Edward Upward

Edward Falaise Upward, FRSL (9 September 1903 – 13 February 2009) was a British novelist and short story writer who, prior to his death, was believed to be the UK's oldest living author. Initially gaining recognition amongst the Auden Group as a highly imaginative surrealist writer, in the 1930s he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, after which his writing shifted towards Marxist realism. His literary career spanned over eighty years.

Edward Upward
Upward c. 1938
Upward c. 1938
Born9 September 1903
Romford, Essex, England
Died13 February 2009 (aged 105)
Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England
OccupationWriter, schoolteacher
Alma materCorpus Christi College, Cambridge
SpouseHilda Percival (m. 1936–1995; her death)

Early life and education

Upward was born on 9 September 1903 in Romford, Essex, though his paternal family background was on the Isle of Wight. His parents were Harold Arthur Upward (1874–1958), a doctor from a middle class family, and Louisa "Isa" Upward (née Jones; 1869–1951), who had trained as a nurse and tried acting. His mother, who had grown up in Wanstead but was of Welsh descent, came from a lower middle class background but was very class conscious, a trait Upward strongly disliked. His siblings were John Mervyn Upward (1905–1999); Laurence Vaughan Upward (1909–1970), who suffered from schizophrenia;[1] and Yolande Isa Upward (1911–2004). Another brother, Harold, was born in 1907 and died in infancy that same year. His first cousin once removed was the poet and novelist Allen Upward, who committed suicide in 1926.

In 1917, at the insistence of his mother, Upward was sent to Repton School, where he became a very close friend of Christopher Isherwood in the sixth form. Upward's first published material appeared in the school magazine, The Reptonian, in February 1920. From 1922 to 1925 he attended Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, reading History and then English. After the arrival of Isherwood in Cambridge in 1923 the two created the surreal town of Mortmere, an obscene parody and repudiation of the various upper-class characters they encountered at the university. Upward was awarded Cambridge's Chancellor's Medal for English Verse in 1924, for his poem "Buddha". Through Isherwood Upward met and befriended W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender; his first meeting with Auden was at a café in Soho in 1927.

Teaching and communist activities

From January 1926 Upward took up various teaching jobs in a number of locations, such as Carbis Bay, Worcester, Lockerbie, Scarborough and Stowe. In 1932 he became an English master at Alleyn's School, Dulwich, having been recommended by a friend of his brother, Mer, who was also a schoolmaster and became headmaster of Port Regis School the following year. He remained at Alleyn's until his retirement in 1961.

In 1931 he began attending meetings of a branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain in Bethnal Green, and canvassed for Joe Vaughan, the CPGB candidate for Bethnal Green South West in that year's general election. In 1932 he joined the party on a probationary basis, which was partly self-imposed, and travelled to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation that also included Barbara Wootton. He also visited Isherwood and Spender in Berlin. He became a full member of the party in 1934. In 1936 he married Hilda Percival (1909–1995), a fellow teacher and CPGB member, with whom he had a son and a daughter (their son, Christopher Upward, became a linguist). During the Second World War the family was evacuated with Upward's school to Cleveleys in Lancashire, where Alleyn's temporarily merged with the nearby Rossall School. Starting in 1942 Upward and his wife began to be investigated by MI5 in relation to their communist activities.[2] Upward remained committed to internationalism and socialism for the rest of his life, although he and Hilda left the CPGB in 1948, believing that it was no longer revolutionary and that its leadership was trying to appease the Labour government.

Edward Upward
Upward c. 1972

Upward's first novel, Journey to the Border, was published by the Hogarth Press in 1938. It describes in poetic prose the rebellion of a private tutor against his employer and the menacing world of the 1930s, inducing a nightmarish state, and concluding with the recognition that he must join the workers' movement. After this, Upward found it increasingly difficult to write anything, and so in 1952–53 he took a sabbatical year from teaching in order to focus more intently on his writing, but this backfired and resulted in a nervous breakdown. During this time he destroyed most of his Mortmere stories from his Cambridge days, having concluded that such grotesque and fantastical fiction was inappropriate in a post-Holocaust world.

In 1954 Upward began to overcome his creative block and started work on an autobiographical trilogy titled The Spiral Ascent, dealing with the struggle of a poet, Alan Sebrill, to combine his creative endeavours with political commitment to the CPGB. The trilogy was published in the years following Upward's early retirement in 1961 to the house where his parents used to live in Sandown, Isle of Wight. In the Thirties (1962), the first volume, describes Sebrill's early involvement with the CPGB and the struggle against the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. The Rotten Elements (1969) involves Sebrill and his wife's clash with the party leadership, and their decision to leave the party. The final volume, No Home but the Struggle (1977), sees Sebrill find new meaning by joining the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which helps him to write again.

