Spencer, Colin 1933-
SPENCER, Colin 1933-
Born July 17, 1933, in London, England; son of Harry (a master builder) and Gypsy (Heath) Spencer; married Gillian Ghapman (an archaeologist), October 2, 1959 (divorced, 1969), married Claire Clifron (writer), 2003; children: one son. Education: Studied at Brighton Art College. Politics: Socialist. Religion: Humanist.
Freelance writer, dramatist, and painter. Paintings exhibited in Cambridge and London. Military service: British Army, Royal Army Medical Corps, 1950-52.
Writer's Guild of Great Britain (chair, 1982-83).
An Absurd Affair, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1961.
Poppy, Mandragora and the New Sex, Anthony Blond (London, England), 1966.
Asylum, Anthony Blond (London, England), 1966.
Panic, Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1971.
How the Greeks Kidnapped Mrs. Nixon, Quartet Books (London, England), 1974.
"GENERATION" SERIES; NOVELS
Anarchists in Love, Eyre & Spottiswoode (London, England), 1963, published as The Anarchy of Love, Weybright (New York, NY), 1967.
The Tyranny of Love, Weybright (New York, NY), 1967.
Lovers in War, Anthony Blond (London, England), 1970.
The Victims of Love, Quartet Books (London, England), 1978.
The Ballad of the False Barman (musical; music by Clifton Parker), first produced in London at Hampstead Theatre Club, 1966.
Spitting Image (first produced in London at Hampstead Theatre Club, 1968; produced on West End at Duke of York's Theatre, 1968; adapted for American stage by Donald Driver and produced Off-Broadway at Theatre de Lys, February 19, 1969), published in Plays and Players, September, 1968.
The Trail of St. George, first produced at Soho Theatre, March 8, 1972.
The Sphinx Mother, first produced in Salzburg, Austria, 1972.
Why Mrs. Newstadter Always Loses, first produced in London, 1972.
Keep It in the Family, first produced at Soho Theatre, 1978.
Gourmet Cooking for Vegetarians, Deutsch (London, England), 1978.
Good & Healthy, Robson Books (London, England), 1983.
Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert: 52 Vegetarian Gourmet Dinner Party Menus, Contemporary Books (Chicago, IL), 1985.
Mediterranean Vegetarian Cooking, Inner Traditions International (New York, NY), 1986.
The New Vegetarian: Cooking with Style the Vegetarian Way, foreword by Wolfgang Puck, Viking (New York, NY), 1986.
The Vegetarian Kitchen: A Natural Program for Health and Nutrition, Body Press (Tucson, AZ), 1986, published as The Vegetarian's Healthy Diet Book, Dunitz (London, England), 1986.
One-Course Feasts, Conran Octopus (London, England), 1986.
Feast for Health: A Gourmet Guide to Good Food, Dorling Kindersley (London, England), 1987.
Al Fresco: A Feast of Outdoor Entertaining, Thorsons (Northamptonshire, England), 1987.
The Romantic Vegetarian, Thorsons (Northamptonshire, England), 1989.
Which of Us Two?: The Story of a Love Affair, Penguin (New York, NY), 1991.
The Adventurous Vegetarian, Cassell (London, England), 1992.
Vegetable Pleasures, Fourth Estate (London, England), 1992.
The Heretic's Feast: A History of Vegetarianism, Fourth Estate (London, England), 1993, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1995.
Homosexuality in History, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.
The Vegetable Book, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1995.
The Gay Kama Sutra, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Vegetarianism: A History, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 2002.
British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Also author of television documentary, Vandal Rule OK, produced by Independent Television, 1979, and Tasting History televison series for Anglia TV.
Food columnist for the Guardian; contributor to periodicals, including London and Transatlantic Review.
Colin Spencer is a writer not easily pigeonholed: A novelist and playwright, he also creates nonfiction work on two subjects, vegetarianism and homosexuality. "I have the impression that my work taken as a whole can be confusing to a critic or a reader," he acknowledged in Contemporary Novelists. Of his fictional work, the author pointed to his four-volume "Generation" series of novels: "This, in its simplest form, is nothing but fictionalised autobiography—the line where fiction begins and reality ends is a philosophical enigma that continually fascinates me." "Generations" follows an English family from World War I to the 1960s. Contemporary Novelists essayist Joseph Parisi observed that Spencer "draws vivid, well-rounded portraits of several characteristic types, some of which develop into unique personalities." Among the members of the Simpson family are paterfamilias Eddy, whose raucous love of the wild life contrasts with the personality of his wife, the religious Hester. Their children, Sundy and Matthew, grow up in a confused state of sexual identity. Matthew, in particular, has difficulty accepting his homosexuality to the point where he engages in a "mutually destructive marriage to a priggish, unstable shrew."
Commenting on two entries in the series, The Anarchy of Love and The Tyranny of Love, Guy Davenport noted in the National Review that the two novels are "vividly drawn, wonderfully heard, and quite powerfully written.… England has many writers more polished than Mr. Spencer, but none quite so wildly energetic in his passion for reality."
Among Spencer's other novels are Asylum, which "displays Spencer's penchant for the macabre," according to Parisi. The action takes place in a mental institution, where the patients are encouraged to act out their most perverse imaginings by equally deranged doctors. Spencer's 1971 work Panic is set in Brighton, "and how good Mr. Spencer is at extracting the last drop of atmosphere from that over-described town," wrote Susan Hill in the New Statesman. The story examines the mind of a child molester whose tragic actions culminate in murder. In the view of Parisi, "Both killer and victims are revealed with sympathy from the inside." Hill concluded that the author "makes [the seaside resort's] beautiful extravagances seem peculiarly sinister."
