In Defence of Wyndham


THERE appear to be three main criticisms of Wyndham's work, all of which, I feel, are unjustified.

Cliché One: Wyndham writes 'Cosy Catastrophes'.

A study of his works does not concur with this overused criticism, one which fellow British author Brian Aldiss is especially fond of perpetuating. Within the first chapter of Triffids, The End Begins, Doctor Soames has comprehended the magnitude of events, and throws himself out of the window in front of the narrator. This is by no means the only suicide Masen witnesses. Furthermore, the lead character is compelled to assist an attractive eighteen year old in her suicide/euthanasia, the day after she desperately offers to prostitute herself in order to entice him to stay loyal to his band.

In Chapter Seven of The Chrysalids, David’s Aunt Harriet is forced to give up her healthy third baby due to a tiny deviation, just as she had to surrender her first two children. In addition it is likely that her husband will abandon her as a result. Five chapters later a child is tortured with red hot pokers.

Also there is The Midwich Cuckoo to consider, the basic plot of which revolves around female villagers being made unconscious, raped and impregnated, then left to raise partially alien babies.

There is a great deal of moral ambiguity in his books, and Wyndham lets the reader come to his/her own conclusions. Even his aliens are vulnerable and endangered species. Wyndham is no purveyor of cosyness.

Cliché Two: The Author is too Upper-Middle Class.

This is surely an example of inverted snobbery. In my opinion the genteel and dated language adds poignancy to Wyndham’s disasters, and serves to emphasise the decline into barbarity that often occurs in his storylines.

Cliché Three: Wyndham was a Misogynist.

This is the most bemusing and unjustifiable accusation made of Wyndham. Admittedly there are lines in The Kraken Wakes, and Triffids that if not sexist, are certainly old-fashioned, but the overall affect of Wyndham’s work is quite the opposite. David Ketterer, who writes the generally informative 28 page introduction to the hardback version of Plan for Chaos, seems convinced of Wyndham’s fear of women. He bizarrely claims that triffids are 'walking vaginas'. His two main points of reference are Plan for Chaos, and the short story Consider Her Ways. Focusing on the second, the following are I will concede the words of an antagonistic character, but surely prove that Wyndham had given a great deal more thought to the topic of Women’s emancipation than the majority of men born in 1903:

‘Women must never for a moment be allowed to forget their sex, and to compete as equals.'

‘The cinema most of all maintained the propaganda, persuading the main and important part of their audience, which was female, that nothing in life was worth achieving but dewy-eyed passivity in the strong arms of Romance’

‘ two granddaughters....are happy, and they've reason to be happy; they're not growing up into a world where they must gamble on the goodwill of some man to keep them; they'll never need to be servile before a lord and master; they'll never stand in danger of rape and butchery, either’.

The decriers of Wyndham also conveniently ignore The Trouble with Lichen, a novel that ponders what would happen if women could delay the menopause, and greatly extend their working lives.

One should also judge Wyndham on his actions, not just his modern thinking. He was also prepared to forego his own chance of having children in order to allow his secret lover Grace Wilson the opportunity to complete her teaching career. The couple only married in 1963 when Grace had retired. This does not appear to be the lifestyle choice of a woman-hater.


Wyndham is a logical and fantastic writer.