Works discussed in Colin Wilson’s The Outsider
Colin Wilson’s 1956 classic The Outsider is a book built on a foundation of other books, and reading it can leave you wanting to read all, or at least some, of the works Wilson mentions. I made the following list on the back of a recent re-read of Wilson’s book, and am including it on my website in the hope it can be useful to others, too.
I haven’t included every book Wilson mentions, only those that seem key to the development of his argument, chapter by chapter. Where possible, I’ve tried to find versions that can be read or downloaded for free online. Where the works aren’t in English, I’ve included notes on the translations available, and which one Wilson cites. For Van Gogh, I've linked to images of the paintings Wilson mentions.
Inevitably, deciding which works are ‘key’ to Wilson’s argument is going to be subjective, but I’ve tried to include all those Wilson spent time summarising or analysing, or which seemed to illustrate an important part of his argument. I've also added links to some of the works Wilson mentions only briefly, but which intrigued me enough to want to read them.
The Outsider itself is currently available from all booksellers, including Amazon.
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This page last updated 17th April 2021.
I. The Country of the Blind
- Barbusse, Henri
- First published (in French) in 1908, it received an abridged English translation (by Edward J O’Brien) as The Inferno, in 1918. (This is the one you’ll generally find as a free or low-price ebook.) In The Outsider, Wilson quotes from the John Rodker translation of 1932. It was reissued as Hell, in a new translation by Robert Baldick, in 1966. (This edition is available in paperback, from Amazon.)
- Wells, H G
- Mind at the End of Its Tether
- A PDF of the book can be read online or downloaded from Archive.org, or you can download it as an ebook (Kindle or Mobi) from my Free eBooks page.
- “The Country of the Blind”
- “The Country of the Blind” at Wikisource.
- Sartre, Jean-Paul
- La Nausée
- First published in French in 1938. Wilson cites the first English translation (by Lloyd Alexander), published in 1949 as The Diary of Antoine Roquentin in the UK, and Nausea in the US. It’s still available (from Amazon). The current Penguin Classics edition (available from Amazon) is translated by Robert Baldick (who has also translated Barbusse’s Hell).
II. World Without Values
- Camus, Albert
- First published (in French) in 1942, and in English in 1946. Wilson cites this 1946 Stuart Gilbert translation, which was titled The Outsider in the UK, The Stranger in the US. Currently available as a Penguin Classic, translated by Sandra Smith (Amazon), and from Vintage, translated by Matthew Ward (Amazon).
- Hemingway, Ernest
- “Soldier’s Home”
- Found in Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, from Amazon. There's a PDF of the story here.
- The Sun also Rises
- Can be read online at FadedPage.com. Paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon.
- A Farewell to Arms
“This is Hemingway’s most satisfying single performance…” — Colin Wilson, The Outsider
Can be read online at FadedPage.com. Paperback and Kindle versions from Amazon.
- “The Natural History of the Dead”
- Can be read online as part of Hemingway’s 1933 collection, Winner Take Nothing, at FadedPage.com.
- Granville-Barker, Harley
- The Secret Life
- First published in 1923, it can be read online or downloaded as a PDF from Archive.org, or you can download it as an ebook (Kindle or Mobi) from my Free eBooks page.
III. The Romantic Outsider
- Hesse, Hermann
- Blick ins Chaos
- Some of the essays that make up Hesse’s Glimpse into Chaos were translated into English and published in The Dial magazine (in the US) in 1922. This site has these translations. The text of the passage Wilson quotes in The Outsider is almost identical, so I’m presuming it’s the same translation (which Wilson seemed to find in an edition of Demian).
- First published (in German) in 1919; translated into English in 1923 by N H Priday. Wilson cites a 1948 reissue of this translation. Currently available (in different translations) from Amazon.
- First published (in German) in 1922, and first translated to English in 1951 by Hilda Rosner. Can be read at Gutenberg.org, though the translation isn’t always very elegant.
“From the point of view of this study of the Outsider, Steppenwolf (1928) is Hesse’s most important contribution.” — Colin Wilson, The Outsider
First published (in German) in 1927; first translated into English in 1929, by Basil Creighton. Wilson cites this edition. Currently available in the US (Creighton translation) from Picador (Amazon US), and in the UK from Penguin Modern Classics (Amazon UK), in a new translation by David Horrocks.
- Narziss und Goldmund
- First published (in German) in 1930; translated into English in 1932, by Geoffrey Dunlop (as Death and the Lover). The current Penguin Classics edition (Amazon) is translated by Leila Vennewitz
- The Bead Game / Magister Ludi
- First published (in German) in 1943; translated into English in 1949, by Mervyn Saville. (Wilson cites this version.) Currently available (in different translations) from Picador (Amazon), and Vintage Classics (Amazon).
IV. The Attempt to Gain Control
- Lawrence, T E
- The Seven Pillars of Wisdom
- First published in 1926, the text can be found online at the Project Gutenberg of Australia. Multiple modern book and ebook editions are available, from Amazon.
- T E Lawrence by His Friends
- An anthology of essays and memoirs, edited by A W Lawrence (T E Lawrence’s youngest brother), published in 1937. A scanned copy can be read or downloaded from Archive.org. Wilson calls Eric Kennington’s contribution “one of the best balanced articles in the book”; it starts on page 262.
- Van Gogh, Vincent
- Memory of the North
- At Wikimedia Commons.
- Starry Night
- See it at the Museum of Modern Art website.
- Yellow Chair
- See it at the National Gallery website.
