Oxford Bibliographies

Nicholas Ruddick. “J.G. Ballard.” Oxford Bibliographies in “British and Irish Literature”. Ed. Andrew Hadfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. (Requires subscription)

J.G. Ballard (1930-2009) was born into an English expatriate family and raised in the International Settlement, Shanghai, China. His childhood was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of 1937, and in 1943 he and his family were interned by the Japanese. Liberated at the end of WWII, the Ballards relocated to England, where J.G.B. always felt himself to be an outsider. At the Leys School, Cambridge, he began to pursue serious interests in film, aviation, Freudian psychoanalysis, and surrealist art. In 1949, he went to Cambridge University to study medicine, intending to become a psychiatrist. But though fascinated by anatomy, his vocation proved to be literary. Having briefly studied English at the University of London, he enrolled in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and trained for some months in Canada, where he discovered American science fiction magazines. In 1955, he returned to England and married Mary Matthews; they would have a son and two daughters. In 1956, J.G.B. debuted with two stories in British science fiction magazines. Insisting that it was the genre’s task to explore inner — not outer — space, he would become the leading writer of the British New Wave. In 1960, the Ballards moved to Shepperton, a quiet West London suburb, where J.G.B. would live until shortly before his death. In 1962, he published the potboiler The Wind from Nowhere and the acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel The Drowned World, and thereafter supported his family through writing. In 1964, his wife died suddenly of pneumonia. Against the expectations of the time, J.G.B. raised his three children alone, never remarrying. During the late 1960s, his fiction began an experimental stage typified by The Atrocity Exhibition (1969) and culminating in Crash (1973), his most controversial novel, which marries sex, violence, and celebrity culture in the urban landscape of the near future, dominated by the automobile. In 1984, he published Empire of the Sun, a quasi-autobiographical novel set in wartime Shanghai. It was warmly received by a general readership, and J.G.B. began to be recognized as one of the leading writers of his time. In his later fiction, J.G.B. continued to explore technological developments and social trends as symptoms of the unconscious psychopathology of Western society. Just before his death, he published an autobiography, Miracles of Life (2008), finding positive meaning in the traumas of his earlier life. The adjective Ballardian has recently entered several dictionaries, suggesting that J.G.B.’s dystopian vision of the trajectory of Western civilization has been highly influential.

Nicholas Ruddick. “Grant Allen.” Oxford Bibliographies in “Victorian Literature”. Ed. Lisa Rodensky. New York: Oxford University Press, 2023. (Requires subscription)

Evolutionist, naturalist, atheist, socialist, Celtophile, armchair sexual radical, Grant Allen was one of the most prolific, versatile, and controversial men of letters in the Victorian fin de siècle. Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen was born on 24 February 1848 in Alwington, Canada West, now a suburb of Kingston, Ontario. His father was an Irish-born minister of the (Protestant) Church of Ireland; his mother came from a distinguished Canadian military family. In 1861 the Allens moved to Connecticut, and thereafter to Dieppe, France and Birmingham, England. When his family returned to Canada in 1866, Allen remained in England, entering Oxford University on a scholarship in 1867. In 1868 he married a woman of a lower social class who would die of tuberculosis in 1872. This first marriage, which caused Allen to lose his scholarship, may have been motivated by a desire to save his wife from the streets, and probably underlay his later determination to confront the problem of prostitution in his writings. In 1873 Allen married Ellen (Nellie) Jerrard; they would remain happily espoused until Allen’s death. Later that year Allen was appointed a professor at a new, short-lived college in Spanish Town, Jamaica. His (for their time) radical views on further education, gender roles, race, and colonialism were intensified by his Caribbean experience. From 1876 he was based in England, publishing his first book, Physiological Aesthetics, in 1877. In 1878 Nellie bore their only child, a son, and Allen found he could not support his family with scientific-philosophical writing. He expanded his literary scope to include popular fiction, and continued to write on an enormous variety of subjects. In a relatively short literary career blighted by ill health, he published about eighty books, including novels, short story collections, poetry, works on scientific subjects, collections of nonfiction essays, biographical and historical works, and travel guides. Much of his vast body of writing was ephemeral journalism and potboiling fiction. But his best-selling novel-with-a-purpose The Woman Who Did (1895) remains a landmark response to first-wave feminism, and he made pioneering contributions to scientific romance, horror, and detective fiction. And because he spoke eloquently for both progressive and transgressive elements in fin-de-siècle culture, his oeuvre and the records of his dealings with fellow-writers, editors, and publishers increasingly interest literary and social historians. Allen died at the age of 51 on 25 October 1899 at his home in Hindhead, Surrey.