Thursday, May 20, 2010

Alan Sillitoe

The writer Alan Sillitoe died on April 25th at the age of 82. Our Librarian, Tom McConville recently bought a copy of his famous collection The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner for the Library, and this prompted him to write an essay on the story, and on its importance for him in his own life.

This fine thoughtful personal literary analysis is now online here in full, and will also appear in our coming book, Outside the Frame (more soon):-

I first read The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in prep school in late 60s England and its effect was immediate. We understood the principles of incarceration! Certainly we were familiar with the fundamental unfairness of authority, its contempt for the powerless, and knew that “honesty” was too often a means of social control rather than an end in itself. We knew about loneliness, bad food and boils, and we “missed our mams” just as Smith’s fellow inmates did. From time to time we were beaten, and actually heard the phrase “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” before the cane came whipping down. Of course, we knew we were young toffs, from the class Smith despised - if we doubted it we need only listen to the tales of the older boys’ summer’s-night fights with the townies in the woods at the edge of the school, and understood that it would be our turn soon.

But we were not yet formed in our privilege, and Smith’s resistance was also ours. When he said, “I’m a human being and I’ve got thoughts and secrets and bloody life inside me that he (the governor) doesn’t know is there, and he’ll never know what’s there because he’s stupid.... But what I say is true right enough. He’s stupid, and I’m not, because I can see further into the likes of him than he can see into the likes of me,” he was speaking for us too - only our governor was called the headmaster.

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