Man Without a Shadow, p.1
MAN WITHOUT A SHADOW
Colin Wilson was born in Leicester in 1931. He left school at 16 and worked at various jobs while reading and writing in his spare time. His study The Outsider was published by Victor Gollancz in 1956 and became an overnight sensation in England and America, bringing widespread popular and critical attention to its 24 year old author; the book has never been out of print. He followed The Outsider with two further nonfiction works, Religion and the Rebel (1957) and The Age of Defeat (1959), which were not as well received, before turning to fiction in 1960 with Ritual in the Dark, a novel he had worked on since age 17.
He continued to write prolifically in numerous genres, both fiction and nonfiction, including works on the occult, crime, and serial killers. His prolific output of fiction includes two subsequent novels featuring Gerard Sorme, the protagonist of Ritual in the Dark—Man Without a Shadow (1963) and The God of the Labyrinth (1970)—as well as novels in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft, including The Mind Parasites (1967) and The Philosopher’s Stone (1969).
Wilson has published more than 150 books and resides with his wife Joy in Cornwall, where he has lived for more than fifty years.
Colin Stanley (b. 1952) is the published bibliographer of Colin Wilson, editor of Colin Wilson Studies (a series of books and booklets about Wilson’s work written by scholars worldwide), author of two experimental novels and a volume of nonsense verse, and has written and edited several volumes pertaining to Wilson. He now runs a publishing company in Nottingham, Paupers’ Press. His vast collection of Wilson’s work has recently been acquired by the University of Nottingham.
Fiction by Colin Wilson
Ritual in the Dark*
Adrift in Soho
The World of Violence*
Man Without a Shadow*
The Glass Cage
The Mind Parasites
The Philosopher’s Stone*
The God of the Labyrinth*
The Black Room
The Return of the Lloigor
The Schoolgirl Murder Case
The Space Vampires
The Janus Murder Case
The Personality Surgeon
Spider World: The Tower
Spider World: The Delta
The Magician from Siberia
Spider World: The Magician
Spider World: Shadowlands
* Available from Valancourt Books
MAN WITHOUT A SHADOW
The Diary of an Existentialist
A novel by
With a new introduction by
Man Without a Shadow by Colin Wilson
First published London: Arthur Barker, 1963
First Valancourt Books edition 2013
Copyright © 1963 by Colin Wilson
Introduction © 2013 by Colin Stanley
The right of Colin Wilson to be identified as Author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Published by Valancourt Books, Kansas City, Missouri
Publisher & Editor: James D. Jenkins
20th Century Series Editor: Simon Stern, University of Toronto
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Man Without a Shadow: The Diary of an Existentialist was Colin Wilson’s fourth novel, originally published in the United Kingdom by Arthur Barker Ltd. in 1963. It was the second in the ‘Gerard Sorme Trilogy’, preceded by Ritual in the Dark (1960) and completed by The God of the Labyrinth in 1970. The title refers to the novel Peter Schlemihl by Adelbert von Chamisso—about a man who regrets trading his shadow in exchange for wealth—and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s ‘The Story of the Lost Reflection’. All this did not impress the American publishers, Dial Press, who insisted on changing the title to The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme. In 1988, Ronin Publishing reissued it as The Sex Diary of a Metaphysician.
The novel continues, more-or-less, where Ritual in the Dark left off and ties up some of its loose ends. Many of the personnel are carried over although the strong character of Austin Nunne (still referred to at times in the text) is replaced by the larger-than-life Caradoc Cunningham. Man Without a Shadow can, however, still be enjoyed as a completely separate work.
In his autobiography Dreaming to Some Purpose (2004), Wilson revealed that the novel was initially proposed by Maurice Girodias, editor of Olympia Press, the Paris publisher who specialised in ‘obscene’ books: “The idea appealed to me. In 1962, the police were still able to seize any book they considered indecent. And I liked to be allowed to write frankly about sex” (Wilson (1), 228). When he mentioned this to his mainstream publishers, Arthur Barker Ltd., they asked to see the manuscript and decided to publish it themselves in a slightly amended version. It was not all plain sailing however: it had to be cleared in court before it could be sold in England and in a subsequent court case in Boston, where the book was described as obscene: “The judge . . . disagreed, saying that it was no worse than Henry Miller or Lady Chatterley . . .” (Wilson (1), 249).
