Taylor, D.J. 1960- (David John Taylor)
Taylor, D.J. 1960- (David John Taylor)
Born August 22, 1960, in Norwich, England; son of John Robert George (an insurance manager) and Elizabeth Anne Castell (a teacher) Taylor; married Rachel Elizabeth, June 22, 1990; children: Felix John Richard, Benjamin Anthony Castell, Leo David Alexander. Education: St. John's College, Oxford, B.A. (with first class honors), 1982.
Home—Norwich, England. Agent—Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN, England; fax: 020-7229-9084.
Worked as a copywriter and held posts in public relations and in financial marketing in London, England.
Grinzane Cavour Prize, Italy, 1999; Winner of Whitbread Award for biography for Orwell: The Life, 2004.
Great Eastern Land: From the Notebooks of David Castell (novel), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1986.
Real Life (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1992.
English Settlement (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1996.
After Bathing at Baxter's: Stories, Vintage (London, England), 1997.
Trespass (novel), Duckworth (London, England), 1998.
The Comedy Man (novel), Duckworth (London, England), 2001.
Kept: A Victorian Mystery (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2006, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1989.
(With Marcus Berkmann) Other People: Portraits from the '90s (novel), Bloomsbury (London, England), 1990.
After the War: The Novel and England since 1945, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1993.
Thackeray: The Life of a Literary Man (biography), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1999, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2001.
Orwell: The Life, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
On the Corinthian Spirit: The Decline of Amateurism in Sport, Yellow Jersey (London, England), 2006.
William Makepeace Thackeray, A Shabby Genteel Story and Other Writings, Tuttle (Rutland, VT), 1993.
(With Arthur Pendennis) William Makepeace Thackeray, The Newcomes: Memoirs of a Most Respectable Family, Everyman (London, England), 1994.
Contributor of articles, stories, and reviews to magazines and newspapers, including Encounter London, Spectator, Private Eye, Tablet, Independent, and Guardian.
D.J. Taylor is both a practitioner and an observer of fiction writing, with biography and criticism standing alongside novels and short stories in his body of work. His novels include English Settlement and Trespass, both studies of troubled young businessmen in late-twentieth-century England. English Settlement's protagonist, Scott Marshall, is an American working in London who stumbles onto shady business dealings while on a consulting assignment to a struggling soccer team. Marshall has been "selling his soul in installments," observed Laurence O'Toole in the New Statesman. O'Toole thought the novel "proves hard to believe in while its hero heads for his inevitable comeuppance"; he found it flawed by "crude characterisation" and "too much elegance" in Taylor's writing style. "Taylor is clearly a good writer who might easily do things differently," O'Toole added. An Economist critic, however, commented that English Settlement "deserves a better critical reception than it has got, if only because it tries to encompass so much…. Other English novelists need to be reminded of the importance of taking risks of this kind."
Trespass also deals with the London financial world, as a man named George Cheil "hires a journalist, Frances, to help him chart his late uncle Ted's self-made path from Thatcherite entrepreneurial marvel to City scandal-fodder," as Geraldine Brennan explained in New Statesman. Ted was a major influence on George, who is intelligent yet lacking in confidence; Ted brought his nephew into his business and they both tried to make an impression in upper-class society, in which they were never quite at home. Brennan praised "Taylor's nose for the more bizarre nuances of the British class system," remarking further that Trespass is a "well-observed, well-paced and touching novel."
Thackeray: The Life of a Literary Man is a critical biography in which Taylor contends that William Makepeace Thackeray, best known to modern audiences for the novel Vanity Fair, was "the greatest English writer … of the nineteenth century." Considering the competition, including Charles Dickens, with whom Thackeray feuded, proving this thesis seems a daunting task, noted Booklist reviewer Bryce Christensen. But in Christensen's opinion, Taylor makes his case "with disarming candor and rare insight" and demonstrates that Thackeray indeed had a keen satirical eye that he turned on English society in both his journalistic writings and his most famous novel. "No one … ever surpassed Thackeray as chronicler of the shifting social dynamics of Victorian England," Christensen observed. A Publishers Weekly critic thought Taylor did a good job of "evoking the texture of social upheaval in the English 1830s and '40s, the subtext of Thackeray's writings" but "never sustains his sweeping initial adulation of Thackeray." Similarly, New York Times Book Review contributor Suzy Hansen found Taylor's argument for Thackeray's greatness unconvincing, but she granted that the story of Thackeray's life sometimes "reads like good fiction," with Taylor portraying all the numerous facets of his subject: a man who spent money recklessly, labored hard as a writer to pay his debts, suffered through his wife's mental illness, and was deeply devoted to his daughters. This adds up, commented Morris Hounton in the Library Journal, to "a complex portrait of Thackeray as son, husband, father, friend, and bon vivant." Hounton praised Taylor for showing how Thackeray "transformed his experiences and the places he saw into the novels and journalism that made his reputation," and pronounced the biography "sympathetic," "detailed," and "appealing." Christensen concluded that the book is "sure to attract serious readers for decades."
