Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute Norway (17 January 1899 - 12 January 1960) was, as Nevil Shute, a popular novelist, as well as a successful aeronautical engineer.

Many of Shute's works are adventure novels with an emphasis on technical aspects. No Highway (1948) dramatizes events surrounding a predicted imminent structural failure in an aircraft design. Several of his novels also have an element of the supernatural, notably Round the Bend (1951), which concerns a new religion developing around an aircraft mechanic. One of Shute's best-known books was among his last: On the Beach (1957), set in a world slowly dying from the effects of an atomic war. Its popularity is owed in part to its adaptation as a film, which Shute despised because of the liberties taken with his characters.
Born in Somerset Road, Ealing, London, he was educated at the Dragon School, Shrewsbury School and Balliol College, Oxford. Shute's father, Arthur Hamilton Norway, was the head of the post office in Dublin in 1916 and Shute was commended for his role as a stretcher bearer during the Easter Rising. 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, took a position in 1924 with Vickers Ltd., where he was involved with the development of airships. 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.

The R100 was a prototype for passenger-carrying airships that would serve the needs of Britain's empire. R100 was a modest success but the fatal 1930 crash of its government-funded counterpart R101 ended Britain's interest in airships. The R100 was grounded and scrapped. Shute gives a detailed account of the episode in his 1954 autobiographical work, Slide Rule. He left Vickers shortly afterwards and in 1931 founded the aircraft construction company Airspeed Ltd.

Shute was a cousin of the Irish-American actress Geraldine Fitzgerald. In 1931, he married Frances Mary Heaton. They had two daughters.

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 soon ended up in what would become the Directorate of Miscellaneous Weapons Development. There he was a department head, 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.

In 1948, after World War II, he flew his own plane to Australia. 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.[1]Australia features in many of his later novels, including the well-known A Town Like Alice (1950). He had a brief career as a racing driver in Australia between 1956 and 1958, driving a white XK140 Jaguar. Some of this experience found its way into his book On the Beach.

Many of his books were filmed, including Lonely Road, Pied Piper, On the Beach (in 1959 and also in 2000), No Highway (in 1951) and A Town Like Alice (in 1956). The latter was adapted as a miniseries for Australian television in 1981.

He died in Melbourne in 1960.

[edit] Style and themes
The narrative backbone of a Nevil Shute novel frequently involves the planning and execution of a complex and worthwhile mission or quest. Shute's protagonists are often ordinary people who feel a sense of responsibility and an obligation to complete a difficult task. The sense of realism in Shute's writings has similarities with the many of the books by contemporary British author Gilbert Hackforth-Jones.

An Old Captivity involves a pilot who is hired by an archaeologist to take aerial photographs of a site in Greenland. Nevil Shute takes us through the practical details: how the trip is budgeted, how the cost of the plane can be offset by the resale value at the end of the trip, how the pilot must plan for lodging and refuelling at remote locations, how he must learn to operate the aerial camera.
The framing story of A Town Like Alice (U.S. title: The Legacy) concerns business development as a moral imperative. Jean Paget, who has inherited money, explains to her solicitor that she wants to return to Malaya, where she was a prisoner of war under the Japanese, and dig a well for the villagers who helped save her life. By the end of the book, for equally highminded (and economically hardheaded) reasons, she is operating a small shoe factory in an Australian outback town, then an ice cream parlor where the factory staff can spend their wages, then a cinema and other ventures. and the development Jean has begun is putting the previously dingy Willstown on track to become "a town like Alice Springs".
Trustee from the Toolroom concerns a British machinist, Keith Stewart, who makes a small but adequate income writing articles for a miniature model-making magazine. His wealthy sister and naval officer brother-in-law leave their young daughter with him and his wife while they take a sailing trip that they intend to end in western Canada, where they hope to settle. Their yacht is wrecked on a remote Polynesian atoll and no trace can be found of the financial legacy they should have left their daughter. Keith realizes that they must have converted their fortune to diamonds and smuggled them out of England. (When the novel was written, it was illegal to transfer large amounts of capital out of the country). Since he helped his brother-in-law insert a sealed metal container in the concrete keel of the boat, he knows where the valuables are and also that he is at least partly responsible for the disappearance of the legacy. To discharge his obligations as his niece's trustee, Keith decides that he must travel to the wreck and secretly recover the valuables and his moral simplicity and determination reap vast rewards.
Shute believed Round the Bend to be his best novel. It concerns a Western-educated, half-Russian, half-Asian, aircraft mechanic who develops a religious belief about the moral imperative of performing good maintenance on the machines on which others' lives depend. He talks with other mechanics and unintentionally becomes the leader of a religious movement. His employer (the point-of-view character) is inconvenienced by crowds of pilgrims but comes to respect the movement.

[edit] On the Beach
Shute's most famous novel, On the Beach, was published in 1957 and is one of his least characteristic: dark in tone and devoid of his usual optimism. It is set in Australia after a nuclear war has devastated the northern hemisphere, with air circulation patterns slowly bringing the fallout to the southern hemisphere. Ostensibly about nuclear war, it is really an examination of how people choose to live and prepare for death when they have knowledge of imminent death.