Man Without a Shadow brings together several of Wilson’s interests, including philosophy, sex, and the occult. When his now classic study The Occult was published in 1971, some critics, fans, and scholars of his previous non-fiction—particularly the ‘Outsider Cycle’ in which he had created his ‘New Existentialism’ and established himself as a philosopher of some note—were surprised, others downright horrified. They found this step into the rather contentious unknown—abandoning the rigours of philosophy for, in their opinion, more trivial topics—mystifying. Wilson, they felt, was merely jumping onto the occult bandwagon in order to make money.
Readers of his fiction, however, were definitely not taken by surprise and had no such qualms about his serious foray into the subject; for occult instances and anecdotes abound in all of his novels from Ritual in the Dark onwards. Indeed, Wilson himself informed us that as a twenty-year-old, living in rented accommodation in London with his wife and young child, forced to work in various dead-end factory jobs—long before the publication of his first book, The Outsider, in 1956—he read all the books on magic and mysticism that he could find in libraries, not just as an escape from his lot but “. . . because they confirmed my intuition of another order of reality, an intenser and more powerful form of consciousness than the kind I seemed to share” (Wilson (2), 46) and by the time he came to write The Occult, in the late 1960s, had apparently accumulated a library of over five hundred volumes on the subject. And in Man Without a Shadow his interest in the occult became very apparent.
Although presented in the form of a diary, the novel has two distinct sections: before and after Sorme meets Caradoc Cunningham. The first part concentrates on Sorme’s i
mountaineer . Here sexuality combines with the occult. Sorme writes:
Of one thing I am certain. The sexual force is the nearest thing to magic—to the supernatural—that human beings ever experience. It deserves perpetual and close study. No study is so profitable to the philosopher. In the sex force, he can watch the purpose of the universe in action. (Wilson (4), 27)
Crowley clearly fascinates Wilson: chapter seven of The Occult, ‘The Beast Himself’, was dedicated to him, and later, in 1987, he wrote a short biography, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast.
Wilson has also revealed that there was a certain amount of autobiography in Man Without a Shadow: “It was a pleasure to write, for I enjoyed telling the story of my own sex life in a slightly fictionalised form” (Wilson (1), 229). Human sexuality was very much on his mind at that time, as he was concurrently writing a non-fiction book, the fifth in the ‘Outsider Cycle’, Origins of the Sexual Impulse, also released in 1963:
Ritual in the Dark had been closely connected to The Outsider, and I now found it natural to write a novel and a ‘philosophical book’ at about the same time. Ideas tended to shape themselves into characters and events. Origins of the Sexual Impulse was followed by the novel, Man Without a Shadow. (Wilson (3), 235-6)
And in the ‘Note by Gerard Sorme’, which preceded the novel, Sorme (i.e. Wilson) describes how his diaries had come into the public domain, an event that had actually happened to him in 1957 when his journals were splashed all over the tabloid press after a much publicised incident in which his future father-in-law threatened him with a horse-whip.
“A story or a novel,” wrote Wilson, “is a writer’s attempt to create a clear self-image” (Wilson (3), 21):
His purpose in writing is bound up with his sense of identity. If he has no clear sense of identity, or if his self-image is blurred . . . he may still be able to observe and describe the world around him accurately. But he will be incapable of creating anything large. (Wilson (3), 23)
Sorme is deeply concerned with his own sense of ‘inauthentic existence’, a classic theme of existential literature (hence the sub-title of the original UK edition). He is the man without a shadow or a reflection. Life flows through him and although things happen to him the experience is frustratingly incomplete. He writes the sex diary in an attempt to see his own face, to ‘remember himself’.
Man Without a Shadow is—along with the majority of Wilson’s fiction—a novel of ideas, a form he defends in his Preface. By this he means not merely a novel that plays superficially with ideas but one that is fuelled and driven by them. Contemporary reviewers were mostly unconvinced by this and reactions to Man Without a Shadow were—as usual with any Wilson title at that time—mixed; but later, more considered, assessments by Wilson scholars rated it much higher. R. H. W. Dillard saw the novel as “one of Wilson’s most interesting, for the ideas are at the surface, and the sexual intensity drives them along” (Dillard, 145). Howard F. Dossor thought that it “. . . remains an important statement of the philosophy of the Outsider” and that it “. . . reflects man in the attitude of exploring his own sexuality and it does so with an intellectual honesty that is all too rare in the field” (Dossor, 259). Professor John A. Weigel, in his assessment, concluded:
Colin Wilson does not play games comfortably. Thus his fiction, no matter how deliberately he may try to make it light or sardonic, usually comes out solemnly didactic. Man Without a Shadow, because of the subject matter, certainly seems to exaggerate reality, as pornography, by definition, is meant to do; but one comes away from the book, if he has read it in good faith, convinced that it is not pornography. One believes that Wilson did intend to tell the truth about sex intelligently and accurately. (Weigel, 81-82)
See what you think . . .