Taylor's fifth novel, The Comedy Man, traces the life of Ted King who, with his partner Arthur Upward, is half of the comic team Upward and King. The psychological interest in the novel, as David Horspool remarked in the Times Literary Supplement, is its depiction of "the ostensibly less interesting man edging into the spotlight which is naturally trained on the more glamorous member of the duo." Horspool admired Taylor's descriptions of the music hall scene in post-World War II England, and noted that the novel is less carefree than its packaging might suggest. "D.J. Taylor's artful re-creations of different times and ways of living never sink into nostalgia," he concluded. "Instead, they convey a sense of a whole world changing, of something lost, and only partly retrieved in the act of remembrance."
Taylor returned to biography with Orwell: The Life. George Orwell was a controversial writer who gained a reputation and following covering Spain's civil war. His later works, including Animal Farm and 1984 secured Orwell's position as a leading literary figure. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed: "Tendencies to cliché disappear as Taylor warms up to his theme." The reviewer also called the book "compelling reading."
Taylor utilized his extensive knowledge of nineteenth-century England—the history, the culture, and the mannerisms—in creating the setting for Kept: A Victorian Mystery. At the center of the story is Isabel, a widow who has apparently lost her mind after her husband's death and is confined to a room at the behest of one of the estate's trustees. After a lengthy investigation, new clues seem to point to foul play, and a host of characters are revealed to have links to the death and to Isabel's forced incarceration. Ron Samul commented in a review for the Library Journal that Taylor "captured the essence of the Victorian novel and weaves it through his gripping narrative." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted: "The eccentrics and Victoriana are so captivating that they make up for knowing most of the truth before the finale." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found that "facets of this absorbing, multilayered tale come together in an understated but fulfilling resolution."
A prolific reviewer of books for the Independent and Sunday Times, Taylor has written two works that look at the quality of English fiction during the twentieth century. In A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s, Taylor reviewed a decade's worth of fiction by English authors and criticized much of the work as deficient at best and dreadful at worst. A follow-up book, After the War: The Novel and England since 1945, expanded the survey to a fifty-year span. In a review for World Literature Today, William Hutchings described After the War as "an impressively erudite, often witty, always contentious revaluation of dozens of writers."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 15, 2001, Bryce Christensen, review of Thackeray: The Life of a Literary Man, p. 181.
Economist, March 16, 1996, review of English Settlement, p. 14.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of Orwell: The Life, p. 902; March 1, 2007, review of Kept: A Victorian Mystery, p. 200.
Library Journal, September 1, 2001, Morris Hounton, review of Thackeray, p. 180; May 15, 2007, Ron Samul, review of Kept, p. 84.
New Statesman, January 26, 1996, Laurence O'Toole, review of English Settlement, p. 38; July 31, 1998, Geraldine Brennan, review of Trespass, p. 49.
New York Times Book Review, October 14, 2001, Suzy Hansen, review of Thackeray, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, August 13, 2001, review of Thackeray, p. 296; August 11, 2003, review of Orwell, p. 268; March 19, 2007, review of Kept, p. 45.
Spectator, June 27, 1998, Nicholas Harman, review of Trespass, p. 32; October 2, 1999, Victoria Glendinning, review of Thackeray, p. 49.
Times Literary Supplement, October 2, 1999, Catherine Peters, review of Thackeray, p. 12; March 23, 2001, David Horspool, "Solo Performance."
World Literature Today, summer, 1994, William Hutchings, review of After the War: The Novel and England since 1945, p. 573.