- Landscape Near Auvers
“…compare his canvas called ‘Landscape near Auvers’ with Cézanne’s canvas of the same name (any of them)…” — Colin Wilson, The Outsider
Here is Van Gogh’s Landscape at Auvers in the Rain at Wikipedia, and here is Cézanne’s Quartier Four, Auvers-sur-Oise at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Nijinsky, Vaslav
- The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky
“The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky reaches a limit of sincerity beyond any of the documents we have referred to in this study… Nijinsky’s Diary is the most unpleasant document we shall have to refer to in this book.” — Colin Wilson, The Outsider
Nijinsky’s diary was published in 1936 (Wilson says 1937, which is when the Gollancz edition came out), as edited by his wife. An unexpurgated edition came out in 1999 (Amazon).
V. The Pain Threshold
- James, William
- The Varieties of Religious Experience
- William James’s lectures were first delivered in 1901 and 1902 at the University of Edinburgh, then published in 1902. This site about William James has a host of links to online versions of the book. It’s also available from Project Gutenberg.
- Eliot, T S
- Various poems
- Wilson quotes from “Prufrock”, “Gerontion”, “The Waste Land”, “The Hollow Men” and “Ash Wednesday”. Throughout The Outsider, Eliot is often referred to as “Mr. Eliot”, as though he is the one author whom Wilson is aware might be reading him, and whom he has obvious respect for (until Eliot criticises Shaw, that is!).
- Nietzsche, Friedrich
- The Birth of Tragedy
- First published in 1872. Wilson cites the translation by W A Haussmann (not Hauseman, as it says in The Outsider’s end notes), published in 1909, which can be found, as a PDF, at Archive.org, and in various formats at Project Gutenberg. Modern translations: Amazon.
- The Joyful Wisdom
- First published in 1882. Wilson cites the translation by T Connor, published in 1910 by T N Foulis. Project Gutenberg has Thomas Common’s translation. (As this is also published in 1910, by T N Foulis, I suspect the endnotes in The Outsider have the translator’s name wrong.) Modern translations more often have the title The Gay Science: Amazon.
- Thus Spake Zarathustra
- Initially published in four parts, between 1883 and 1891. Wilson quotes from the Everyman edition published 1946, translated by A Tille and M M Bozman. Project Gutenberg has Thomas Common’s translation. Modern translations: Amazon.
Brief mentions: Death’s Jest Book by Thomas Lovell Beddoes. “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev. … No online English translation of Adam de L’Isle Adam’s Axël. (Wilson quotes from a passage quoted in Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle.) Here it is in French, at Archive.org.
VI. The Question of Identity
- Tolstoy, Leo
- A Confession
- Published in 1882. Wilson seems to be quoting extracts from Life of Tolstoy by Aylmer Maude. There’s a text version here (no translator named); and a PDF and other formats at Archive.org.
- Memoirs of a Madman
- Wilson cites the World’s Classics edition translated by Aylmer Maude. A version (not sure who the translator is) can be read online at the the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
- The Death of Ivan Ilytch
- First published in 1886. Wilson cites the World’s Classics edition translated by Aylmer Maude. You can find this translation online here.
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor
- Notes from Underground
“Notes from Underground is the first major treatment of the Outsider theme in modern literature… it stands as a uniquely great moment in Existentialist thought.” — Colin Wilson, The Outsider
First published in 1864. Wilson cites the 1953 Everyman edition, translated by C J Hogarth. There’s an online version at Project Gutenberg.
- Crime and Punishment
- First published 1866. Wilson quotes from Constance Garnett’s translation. That is the translation that can be found at Project Gutenberg.
- The Devils
- First published, in serial form, between 1871 and 1872. Translations use various titles, including Demons and The Possessed. Wilson cites the 1953 Penguin edition, translated by D. Magarshack. Project Gutenberg has Constance Garnett’s translation. Most modern translations (the Penguin Classics edition — Amazon — for instance) have the suppressed “confession” chapter (“At Tikhon’s”) as an appendix.
VII. The Great Synthesis…
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor
- The Brothers Karamazov
“The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s biggest attack on the Outsider theme.” — Colin Wilson, The Outsider
First published as a serial between 1879 and 1880. Wilson cites Constance Garnett’s translation, which can be found at Project Gutenberg.
- Mann, Thomas
- Doktor Faustus
First published (in German) in 1947. Wilson quotes from H T Lowe-Porter’s translation from 1948, which can be read online or downloaded in a number of formats from FadedPage.com. It’s also still available in paperback from Vintage (Amazon) and Everyman (Amazon).
VIII. The Outsider as Visionary
- Fox, George
First published in 1694. Project Gutenberg has the journals under the title George Fox: An Autobiography. There are minor differences between this and the sections Wilson quotes (a quote Wilson begins “My desires after the Lord” here begins “My desire…”). There is another version here, which seems to be the same as Wilson’s.
- Blake, William
- Complete Works
The William Blake Archive has an online edition of The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake. Most of the poems are also available at Wikisource.
Brief mentions: The Trembling of the Veil by W B Yeats. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung/The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer. Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John by Sir Isaac Newton. Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw.
IX. Breaking the Circuit
- Traherne, Thomas
- Centuries of Meditations
- First published in 1908, from a manuscript discovered 10 years before, written by Traherne (1637–1674). Can be found online here.
- The Life of Ramakrishna
- Wilson says this is an anonymous work, published in 1929. Archive.org has a 1930 version, by Romain Rolland.
- The Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna
- 1907 edition at Archive.org.
- Gurdjieff, George
- All and Everything
- Wilson, when he wrote The Outsider, had only read the first volume, also known as Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson or An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man. It’s available from Amazon.
- Hulme, T E
- First published 1924. It can be found at Archive.org, and as a book and ebook at Amazon.
- Shaw, George Bernard
- Preface for Back to Methuselah
- First published in 1921. Can be found at Wikisource.