Authors: James Hanley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

British novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Drift, 1930

Boy, 1931, 1990 (unexpurgated)

Ebb and Flood, 1932

Captain Bottell, 1933

Resurrexit Dominus, 1934

The Furys, 1935

Stoker Bush, 1935

The Secret Journey, 1936

Hollow Sea, 1938

Our Time Is Gone, 1940

The Ocean, 1941

No Directions, 1943

Sailor’s Song, 1943

What Farrar Saw, 1946

Emily, 1948

Winter Song, 1950

The House in the Valley, 1951 (as Patric Shone; also known as Against the Stream, 1981)

The Closed Harbour, 1952

The Welsh Sonata: Variations on a Theme, 1954

Levine, 1956

An End and a Beginning, 1958

Say Nothing, 1962

Another World, 1972

A Woman in the Sky, 1973

A Dream Journey, 1976

A Kingdom, 1978

Against the Stream, 1981

Short Fiction:

The German Prisoner, 1930

A Passion Before Death, 1930

The Last Voyage, 1931

Men in Darkness: Five Stories, 1931

Stoker Haslett, 1932

Aria and Finale, 1932

Quartermaster Clausen, 1934

At Bay, 1935

Half an Eye: Sea Stories, 1937

People Are Curious, 1938

At Bay, and Other Stories, 1944

Crilley, and Other Stories, 1945

Selected Stories, 1947

A Walk in the Wilderness, 1950

Collected Stories, 1953

The Darkness, 1973

What Farrar Saw, and Other Stories, 1984

The Last Voyage, and Other Stories, 1997


Say Nothing, pr. 1961 (broadcast), pr., pb. 1962 (staged)

The Inner Journey, pb. 1965

Plays One, pb. 1968 (a collection)


Broken Water: An Autobiographical Excursion, 1937

Grey Children: A Study in Humbug and Misery, 1937

Between the Tides, 1939

Don Quixote Drowned, 1953

John Cowper Powys: A Man in the Corner, 1969

Herman Melville: A Man in the Customs House, 1971


James Hanley was born on September 3, 1901, in Dublin, Ireland. Early in life, he moved with his family to Liverpool, England, where he grew up. Hanley’s father, Edward Hanley, gave up a promising career in law for a life at sea, thereby grievously disappointing his mother; James Hanley was strongly counseled by his grandmother not to go to sea. The advice fell on deaf ears, however, and he left school at age fourteen and went to sea as a shipboy. Some of this experience undoubtedly provided him with the raw material for his novel Boy.{$I[AN]9810001849}{$I[A]Hanley, James}{$S[A]Shone, Patric;Hanley, James}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hanley, James}{$I[tim]1901;Hanley, James}

During Hanley’s first transatlantic voyage, World War I broke out, and for two years he worked on troopships transporting soldiers across the Mediterranean. Hollow Sea draws upon this phase of his life and portrays the intensity of life on troopships during hazardous missions. At age sixteen, Hanley deserted his ship on a stopover in St. John’s, New Brunswick, Canada. He lied about his age, took on a name randomly selected from a telephone directory, and joined the Canadian army. After training in Canada and in England, he served in France. When he was discharged from the army and returned to England, he settled down with his parents in Liverpool.

Hanley was deeply affected by a Liverpool encounter with an old sailor friend to whom he had entrusted a letter to his mother. The letter had contained some money, and the friend had taken the money and thrown the letter away. Hanley made no more friends and for the next decade kept almost entirely to himself. He took a job as a storeman on the railway and obsessively started on his self-education. He read voraciously during his spare time, studied French and Russian in evening classes, and indulged in his great passion for music as he struggled to play the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven with his small, rough, workingman’s hands.

He also wrote short stories and plays with dogged determination and collected a number of rejection slips. He completed his first novel, Drift; after being rejected by eighteen publishers, it was finally published in 1930.

Hanley’s next project was to write “the odyssey of a ship” with no human characters. He abandoned it, however, and wrote instead the controversial novel Boy, which proved to be a major success. Hanley then commenced work on his major achievement, a five-volume saga of the Furys, a Liverpool family. The first volume was published in 1935 and the final volume in 1958. After publishing Say Nothing in 1962, Hanley abandoned the novel and wrote plays, some under the pseudonym Patric Shone, for the next ten years. In 1972, Hanley returned to the novel form with the publication of Another World.

When Hanley wrote, he preferred to be in total isolation. He neither read nor talked with people while creating. Character in a novel was the most important feature to him. If, after the third chapter, the characters took over the telling of the story, Hanley knew that his novel was going well.

Hanley settled in London but always regretted leaving Wales. His loneliness increased after his wife of more than forty years died in 1980; they had one son, Liam, an artist. Hanley died in London in 1985.

BibliographyBryfonski, Dedria, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 13. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. Presents a sampling of book reviews, including those from New Leader, Spectator, and The New York Times Book Review. The reviews reflect the praise Hanley received for his work, as well as the acknowledgment that he does not get the recognition he deserves.Desmond, Graham. Review of A Kingdom, by James Hanley. Stand 20, no. 1 (1978-1979): 50-52. Desmond discusses Hanley’s work in general, which he calls “poetic fiction.” In the commentary on A Kingdom, set in Wales, Desmond notes that the work is much less stylized and mannered than The Welsh Sonata. Compares A Kingdom to the work of Henry James but says that it falls short and would have been more successful had it been expanded.Gibbs, Linnea. James Hanley: A Bibliography. Vancouver: W. Hoffer, 1980. A useful source.Harrington, Frank G. James Hanley: A Bold and Unique Solitary. Francestown, N.H.: Typographeum, 1989. A good source of biographical information.Mathewson, Ruth. “Hanley’s Palimpsest.” The New Leader, January 3, 1977, 17-18. Reviews A Dream Journey, noting that it is a good introduction to Hanley’s work. Mathewson also briefly discusses Hanley’s earlier novels and comments that A Dream Journey is a “palimpsest of earlier works.”Stokes, Edward. The Novels of James Hanley. Melbourne, Australia: F. W. Cheshire, 1964. Contains excellent criticism.Vinson, James, ed. St. James Reference Guide to English Literature. Chicago: St. James Press, 1985. A critical piece by Edward Stokes cites the importance of Hanley’s writing, which has been compared to that of Thomas Hardy and Fyodor Dostoevski. Notes, however, that Hanley’s work is uneven and his characters lacking in popular appeal.
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