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A N Wilson

I quite like novels which describe the lives of famous people, and what they have done, when I am only aware of the basic facts. Therefore I was intrigued by Winnie and Wolf which includes a reasonably straight forward account of Richard Wagner and the genesis of his Grand Operas as a background to a story of love and power told by the secretary of Wagner’s daughter-in-law Winifred over the years 1923-40.

He is infatuated with her but unfortunately she is besotted with Wolf, her pet name for Hitler. So N- (the secretary is not given a name) is writing in the 60’s about the inter war years with flashbacks to the nineteenth century (like his namesake Angus, A N Wilson links the differing time shifts with seamless skill). Both N- and Winnie see their prospective loved one through biased eyes which of course ignore the reality of Hitler’s agenda. N-‘s parents and brother try unsuccessfully to persuade him that he is denying the planning of evil that is beginning around them. Winnie needs the support of the Nazis to keep the Bayreuth Festival going when they take power.

As a way of sign posting the rise of Hitler, Wilson uses the Wagner operas as a title for each section of the novel. Thus Lohengrin who identifies the need for German unification is the symbol of Hitler’s victory at the polls, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg and its plea to forget the glories of the old Roman Empire and stick to German art and thought endorses his aims, while Parsifal celebrates a new religion of state supremacy with the Grail Knights now representing the SA and the SS. Predictably Gotterdammerung is the last section.
There is a scene in Bayreuth which is farcical except it is happening while the people are fleeing the destruction and terror all around them. Some of the refugees have raided the wardrobe of the Festival Theatre and are wearing the opera costumes to keep warm. Fur-clad Siegfieds and Sigmunds, medieval Nurembergers clad for a song contest and pilgrims coming from Rome to tell Tannhauser that he is redeemed are mingling with American soldiers in the wrecked streets. Figuratively the gods had sunk in their twilight and the wolf gnawed at the great Ash Tree of the World. Chaos ruled.

As for Winifred, an English-born orphan who had four children to Siegfried and was left a widow at the age of 33, she survived the war to die in 1980. Wilson constructs such a sympathetic portrait of her that it may prompt me to read further.

Having read plenty about this book at the time of its publication, I wonder why, as a lover of Wagner (in moderation), I've never considered reading it. Your review makes it sound most intriguing. Definitely one for the TBR.

There was a great line in Poirot today about Wagner.  It was a story where the man who is murdered owned a business that made pies.  Poirot is amazed that Hastings hasn't heard of the pies.

Poirot: Pies are to Benedict Farley what musical notes are to Wagner.

Hastings:  Oh, are they good pies?

Poirot:  No they are horrible, but there are a great many of them.

Sorry, that doesn't add much to the discussion...  I have never read any AN Wilson, and remain unconvinced that this novel is for me (I don't much like novels about real people, as a rule), but your review does make it sound quite intriguing, Castorboy.

Wagner of course was famously the friend
of King Ludvig who worshipped him and loved his
There were rumours even  that they were lovers  !
Interesting that Wagner was  resented by
many in an outsider, a Prussian.

Later in the century of course  Bismark and Prussia
were to swallow  Bavaria and the state  became  a part of the German Empire.

AN  Wilson  is an interesting guy... good to see him
added to the  authors list......... but a little biog
and maybe a photo  would be  nice.

I  added   Sir Richard Burton to the list in June
with a pic and a biog.. etc ....  all that time... not one  repy  !     why did I bother ?

goldbug wrote:
I  added   Sir Richard Burton to the list in June
with a pic and a biog.. etc ....  all that time... not one  repy  !     why did I bother ?

Hello Goldbug, we are a relatively small group, and not everyone's particular interests are widely shared. This means that there are many posts here don't always get responses - although they do get read. This applies even to those posts we take the trouble of writing ourselves, rather than merely copying and pasting from Wikipedia.

I think that if you were to write your own posts, and be a bit less dismissive of other contributors here, then you will find people happy to respond to you. In the meantime, I think it would be a good idea not to copy and paste long passages from other sites, as that may well be an infringement of copyright.

I think we should return now to talking about A. N. Wilson.

I tried reading Wilson's biography of Tolstoy once, and couldn't get far with it. For one thing, Wilson appeared not to like Tolstoy very much as a person. Of course, a good biography shouldn't smooth over the less attractive aspects of its subject, but for much of the time I was wondering why Wilson bothered writing a biography in the first place of a man he appeared not particularly to admire. In the second place, Wilson would go off into a rant on politics at the slightest excuse: if I am reading a biography of Tolstoy, it's Tolstoy I am interested in - not the political opinions of the biographer! All in all, it was a very odd book, and I think we still await a good biography of Tolstoy in English.

Also, this is not meant as a 'list' - it's about books people have read by these authors - no point just having a biography of an author without a discussion of what you have read by them.  I also am not sure about the link between biography and books - I don't need to know the author's background when I am reading a novel they wrote - it can offer various interesting angles, but the book itself stands alone from a writer's background.

But that's a discussion for elsewhere - sorry, am distracting things from AN Wilson again!

A N Wilson is quite a prolific writer. I have read several of his novels, (though they make little impression on my memory now, but that may be me rather than him!). I would be interested to read his memoir of Iris Murdoch, as I think he posited it as a sort of nostrum against the very public impression John Bayley made of Murdoch in her sad last stages. Probably more people know of her as an elderly demented lady than have ever read any of her books.

I noticed that he has written nearly as many biographies as fiction – it was the Murdoch one that caught my eye as I have read about seven or eight of her novels. However now I have read Winnie and Wolf I will need to read a biography about Winifred before tackling his Murdoch memoir.

Scrap of trivia. I read about Unity Mitford in 2008 and her fixation on Hitler whenever he visited Munich. Now I have discovered that when he moved north to Bayreuth there’s another Englishwoman, Winifred, pursuing him. Maybe the rumours about his capability were untrue male
John Q

I have read quite a few books by A.N. Wilson.  But mostly non -fiction stuff.  I did actually read  Winnie and Wolf last year . But  at about  the same time I read a book called  Albert Speer, His Battle with Truth, by Gitta Sereny,  and do you know these books have become intermingled in my head, I cannot disassociate them from each other at all, which means Wilson’s novel did not make a great impression I guess.  He has written quite a few novels but I suspect his forte is popular history and biography.  His book  The Victorians is worth reading if you are at all interested in that period   as he seems steeped and at home in this era   (he sounds a bit Victorian when you listen to him on the radio ).  I think  this book was a success as he was encouraged enough to continue his popular histories with After the Victorians and finally with  Our Times.  But these books  lack the depth of the Victorian book and are just a kaleidoscope of whirring events with Wilson throwing mud pies or  bouquets  at the   personalities who momentarily are at the centre of ‘events’ and do or do not earn his approval.  Most definitely journalism and not real history in my view, but I read them through, finding them easy to read, pretty undemanding, but also mildly irritating.

John Q wrote:
  (he sounds a bit Victorian when you listen to him on the radio ).  

Yes, he does!  Laughing

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