The Outsider (1956) by Colin Wilson, is the first part of the Outsider Cycle, a trilogy of works which includes both Religion and the Rebel (1957) and The Age of Defeat (1959). First published by Victor Gollancz on the 28th May 1956, The Outsider was an immediate publishing sensation with its entire print run of 5,000 being sold on the day of publication, with a further 20,000 copies disappearing off the shelves in the following six months; an achievement all the more remarkable given that it was a work of philosophy.

In many ways Colin Wilson was an unlikely philosopher. Born in Leicester to working class parents, he left school at sixteen and went through a series of menial jobs, visited France a couple of times, and became convinced of his own genius. By the year 1955 he was engaged in writing a supernatural thriller based on the Whitechapel Murders, whilst sleeping rough on Hampstead Heath and working on his novel at the British Museum during the day. There he made the acquaintance of Angus Wilson (no relation) who encouraged him to submit his manuscript to the publisher Victor Gollancz. Wilson however delivered quite a different manuscript entitled The Pain Threshold, which Gollancz retitled as 'The Outsider' no doubt inspired by Albert Camus's L’Étranger (1942) the English editions of which appeared under the title of 'The Outsider' rather than 'The Stranger'.

In addition to Albert Camus, Wilson's book drew on various sources such as the Kabbalah, and the works of John Paul Sartre, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, William Blake etc and introduced the concept of New Existentialism which, according to Wilson himself, addressed the "central question" as to "whether we would all be more sensible to commit suicide".

Even before the book was published Gollancz had persuaded the Evening News to run a piece on Wilson which proclaimed 'HE’S A MAJOR WRITER AND HE’S ONLY 24', whilst the book itself appeared to ecstatic reviews. Cyril Connolly writing in The Sunday Times pronounced it "one of the most remarkable first books I have read for a long time", whilst Philip Toynbee for The Observer decided that it was "truly outstanding" and an "exhaustive and luminously intelligent study". Wilson thus became an instant celebrity, and feted as an emerging genius.

Colin Wilson and The Movement

To understand why the reception given to The Outsider was so favourable and why Colin Wilson became so famous so quickly, it is necessary to refer to the emergence in the early 1950s of The Movement, a literary group whose members included the novelist Kingsley Amis and the poet Philip Larkin. The Movement were a group of writers who were essentially anti-Modernist in outlook, they celebrated the suburban, preferred Jazz to Classical Music, beer to wine, and deeply offended much of the decidedly Modernist London literary establishment who regarded them as a bunch of lower middle class oiks out to destroy all that was decent and good. They were particularly offended with the good reception given to Amis's novel Lucky Jim which appeared in 1954.

Prominent amongst the members of this literary establishment were Messrs Connolly and Toynbee and the reason why they celebrated Colin Wilson was simply that he was "a self consciously intellectual rival to set up against the bluff pragmatism of Amis and The Movement". Here at last was a literary hero with the right highbrow credentials to challenge the Movement. This much was blindingly obvious as Cyril Connolly's review of The Outsider even appeared under the title 'Unlucky Jim'.

Of course as far as Amis was concerned Wilson was a prime exponent of the pretentious intellectualism he despised, and duly said so in the Spectator. This inspired Wilson to write to Amis asserting that he represented "a new trend in English literature" and that it was his intention to knock Amis off his pedestal. For his part Amis predicted that paranoia would bring down Wilson within a couple of years, although as it happened it didn't take that long.

The fall of Colin Wilson

As Cyril Connolly later admitted, despite heaping praising The Outsider he never actually read the book. He probably should have done. One disgruntled reader wrote in to the Times Literary Supplement to point out that he'd found 82 major and 203 minor mistakes on just one page of The Outsider, an average of one mistake per line of text. It soon became apparent that whilst Wilson might well have read all the 'right' books, he didn't necessarily understand any of them.

Celebrity also rather went to Wilson's head, and led to him making a number of rather bizarre pronouncements. In one interview for The Daily Express on the 14th September 1956 he argued that death was entirely avoidable (it was all simply a matter of will apparently), in another he condemned William Shakespeare for possessing "a second rate mind". All of which caused a certain amount of uncomfortable shifting of bums on seats. However the actual cause of Colin Wilson's downfall began with a rather comic incident involving the author and his wife's parents which, somewhat ironically, might well have come straight from the pages of Lucky Jim.

By this time Wilson was married to a Joy Stewart, and her father came across his diaries, and was rather shocked by what he saw as its pornographic content. On the 19th February 1957 Mr Stewart broke into Wilson's flat brandishing a horsewhip, shouting "Aha, Wilson, the game is up! We know what is in your filthy diary". The story duly appeared in The Daily Mail under the headline "Horsewhip threat to 'Outsider' Wilson", with Stewart alleging that Wilson's diaries were full of "sadism and murder". In order to clear himself of the charge Wilson handed his diaries over to the press and so the public became aware that Wilson was of the opinion that "the day must come when I am hailed as a major prophet" and that "I am the major literary genius of our century". As Wilson was to soon find out, the British public will forgive most crimes with the exception of intellectual arrogance.