An authority on the vegetarian lifestyle, Spencer has published two works of history on the subject. In The Heretic's Feast: A History of Vegetarianism, the author "is confident that meat-eating appears quite late in the evolution of humankind," as a reviewer for the Psychologists on the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PSYETA) Web site remarked. Spencer "even suggests that our Pliocene forebears would have consciously declined killing for food." The author identifies three conditions that lead to modern vegetarianism. The first is the belief that eating flesh interferes with one's spiritual development. The second condition follows the tenet that all living beings deserve the right to live. In the third condition, vegetarianism results from a disapproval of modern farming techniques, particularly in their treatment of animals.
While citing some inaccuracies in the text, New Statesman & Society critic Christopher Driver described The Heretic's Feast as "both enjoyable and useful. Enjoyable, because [Spencer] writes approachably. Useful, because his mind branches like broccoli and he quotes copiously from classical, Christian and secularist authors seldom read for their tastes or disgusts in food," Ovid, Plutarch, and St. Benedict among them. To Ruth Lumley-Smith of the Ecologist, the book "provides fascinating insights into the lives and thoughts of the many distinguished people (mostly men) who have embraced what was for a long time known as the Pythagorean diet after one of its earliest promoters."
Spencer published Vegetarianism: A History, in 2002. OnEarth reviewer Sarah Scalet found the first part of the book "perplexing" with Spencer's interpretation of "widely accepted theories of natural selection to try to postdate the early hominid evolution from herbivore to omnivore." The volume's second half, Scalet continued, "starts to hang together more, as the ideas become more familiar and form the foundation for modern vegetarianism."
On another topic, Spencer produced Homosexuality in History, a chronological survey covering gay issues from ancient times to current day. A lack of analysis caused a Publishers Weekly contributor to call this volume "a disjointed compendium of facts" featuring "arbitrary and nonsensical technique"; James Van Buskirk of the Lambda Book Report wrote that "gross generalizations, shallow interpretation, and unsubstantiated declarations" undermine Homosexuals in History. Booklist reviewer Charles Harmon was more welcoming, however, noting that "the whole book seems carefully researched and thoroughly referenced."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
AB Bookman's Weekly, August 4, 1997, review of The Heretic's Feast: A History of Vegetarianism, p. 259.
American Historical Review, February, 1997, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 85.
Booklist, April 1, 1987, review of The New Vegetarian, p. 166; March 15, 1994, Barbara Jacobs, review of Vegetable Pleasures, p. 1315; June 1, 1996, Charles Harmon, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 1643.
Books, July, 1987, review of Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert, p. 20; August, 1987, review of Al Fresco, p. 28; March, 1988, review of The Romantic Vegetarian, p. 7; September, 1995, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 23.
Bookwatch, September, 1993, review of The New Vegetarian, p. 5.
Choice, December, 1995, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 638.
Ecologist, November-December, 1994, Ruth Lumley-Smith, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 238.
Far Eastern Economic Review, November 30, 1995, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 52.
Journal of Consumer Affairs, summer, 1998, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 179.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15 1987, review of Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert, p. 788; May 1, 1996, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 677; July 15, 2002, review of Vegetarianism: A History, p. 1018.
Lambda Book Report, July, 1996, Jim Van Buskirk, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 35; December, 1997, David Drake, review of The Gay Kama Sutra, p. 17.
Library Journal, June 15 1987, review of Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert, p. 69; May 15, 1994, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 88.
Listener, October 10, 1985, review of Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert, p. 18; December 11, 1986, review of The New Vegetarian, p. 16; May 31, 1990, review of Which of Us Two?: The Story of a Love Affair, p. 25; July, 1996, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 136.
London Review of Books, June 28, 1990, review of Which of Us Two?, p. 15; November 30, 1995, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 12.
National Review, November 5, 1968, Guy Davenport, review of The Tyranny of Love.
New Statesman, February 20, 1970, October 29, 1971, Susan Hill, review of Panic.
New Statesman & Society, April 23, 1993, Christopher Driver, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 33.
New York Times Book Review, November 19, 1995, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 27.
Observer (London, England), May 27, 1990, review of Which of Us Two?, p. 65; April 11, 1993, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 57; September 11, 1994, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 25; September 24, 1995, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 14.
OnEarth, winter, 2003, Sarah Scalet, review of Vegetarianism: A History, p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, May 15, 1987, review of Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert, p. 277; April 1, 1996, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 62.
Punch, December 4, 1985, review of Colin Spencer's Cordon Vert, p. 108.
San Francisco Review of Books, March, 1995, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 4.
Spectator, January 15, 1972, February 18, 1978; December 20, 1986, review of The New Vegetarian, p. 56; June 2, 1990, review of Which of Us Two?, p. 30; April 24, 1993, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 29.
Times Literary Supplement, December 28, 1990, review of Which of Us Two?, p. 1406; July 30, 1993, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 3; March 4, 1994, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 27.
Transatlantic Review, spring, 1970.
Village Voice, August 27, 1996, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 57.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1996, review of The Heretic's Feast, p. 143.
Washington Post, December 24, 1968.
Washington Post Book World, June 9, 1996, review of Homosexuality in History, p. 5.
PSYETA,http://www.psyeta.org/ (October 9, 2002), review of The Heretic's Feast.