Nevil Shute

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Nevil Shute Norway
Neville Shute AWW 1949.jpg
Born(1899-01-17)17 January 1899
London, England
Died12 January 1960(1960-01-12) (aged 60)
Melbourne, Australia
Pen nameNevil Shute
OccupationNovelist
Aeronautical engineer
NationalityBritish, emigrated to Australia 1950
GenresFiction
 
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Nevil Shute Norway
Neville Shute AWW 1949.jpg
Born(1899-01-17)17 January 1899
London, England
Died12 January 1960(1960-01-12) (aged 60)
Melbourne, Australia
Pen nameNevil Shute
OccupationNovelist
Aeronautical engineer
NationalityBritish, emigrated to Australia 1950
GenresFiction

Nevil Shute Norway (17 January 1899 – 12 January 1960) was a popular British novelist and a successful aeronautical engineer. He used his full name in his engineering career, and "Nevil Shute" as his pen name, to protect his engineering career from any potential negative publicity in connection with his novels.[1]

In an indication of the timeless appeal of his work, Vintage Books reprinted all 23 of his books in 2009.[2]

Background[edit]

Born in Somerset Road, Ealing, west London, he was educated at the Dragon School, Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford, from which he graduated in 1922 with a 3rd class degree in engineering science. Shute's father, Arthur Hamilton Norway, became head of the post office in Ireland before the First World War, and was based at the main post office in Dublin in 1916 at the time of the Easter Rising. His son was later commended for his role as a stretcher bearer during the rising.

It is said[by whom?] that Shute was a cousin of the red haired Irish-American actress Geraldine Fitzgerald. However, this seems to be a confusion with his account in his autobiography[3] of his older brother Fred's proposal in Dublin in 1913 to the "ravishingly beautiful ... dark hair[ed]" Geraldine Fitzgerald who wanted to go on the stage.[4] Fred Norway himself died of wounds in France in 1915.

Shute attended the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich but because of his stammer was unable to take up a commission in the Royal Flying Corps, instead serving in World War I as a soldier in the Suffolk Regiment. An aeronautical engineer as well as a pilot, he began his engineering career with de Havilland Aircraft Company but, dissatisfied with the lack of opportunities for advancement, he took a position in 1924 with Vickers Ltd., where he was involved with the development of airships and structural geodetic frame design. Shute worked as Chief Calculator (stress engineer) on the R100 airship project for the subsidiary Airship Guarantee Company. In 1929, he was promoted to Deputy Chief Engineer of the R100 project under Sir Barnes Wallis and when Wallis left the project he became the Chief Engineer.

The R100 was a prototype for passenger-carrying airships that would serve the needs of Britain's empire. The government-funded but privately developed R100 was a success in that it made a successful return trip to and from Canada and while in Canada undertook local trips to Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls from Montreal. But the fatal 1930 crash in France of its government-developed counterpart R101 while flying to India ended Britain's interest in airships. The Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, died in this crash. The R100 was grounded and scrapped. Shute gives a detailed account of the development of the two airships in his 1954 autobiographical work, Slide Rule. His account is very critical of the R101 design and management team, and strongly hints that senior team members were complicit in concealing flaws in the airship's design and construction.

In 1931, with the cancellation of the R100 project, Shute teamed up with the talented de Havilland trained designer A. Hessell Tiltman to found the aircraft construction company Airspeed Ltd.

Despite setbacks and tribulations, including the usual problem of the start-up business, liquidity, Airspeed Limited eventually gained significant recognition when its Envoy aircraft was chosen for the King's Flight. With the approach of war a military version of Envoy was developed, to be called the Airspeed Oxford. The Oxford became the standard advanced multi-engined trainer for the RAF and British Commonwealth, with over 8,500 being built.

For the innovation of developing a hydraulic retractable undercarriage for the Airspeed Courier, and his work on R100, Shute was made a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

On 7 March 1931, Shute married Frances Mary Heaton, a 28-year-old medical practitioner. They had two daughters, Heather and Shirley.

By the outbreak of World War II, Shute was already a rising novelist. Even as war seemed imminent he was working on military projects with his former Vickers boss Sir Dennistoun Burney. He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a sub-lieutenant and quickly ended up in what would become the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. There he was a head of engineering, working on secret weapons such as Panjandrum, a job that appealed to the engineer in him. His celebrity as a writer caused the Ministry of Information to send him to the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944 and later to Burma as a correspondent. He finished the war with the rank of lieutenant-commander RNVR.

