Vansittart, Peter 1920-2008

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Vansittart, Peter 1920-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born August 27, 1920, in Bedford, England; died October 4, 2008, in Ipswich, England. Educator, novelist, editor, and author. Vansittart wrote dozens of novels and other books and edited several anthologies, without ever reaching the best-seller lists or winning a prominent literary award, though eventually he was decorated an officer of the Order of the British Empire. His creative gift was a welcome treat for critics and some of his literary colleagues, but it was not for every reader's palate. He once told CA that his goal was "to explore different people, different relationships, in different layers of time, trying to fuse the apparently bizarre with the apparently commonplace." Vansittart's novels defied chronology and traditional plot development, Though they were often classified as historical fiction, fans of the genre were likely to be puzzled and ultimately disappointed. The "history" in novels like The Death of Robin Hood (1981) is hidden in Sherwood Forest, from which vantage point the author explored historical events from prehistory through the age of Robin's nemesis, King John, to the present day. Vansittart's creative imagination emerged in bursts and flashes that threatened to overwhelm the sensibilities of the casual reader, but critics and serious readers have expressed great admiration for his brilliance. In novel after novel, Vansittart reflected on the human condition, reminding readers that the topical issues of the twenty-first century—war, immigration, social upheaval, for example—have existed since the beginning of recorded time in one form or another. He challenged readers to explore the shreds of the past that still exist today. Despite the select audience for his work, Vansittart supported himself almost entirely by his book sales, particularly after he abandoned a twelve-year administrative position at a school in Hampstead, England, in 1959. Some of his books were intended for students, such as Green Knights, Black Angels: A Mosaic of History (1969). Vansittart's most reliable source of income, however, was a series of anthologies devoted to a single theme (such as revolution). He also published at least two memoirs that were described as similar to his fiction: short on fact, but excellent springboards for the author's thoughts on life and the world around him. Vansittart's most successful novels, according to his critics, seem to be The Tournament (1958), Three Six Seven: Memoirs of a Very Important Man (1983), and Parsifal (1988).



Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Vansittart, Peter, Paths from a White Horse: A Writer's Memoir, Quartet Books (London, England), 1985.

Vansittart, Peter, Survival Tactics: A Literary Life, Peter Owen (London, England), 1999.


New York Times, October 23, 2008, p. B14.

Times (London, England), October 14, 2008, p. 61.