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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Fatal Englishman|
|Release Date: 07-01-2009|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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The Fatal Englishman
One day in the spring of 1921 a beautiful young Englishman set off for Paris to become the greatest painter the world had ever seen. His name was Christopher Wood and he was nineteen years old. Until he took the boat for Calais on 19 March he was working for a fruit importer in the City of London. He was the son of a doctor in the North West of England, and his sudden disappearance to France confirmed his family's worst fears. Although Christopher wore shirts from the best outfitters in Jermyn Street, was well-mannered and polite to his parents, he seemed to have no understanding of middle-class convention. Some combination of circumstances had combined with a fierce streak in his character to make him wild and ambitious. He was determined to be a painter, and the intensity of his desire was frightening to his parents.
Dr Lucius Wood and his wife Clare had two children: Christopher, whom they knew as Kit, and Elizabeth, whom they called Betty. As a child, Kit had his hair cut in a bob and wore smocks. So did Betty. The family was relatively well off; the parents believed in God and the children believed in Father Christmas.
One December Kit wrote:
My dear father Xmas, I want a new good yacht and I want it to be all hollow inside and gun and a top And Betty a big doll and a gun And I want a very sparp chissel and a good screw driver and a good peaint box and mother wants a nice comfy bed With love from Kit and Betty Wood.
He always knew what he wanted, and in his childhood he almost always had it. His mother was devoted to him and he to her. He would gather crocuses for her birthday on 25 March and she repaid him with her doting indulgence. Clare Wood came fr