February 22, 2013
Dillard, R. H. W. ‘Toward an Existential Realism: The Novels of Colin Wilson’ in Stanley, Colin (ed.) Colin Wilson, A Celebration: Essays and Recollections. London: Cecil Woolf, 1988.
Dossor, Howard F. Colin Wilson: The Man and his Mind. Shaftesbury: Element Books, 1990.
Weigel, John A. Colin Wilson (Twayne’s English Authors Series, no. 181). Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1975.
Wilson, Colin (1). Dreaming to Some Purpose. London: Century, 2004.
Wilson, Colin (2). The Occult. St Albans: Mayflower Books, 1973.
Wilson, Colin (3). The Craft of the Novel. Bath: Ashgrove Press, 1986.
Wilson, Colin (4). The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme. London: Pan Books, 1968.
MAN WITHOUT A SHADOW
With Love for Joy and Sally
For me, there is one simple objection to novels: they get nowhere.
Consider the following Zen stories, quoted by Dr Suzuki:
‘Hsueh Feng once asked Chang-ch’ing, who came up to see the master in his room, “What is that?” Said Chang: “Fine weather, just the day for outdoor work.”
‘Another time, seeing a monk pass by, Hsueh Feng beckoned him to approach, and asked, “Where are you going?” The monk answered: “I am going to join the general work.” Said the master: “Then go.”’
These two stories are pointless; I very much doubt whether they are intended to have any deep symbolic meaning. But when you have read a dozen such Zen anecdotes, an interesting thing happens: you suddenly observe something about the working of your own mind. You expect the anecdote to have a ‘punch’ in the last line; when it doesn’t come, a peculiar sense of frustration arises. What the mind has been cheated of is a meaning. We say irritably: ‘That story is meaningless.’ Unless its events serve a function—to support the meaning—we feel them to be unjustified. But does that mean that the anecdote itself is meaningless, simply because it lacks a ‘punch’? Or is it not true that we allow the ‘punch’ in a ‘good anecdote’ to bear the whole burden of meaning, robbing the rest of the story of its significance?
This enables me to explain what troubles me about the novel, as it has existed in England since Defoe and Richardson. It flows onward quietly, apparently getting to its ‘point’. But what is its point? That Pamela marries Mr B——, that Robinson Crusoe dies peacefully in his bed? We are willing to accept these as the point; this enables us to put the book down and forget it. But therein lies the unsatisfactoriness of the whole tradition of the novel. It is as pointless as a boiled sweet.
I would be the first to agree that this pointlessness is the price that must be paid for the unique qualities of the novel. The novel form confers a strange freedom on the writer. Compare, for example, the critical writings of John Cowper Powys with his best novels. From The Art of Growing Old or The Pleasures of Literature, you would assume that here is some feeble-minded, garrulous old maid, a kind of literary Aunt Tabitha; you can almost hear the knitting pins clicking as he rambles on. What is there to prepare you for the sweep, the power, the impact, of Jobber Skald, Wolf Solent or A Glastonbury Romance? Here, the division is so marked that Powys might be two different authors. In others it is less so; but no one rates the Tolstoy of What is Art? with the Tolstoy of War and Peace. Yes, the novel undoubtedly enables a man to express powers that he would find otherwise inexpressible. Think of Anthony Trollope, Arnold Bennett, Thomas Mann: who would have suspected these men of being magicians if they had been greengrocers or coal merchants? Would they have known themselves? I doubt it.
But the price paid for this freedom is heavy; the novelist is confined to a merry-go-round of human emotions—that is to say, of story. If you will take the trouble to plough through the fifteen hundred pages of Jean Christo
The truth of the matter seems to be this: that a novel is ‘justified’ in so far as it gives you a holiday from yourself. Most stories really get nowhere when they are examined critically. If you read a volume of philosophy, you may feel at the end as if you have arrived at a goal—although whether it satisfies you is a different matter. At the end of War and Peace or Jobber Skald, you feel as if you have been on an interesting circular tour on a bus, but you dismount at the same place where you got on. If the novel is short—or if it is read in small doses—then the goal is not important; you will have made an interesting excursion into new territory, and feel refreshed. If the novel is long, and you keep on reading to find out what happens next, your sense of freshness will disappear; you will cease to enjoy the scenery, and you will be suddenly struck by the futility of a circular bus tour.