When Religion and the Rebel, the second installment of the Outsider Cycle, was published in October 1957 it was mercilessly trashed by all and sundry, including many of those who had hailed his previous work as evidence of his staggering genius. Philip Toynbee now condemned Religion and the Rebel as a "vulgarising rubbish bin", The Manchester Guardian called him "a ridiculous figure" whilst his picture appeared in Time magazine under the caption "egghead, scrambled".

Colin Wilson subsequently escaped to Cornwall with his wife, whilst the third part of the Outsider cycle, The Age of Defeat appeared to a stony silence in 1959. Since sliding out of public view he has continued to write, and at the last count had written 110 books, most of which are concerned with subjects relating to the paranormal and occult or crime and criminals. He has since made occasional forays into the mainstream media generally linked to major anniversaries of the publication of The Outsider. In 1996 he appeared to announce his belief that The Outsider remained "a turning point in intellectual history", although these days he would be hard pressed to find anyone else who shared that opinion.


  • Dominic Sandford, Never Had It So Good (Abacus, 2006)
  • Lisa Gee, Where the outsider went next, The Guardian February 16, 2002,6000,650679,00.html
  • Colin Wilson: biography, bibliography, filmography, links

Stephen King's 2018 novel presents an impossible mystery. A boy has been brutally murdered. The police have an irrefutable case against an unlikely suspect. The suspect has an irrefutable alibi. He must have done it. He couldn't have done it.

The Outsider's early chapters prove as page-turning as anything King has written. The premise might have developed into a Kafkaesque nightmare. It might have been given the conventional detective fiction treatment, with a solution that reconciles discrepancies. Instead, King veers into strangely comfortable horror territory. The novel revisits every trope from King's own past horrors and those of his greatest influences. If someone who only knew King's reputation for horror were asked to describe a Stephen King Novel, that person most likely would describe something like the final two-thirds of The Outsider.

This would at least make for a good, if predictable, horror read-- and to a point, it does. King hasn't lost his ability to describe often disturbing images. The early accounts of a town turning on itself prove particularly unsettling. Alas, as the investigation develops, the infodump overflows like third world landfill. I'll permit some of this tendency in our heroes, detectives trying to convince themselves that supernatural forces exist, but it borders on ludicrous that the forces of darkness would be quite so garrulously expository.

Characters are credible but lack much depth. Only Holly Gibney, who wanders in from King's Bill Hodges Trilogy, feels fleshed out. We have in her an autistic female Van Helsing, and she works.

King's prose remains strong in places, but I cannot shake the feeling that he started writing a stronger and more original work. We have one of the author's best premises, but not one of his best novels.

Notwithstanding, the inevitable movie adaptation and/or miniseries will make a fortune.

299 words



I’m not a gopher, I’m not a woodchuck. I’m a beaver, let’s be clear. You couldn’t pay me to be a woodchuck. You think we live in a classless society? Wake up and smell the river.

Allow me to introduce myself, and forgive me if I seem a bit peeved. My name is Lewis. It’s nice to meet you, wish it were under better circumstances.

I guess you expected a name like Bucky. Bucky Beaver. That’s clever, isn't it. Maybe I'm more than a little peeved. Maybe I'm downright cranky. You’d be cranky too, if someone chased you through the woods.

You call it the woods, I call it my home. That’s where I live, in the woods. The place with all the trees and rocks. Sticks and grass. The place you clear to put up your houses.

It’ll be winter soon. I’d like to put up a house, myself. A lodge, in beaver-speak. Not like the lodge your uncle joined. We don’t drink highballs or wear funny hats. Lodges are serious business with beavers. The Mrs. and I will stay there all winter, assuming I get this thing finished.

Yes, I’m married. Yes, with children. Susan and I have three. You seem surprised. You’re right, I suppose. I’m not the handsomest guy on earth. I mean, I’m not Tony Danza. But Susan accepts me and we’ve done alright; that Tony Danza is handsome though, isn’t he. That show still on? It’s hard to keep up. You know what they say about beavers.

It’s a stereotype but it’s true, in a way. We really do stay busy. Just now, for instance. I’m gathering stuff to fix up the lodge—sticks and leaves and whatnot—Susan would have my head on a platter, I came back empty-handed—

and this girl walks by. She’s holding an iPhone. Just walks right through my grass and leaves. Oh look, she says, it’s a beaver! There’s a beaver in our backyard!

I’m thinking to myself, settle down there, little lady. I’ve seen a beaver or two in my day. It’s not all that exciting. She’s punching buttons on that iPhone like crazy. I run and she comes after me. She’s taking my picture, snapping away like I’m Tony Danza or something.

So you’ll excuse me if I seem cranky. If my tone is a little brusque. But I have a lodge to build before winter. I don’t have time for Ms. iPhone there, chasing me through the woods.

Through what she calls “her backyard”. Through what I call my home. Most of which has been cleared away, since people keep putting up houses.

I admit, I’m no Tony Danza. I’m not Bucky Beaver, either. I’m the largest rodent in North America, for all the good it does me. Ms. iPhone there walks right through my grass. Right through my leaves. Chases me out of my own backyard. A beaver, she says, like I wasn't here first; like I'm the outsider.

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