A. N. Wilson is a somewhat curious figure among contemporary British writers, and he is unlikely to have an exact counterpart in America. We can see throughout his previous books (half a dozen or so novels, a study of Walter Scott, biographies of John Milton and Hilaire Belloc) evidence of a young author eager not only to offer his particular interpretation of English literary tradition, but also, it would seem, to plant himself firmly within it. His is the ambitious and unfashionable goal of granting his readers, through both his fiction and nonfiction, an access to the past. In the tradition of Swift, he shows us worlds that are smaller and farther away than ours with the hope of making us see our own more clearly.

While in any previous era this ambition would seem routine, today it is unusual. Few writers now would praise and try to imitate Hilaire Belloc’s “acute power to feel himself...


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