Later years

In the last decades of the twentieth century Upward returned to writing short stories, which were published, along with reprints of earlier works, by the Enitharmon Press. His last years were also punctuated by sadness, with the deaths of his wife Hilda, in 1995, and his son Christopher, in 2002. In 2003 Enitharmon celebrated his centenary by publishing selected short stories, edited by Alan Walker, as A Renegade in Springtime. In an interview with Nicholas Wroe, which appeared in The Guardian the month before his hundredth birthday, Upward explained that the title "came from an idea for a story about Auden. I never wrote the story, but the phrase stayed. The renegade is the one with a sense of reality and everyone else is too happy-go-lucky."[3] His last story, "Crommelin-Brown", was written in 2003, shortly before he turned 100.

In 2005 Upward was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and awarded its Benson Medal.[4]

On 13 February 2009 Upward died of a chest infection in Pontefract, West Yorkshire, where he had relocated in 2004 to be close to his daughter. He was 105 years old.[5]

Edward Upward: Art and Life by Peter Stansky was published in May 2016. There are collections of Upward's literary papers and correspondence in the British Library (Add MS 89002) and in the Parker Library of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge.



  • Journey to the Border (1938; revised ed., 1994)
  • In the Thirties (Vol. 1 of The Spiral Ascent, 1962)
  • The Rotten Elements (Vol. 2 of The Spiral Ascent, 1969)
  • No Home But the Struggle (Vol. 3 of The Spiral Ascent, 1977)

Collections of short stories

  • The Railway Accident and Other Stories (1969)
  • The Night Walk and Other Stories (1987)
  • The Mortmere Stories by Christopher Isherwood and Edward Upward (1994)
  • An Unmentionable Man (1994)
  • The Scenic Railway (1997)
  • The Coming Day and Other Stories (2000)
  • A Renegade in Springtime (2003)

See also Edward Upward: A Bibliography, 1920–2000 by Alan Walker (Enitharmon Press, 2000).

Biography and criticism

  • Mario Faraone, L’isola e il treno: L’opera di Edward Upward tra impegno politico e creatività artistica, Rome: La Sapienza Università Editrice, 2013: in Italian, but with extensive passages quoted in English, a previously unpublished interview with the author, and a bibliography updated to 2012; further details available here
  • Peter Stansky, Edward Upward: Art and Life, London: Enitharmon Books, 2016.


  1. ^ Edward Upward and Left-Wing Literary Culture in Britain, Benjamin Kohlmann et al, 2013
  2. ^ Stansky, P., Edward Upward: Art and Life, p. 160
  3. ^ Wroe, Nicholas (23 August 2003). "A Lifetime Renegade". The Guardian.
  4. ^ Parker, Peter (17 February 2009). "Edward Upward: Writer of Politically Charged Novels and Short Stories who Was a Contemporary of W.H. Auden". London: The Independent. Retrieved 11 August 2010.
  5. ^ "Edward Upward, Writer who Illuminated the Social Turmoil of the 1930s". The Times. London. 16 February 2009.

External links

1903 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1903.

1903 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1903 in the United Kingdom.


2009 (MMIX)

was a common year starting on Thursday of the Gregorian calendar, the 2009th year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 9th year of the 3rd millennium, the 9th year of the 21st century, and the 10th and last year of the 2000s decade.

2009 was designated as:

International Year of Astronomy

International Year of Natural Fibres

International Year of Reconciliation

Year of the Gorilla (UNEP and UNESCO)

Allen Upward

George Allen Upward (20 September 1863 – 12 November 1926) was a poet, lawyer, politician and teacher. His work was included in the first anthology of Imagist poetry, Des Imagistes, which was edited by Ezra Pound and published in 1914. He was a first cousin once removed of Edward Upward. His parents were George and Mary Upward, and he was survived by an elder sister (Mary) Edith Upward.Upward was brought up as a member of the Plymouth Brethren and trained as a lawyer at the Royal University of Dublin (now University College Dublin). While living in Dublin, he wrote a pamphlet in favour of Irish Home Rule.

Upward later worked for the British Foreign Office in Kenya as a judge. Back in Britain, he defended Havelock Wilson and other labour leaders and ran for election as a Lib-Lab candidate, taking 659 votes in Merthyr at the 1895 general election.He wrote two books of poetry, Songs of Ziklag (1888) and Scented Leaves from a Chinese Jar. He also published a translation Sayings of Confucious and a volume of autobiography, Some Personalities (1921).

Upward wrote a number of now-forgotten novels: The Prince of Balkistan (1895), A Crown of Straw (1896), A Bride's Madness (1897), The Accused Princess (1900) (source: Duncan, p. xii), "''The International Spy: Being a Secret History of the Russo-Japanese War" (1905), and Athelstane Ford. His 1910 novel "The Discovery of the Dead" is a collected fantasy (listed in Bleiler) dealing with the emerging science of Necrology.

His 1913 book The Divine Mystery is an anthropological study of Christian mythology.

In 1908, Upward self-published a book (originally written in 1901) which he apparently thought would be Nobel Prize material: The New Word. This book is today known as the first citation of the word "Scientology", however there was no delineation in this book of its definition by Upward. It is unknown whether L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Scientology-organization, knew of this book.