In 1948, after World War II, he flew his own Percival Proctor light airplane to Australia and back, with the writer James Riddell. On his return home, concerned about the general decline in his home country, he decided that he and his family would emigrate and so, in 1950, he settled with his wife and two daughters on farmland at Langwarrin, south-east of Melbourne.[5] In Slide Rule quoted from the diary he kept during the R100's successful test flight to Canada. Shute had written in 1930, "I would never have believed after a fortnight's stay I should be so sorry to leave a country." In 1954 he introduced that quote, "For the first time in my life I saw how people live in an English-speaking country outside England," and said it was interesting in the light of his later decision to emigrate to Australia.[6] Although he intended to remain in Australia, he did not take out Australian citizenship, but at that time it would have been an unnecessary formality as he would have had the same rights as an Australian citizen because he was a British subject.[7]

In the 1950s and 1960s he was one of the world's best-selling novelists, although his popularity has since declined.[8] However, he retains a core of dedicated readers who share information through various web pages such as The Nevil Shute Foundation.[9]

Between 1956 and 1958 in Australia, he took up car racing as a hobby, driving a white Jaguar XK140.[10] Some of this experience found its way into his book On the Beach. Many of his books were filmed, including Lonely Road, Landfall, Pied Piper (1942 and 1990 (as "Crossing to Freedom")), On the Beach (in 1959 and also in 2000), No Highway (in 1951) and A Town Like Alice (in 1956). The last was serialised for Australian television in 1981, as was, a little later, The Far Country.

Shute died in Melbourne in 1960 after a stroke.[11]

Themes[edit]

Shute's novels are written in a simple, highly readable style, with clearly delineated plot lines. Where there is a romantic element, sex is referred to only obliquely. Many of the stories are introduced by a narrator who is not a character in the story. The most common theme in Shute's novels is the dignity of work, spanning all classes, whether an Eastern European bar "hostess" (Ruined City) or brilliant boffin (No Highway).

Another recurrent theme is the bridging of social barriers such as class (Lonely Road and Landfall), race (The Chequer Board) or religion (Round the Bend). The Australian novels are individual hymns to that country, with subtle disparagement of the mores of the USA (Beyond the Black Stump) and overt antipathy towards the post-World War II socialist government of Shute's native Britain (The Far Country and In the Wet).

Shute lived a comfortable middle-class English life. His heroes tended to be middle class: solicitors, doctors, accountants, bank managers, engineers. Usually, like himself, they had enjoyed the privilege of university, not then within the purview of the lower classes. However (as in Trustee from the Toolroom), Shute valued the honest artisan and his social integrity and contributions to society more than the contributions of the upper classes.

Aviation and engineering provide the backdrop for many of Shute's novels. He identified how engineering, science and design could improve human life and more than once used the apparently anonymous epigram "It has been said an engineer is a man who can do for five shillings what any fool can do for a pound...."[12]

Several of Shute's novels explore the boundary between accepted science and rational belief on the one hand, and mystical or paranormal possibilities, including reincarnation, on the other hand. Shute does this by including elements that can be considered fantasy or science fiction in novels are classified as mainstream. These are based in elements that would be considered religious, mystical, or psychic phenomena in the British vernacular when they were written. These include: Buddhist astrology and folk prophecy in "The Chequer Board"; the effective use of a ouija board in "No Highway"; a messiah figure in "Round the Bend"; and past and future lives with a psychic connection, near-future science fiction, and Aboriginal psychic powers in "In the Wet."

Selected works[edit]

Shute's works can be divided into three sequential thematic categories: Prewar; War; and Australia.

Prewar[edit]

The Prewar category includes:

War (WWII)[edit]

The War novels include:

Australia[edit]

The Australia novels include:

Shute also published his autobiography Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer in 1954.

Works[edit]

Honours[edit]

Norway Road and Nevil Shute Road at Portsmouth Airport, Hampshire were both named after him. Shute Avenue in Berwick, Victoria was named after him, when the farm used for filming the 1959 movie was subdivided for housing.

The public library in Alice Springs is the Nevil Shute Memorial Library.[16]

In the Readers' List of the Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th century, A Town Like Alice came in at number 17, Trustee from the Toolroom at 27, and On the Beach at 56.[17]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer (1954) ISBN 1-84232-291-5 pages 44–45; (1964) p. 63.
  2. ^ "Nevil Shute: profile". telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 12 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Shute Slide Rule, p.19–20
  4. ^ Shute himself wondered in Slide Rule whether she might be Geraldine Fitzgerald the film actress. In Slide Rule Shute mentions that he learnt details of the proposal from his Cornish cousin Patty (Shute), who was Fred's "great confidante", (Shute Slide Rule, p.19)
  5. ^ Croft (2002)
  6. ^ Slide Rule, (1964), pp. 113-114.
  7. ^ "Citizenship in Australia - Fact sheet 187". National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 28 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "Remaindered with little honour in his adopted land"
  9. ^ nevilshute.org
  10. ^ "Photo Timeline 1951 - 1960 page 5". Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. Retrieved 11 June 2013. 
  11. ^ "Books: The Two Lives of Nevil Shute", Time, 25 January 1960. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  12. ^ Quote from Shute's autobiography Slide Rule, 2nd ed., London: Pan, 1969, p.63
  13. ^ Milgram, Shoshana. "The Seafarers". Book Review. Nevil Shute Norway Foundation. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Haigh, Gideon (June 2007). "Shute the Messenger - How the end of the world came to Melbourne (6800 words)". The Monthly (24). Retrieved 12 September 2013. 
  15. ^ Haigh, Gideon (1 June 2007). "Shute's sands of time". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2013. 
  16. ^ Alice Springs public library history Retrieved 29 April 2013
  17. ^ 100 Best Novels Retrieved 2 May 2013]

References[edit]

External links[edit]