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The Fatal Englishman
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  • ISBN: 9780099518013
  • Pages: 368
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Binding: Paperback

The Fatal Englishman

Three Short Lives

Sebastian Faulks
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The Fatal Englishman is on a great theme; how the failures of Britain in the 20th century have seeped into the soul of its countrymen.’ David Hare, Spectator

In his first work of non-fiction, The Fatal Englishman, Sebastian Faulks explores the lives of three remarkable men: airman Richard Hillary, artist Christopher Wood and spy Jeremy Wolfenden.

Richard Hillary, confident, handsome and unprincipled, flew Spitfires in the Battle of Britain. He was shot down and horribly burned, and thus became part of the Guinea Pig Club, undergoing several operations by surgeon Archie McIndoe. His account of his experiences, The Last Enemy, made him famous but he begged to be allowed to return to flying, and died mysteriously in a night training operation, aged 23. You can read Richard Hillary’s story in his own words in Slightly Foxed Edition No. 39: The Last Enemy.

A young Christopher Wood decided to be the greatest painter the world had seen. He went to Paris in 1921. By day he studied, by night he attended the parties of the beau monde. He knew Picasso, worked for Diaghilev and was a friend of Cocteau. In the last months of his 29-year life, he fought a ravening opium addiction to succeed in claiming a place in history of English painting.

Jeremy Wolfenden was born in 1936, the son of Jack, later Lord Wolfenden. Charming, generous and witty, he was the cleverest of his generation, but left All Souls to become a hack reporter. At the height of the Cold War, he was sent to Moscow where his louche private life made him the plaything of the intelligence services. A terrifying sequence of events ended in Washington where he died at the age of 31.

The Fatal Englishman reveals the ways in which each of these three men – Richard Hillary, Christopher Wood and Jeremy Wolfenden – had the seeds of greatness; each was a beacon to his generation and left something of value behind; yet each one died tragically young. ‘Short lives are more sensitive indicators of the pressure of public attitudes’, writes Sebastian Faulks, ‘than lives lived long and crowned with honours.’

‘A mystery story of rare narrative power’ Financial Times



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