In 1917 the British Museum refused to take Upwards' manuscripts, "on the grounds that the writer was still alive," and Upward burned them (source: Duncan, p. xi).

He shot himself in November 1926. Ezra Pound would a decade later satirically remark that this was due to his disappointment after hearing of George Bernard Shaw's Nobel Prize award which Shaw won in 1925.

Auden Group

The Auden Group or the Auden Generation is a group of British and Irish writers active in the 1930s that included W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day-Lewis, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood, and sometimes Edward Upward and Rex Warner. They were sometimes called simply the Thirties poets (see "References").

Christopher Isherwood

Christopher William Bradshaw Isherwood (26 August 1904 – 4 January 1986) was an English-American novelist. His best-known works include The Berlin Stories (1935–39), two semi-autobiographical novellas inspired by Isherwood's time in Weimar Republic Germany. These enhanced his postwar reputation when they were adapted first into the play I Am a Camera (1951), then the 1955 film of the same name, I am a Camera. This was later adapted into the bravura stage musical Cabaret (1966), and Bob Fosse's inventive re-creation for film, Cabaret (1972). His novel A Single Man was published in 1964 and adapted into the film of the same name in 2009.

Christopher and His Kind

Christopher and His Kind is a memoir by Christopher Isherwood, published in 1976 by Sylvester & Orphanos, in which he expounds events in his life from 1929 to 1939, including his years in Berlin which were the inspiration for his popular novel Goodbye to Berlin.Isherwood decided late in his life that he had a moral obligation to renounce the self-censorship that marked his early novels, specifically the excision of any hint of his homosexuality. Accordingly, in Christopher and His Kind he recounts his experiences as a young gay man enticed by the liberated atmosphere of Weimar Berlin into a quest for sexual and intellectual emancipation, and argues that his homosexuality, far from a marginal private shame to be suppressed, was a central element in his human and creative development, an identity he cherished and shared with many others ("my tribe", "my kind"), with whom he felt a special kinship. This remarkably candid autobiography was, in Isherwood's view, the way to discharge the obligation he felt due to "his kind", and thus make his own contribution to the cause of gay liberation.

Enitharmon Press

Enitharmon Press is an independent British publishing house specialising in artists’ books, poetry, limited editions and original prints. At its gallery retail space in Bloomsbury Enitharmon publications, including some rare books and special editions, are sold.

The name of the press comes from the poetry of William Blake: Enitharmon was a character who represented spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration. The press's logo "derives from a Blake woodcut".

February 13

February 13 is the 44th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. 321 days remain until the end of the year (322 in leap years).

Frank Kermode

Sir John Frank Kermode, FBA (29 November 1919 – 17 August 2010) was a British literary critic best known for his 1967 work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction and for his extensive book-reviewing and editing.

He was the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at Cambridge University.

Kermode was known for many works of criticism, and also as editor of the popular Fontana Modern Masters series of introductions to modern thinkers. He was a regular contributor to the London Review of Books and The New York Review of Books.

John Lehmann

Rudolf John Frederick Lehmann (2 June 1907 – 7 April 1987) was an English poet and man of letters. He founded the periodicals New Writing and The London Magazine, and the publishing house of John Lehmann Limited.

List of people from the Isle of Wight

This is a list of notable people born in or strongly associated with the Isle of Wight, alphabetically within categories.

Peter Stansky

Peter David Lyman Stansky (born January 18, 1932) is an American historian specializing in modern British history.

Sally Bowles

Sally Bowles () is a fictional character created by English-American novelist Christopher Isherwood. She originally appeared in Isherwood's 1937 novella Sally Bowles published by Hogarth Press. The story was later republished in the novel Goodbye to Berlin. Sally is a central character in the 1951 John Van Druten stage play I Am a Camera, the 1955 film of the same name, the 1966 musical stage adaptation Cabaret and the 1972 film adaptation of the musical. In 1979, critic Howard Moss of The New Yorker noted the peculiar resiliency of the character: "It is almost fifty years since Sally Bowles shared the recipe for a Prairie oyster with Herr Issyvoo in a vain attempt to cure a hangover" and yet the character in "subsequent transformations" lives on "from story to play to movie to musical to movie-musical."


Sandown is a seaside resort and civil parish on the south-east coast of the Isle of Wight, England, with the town of Shanklin to the south and the settlement of Lake in between.

Sandown is the northernmost town of Sandown Bay, known for its long stretches of easily accessible, sandy beach.

The outer Bay is also used as a sheltered anchorage, with ships requiring salvage periodically towed there (such as the Tarpenbeck). The wreck of a salvage tug could be seen until recently at low tide under Culver Cliff, (the Harry Sharman) which had been assisting the stricken tanker Pacific Glory in the 1970s.

Together with Shanklin, Sandown forms a built-up area of 21,374 inhabitants.

September 9

September 9 is the 252nd day of the year (253rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 113 days remain until the end of the year.


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