The Outsider (Colin Wilson)

The Outsider is a 1956 book by English writer Colin Wilson.[1]

The Outsider
Cover of the first US edition
AuthorColin Wilson
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesThe Outsider Cycle
PublisherGollancz (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
Followed byReligion and the Rebel 

Through the works and lives of various artists – including H. G. Wells (Mind at the End of Its Tether), Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, T. S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Harley Granville-Barker (The Secret Life), Hermann Hesse, T. E. Lawrence, Vincent van Gogh, Vaslav Nijinsky, George Bernard Shaw, William Blake, Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Gurdjieff – Wilson explores the psyche of the Outsider, his effect on society, and society's effect on him.

On Christmas Day, 1954, alone in his room, Wilson sat down on his bed and began to write in his journal. He described his feelings as follows:

It struck me that I was in the position of so many of my favourite characters in fiction: Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov, Rilke's Malte Laurids Brigge, the young writer in Hamsun's Hunger: alone in my room, feeling totally cut off from the rest of society. It was not a position I relished...Yet an inner compulsion had forced me into this position of isolation. I began writing about it in my journal, trying to pin it down. And then, quite suddenly, I saw that I had the makings of a book. I turned to the back of my journal and wrote at the head of the page: 'Notes for a book The Outsider in Literature'..."[2]

The Outsider has been translated into over thirty languages (including Russian and Chinese) and never been out of print since publication day of 28 May 1956. Wilson wrote much of it in the Reading Room of the British Museum, and during this period was, for a time, living in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath. He continued to work on it at a furious pace and:

One day I typed out the introduction, and a few pages from the middle, and sent them to Victor Gollancz with a letter giving a synopsis of the book. He replied within two days, saying he would be interested to see the book when completed ...

Gollancz was the head of publishers Victor Gollancz Ltd. Wilson was inspired to send the book to him after he found a copy of the publisher's own book A Year of Grace in a second-hand bookshop, which led him to believe that he had found a sympathetic publisher.[3]