of human foible - and his capacity for compassion towards his suprem ...more
Mike Clarke
Through a glass darkly: Angus Wilson, darling of the 50s literati, managed to get away with being a massive whoopsie by hiding in plain sight. The rich cast of characters introduced in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes requires a dramatis personae (not the affectation it first seems, actually a necessary aid) initially acts as a drag on plot development, but ultimately provides a satisfying depth not to mention its fair share of deviants, racist old ladies and mad academics. To paraphrase Wilson, he's a gov ...more
Sep 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Can't do better than the reviewer of this edition (click on the book cover), save to praise the authentic post-war atmosphere of Wilson's writing (it was first published 1956), and his witty social and personal observations, many of which are delightfully non-PC. Throughout this, as in many of his works, the conjunction of the lives of homosexuals (during the darkest days of the great persecution of the 50s), with those of their 'respectable' contemporaries, is an unspoken undercurrent, surfacin ...more
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was a wonderful book. I went into it thinking that it would be a pointed satire in the manner of Lucky Jim, but it is really quite a different thing altogether. With a plotline that is compelling but not overbearing, it is the perfectly realized characters that draw the reader in and invest him or her fully in what is going on. I could not have less personal experience with the middle-upper crust of mid-century British society, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book from beginning to end.
Jul 12, 2016 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
* 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list: Comedy

Selected by the Guardian's Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time.
Scott Kelly
Mar 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Anglo-Saxon attitudes is one of the greatest English novels of the twentieth century. As a self-conscious attempt to revive the 19th century tradition of novel as social commentary it is far more successful than Bonfire of the Vanities. Wilson is a sadly neglected author with much to say about the human condition.
Dec 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh I didn't want this to end. Can't do it justice with a small soundbite review.
Turns out it was adapted for TV back in 1990 - with a small part by a young Kate Winslet. Skokie library has a copy, so I'll be intrigued to watch how they tackle it.
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NYRB Classics: Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, by Angus Wilson 2 10 Oct 19, 2013 04:01PM  

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Sir Angus Frank Johnstone Wilson, KBE (11 August 1913 – 31 May 1991) was an English novelist and short story writer. He was awarded the 1958 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot and later received a knighthood for his services to literature.

Wilson was born in Bexhill, Sussex, England, to an English father and South African mother. He was educated at Westminster School an
“Gerald Middleton was a man of mildly but persistently depressive temperament. Such men are not at their best at breakfast, nor is the week before Christmas their happiest time.” 1 likes
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