Shute's optimism is still present in a veiled form. The tone of the book is melancholic but not at all angry. He does not envision a violent breakdown in society, his characters do not whine, rail or riot but try their best to cope with the inevitable and to "muddle through" -- though their "stiff upper lip" demeanour (very typical of Shute) may be seen as implausible and can be difficult for readers to accept. Published in 1957, the book played a role in influencing U.S. public opinion towards support of the atmospheric test ban treaty.

In 2007, Gideon Haigh wrote an article in The Monthly arguing that On the Beach is Australia's most important novel. He writes that "it was the first book of its kind and still among the most shocking. Most novels of apocalypse posit at least a group of survivors and the semblance of hope. On The Beach allows nothing of the kind."[2] He explains that within months it had been serialised in more than 40 newspapers, some of which had never serialised novels before. The rights to adapt it to the screen were acquired by Stanley Kramer. It was filmed on location in Melbourne, starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner, and released in 1959. It became the first American film shown in the Soviet Union.

[edit] Themes
In very simple terms, Shute's earliest books deal with early aviation; his middle group deals with the Second World War. As the likelihood of war gets closer he writes the first of these 'What happened to the Corbetts' written in 1938 and forecasting the bombing of Southampton. After his emigration to Australia comes the third group of Australia novels. There is overlap between the groups as aviation is a constant theme throughout.

[edit] Belief in private enterprise
This section is written like a personal reflection or essay and may require cleanup.
Please help improve it by rewriting it in an encyclopedic style.(June 2007)

Shute's novels frequently present private enterprise (along with self-reliance and individual responsibility) as a source of moral good. In this respect, he advocates a theme found in some examples of American 1950s literature, such as that of Ayn Rand or Cameron Hawley.

The roots of this belief can be clearly traced back to his involvement as a young engineer in the drama of the two competing airships R100 (private) and R101 (state). To him, the catastrophic failure of the R101 deeply symbolised the unsoundness of socialist teaching and planning.[citation needed]

A Town Like Alice is a characteristic example. Jean Paget, who has been working as a secretary in a pleasant but uninspiring job, has received a substantial legacy from her uncle. She ponders what she should do, now that she no longer needs to work. The following exchange, as described by her solicitor, Noel Strachan, flashes by almost as an aside, but is key to Jean's character and the story:

I knew of several charitable appeals who would have found a first-class shorthand-typist, unpaid, a perfect godsend and I told her so. She was inclined to be critical about those; "Surely, if a thing is really worth while, it'll pay," she said. She evidently had quite a strong business instinct latent in her. "It wouldn't need to have an unpaid secretary."
"Charitable organizations like to keep the overheads down," I remarked.
"I shouldn't have thought organizations that haven't got enough margin to pay a secretary can possibly do very much good," she said. "If I'm going to work at anything, I want it to be something really worthwhile."
This philosophy also permeates Ruined City (1938; U.S. title: Kindling), which concerns a wealthy and respected banker who lifts a town out of the depression by bringing a shipbuilding concern back to life through money, bribery and questionable financial dealings. His reputation is destroyed and he goes to jail for fraud, but the shipyard is back in business and the town is saved. When he has served his sentence, he returns to the town and finds a bronze plaque on the shipyard gate with his head and shoulders embossed on it and the words:

Shute's ethos in Ruined City was inevitably distilled from his own experiences (captured in his part-autobiography, Slide Rule), in trying to set-up and raise capital for a British aircraft manufacturing concern in the depression years of the 1930s.

Indeed, the mythical Lord Cheriton, in Ruined City, was a parody of the real aristocratic equity investor and philanthropic backer of Shute's company, Airspeed Limited.

However, in Ruined City, he also captures some unsavoury aspects of British economic and social history, such as the way that many of the aristocrats and the wealthy exploited their advantages and opportunities in WWI. As soon as peace broke out, they immediately closed their plants, mines, shipyards and factories and took their capital abroad to a wonderful life of sun and relaxed hedonism in places such as Biarritz, Monaco and the Caribbean, throwing hundreds of thousands out of work and destroying their way of life.

Despite a government and capital turning against engineering and manufacturing - which necessitated an instant turnaround for WWII - and an early public fascination with "Flying Machines", waning after WWI was gradually forgotten, Shute and of course others, was aware of the future importance of aviation.

Despite setbacks and tribulations, and the standard problem of the start-up business, liquidity, Airspeed Limited eventually gained significant recognition when its Envoy aircraft was chosen for the King's Flight.

Shute identified how engineering, science and design could improve human life and more than once used the apparently anonymous epigram, "An engineer is a man who can make something for five bob that any bloody fool can make for a quid!" (historically, a quid was one pound sterling and five bob was one quarter of a pound) as a foreword to his books.

His belief that how British Socialism, after WWII, would tend to destroy what he conceived as the British way of life, and his own views on this, were espoused in works such as In the Wet and The Far Country.

However, Shute lived for and loved engineering, and had great respect for those who worked in this field. The last page of Trustee From The Toolroom expresses this exactly.

Shute lived a comfortable middle class English life, during a period, from the turn of the nineteenth century to past the middle of the twentieth, where class was a predominant factor in life. His heroes often tended to be middle class: solicitors, doctors, accountants, bank managers. Invariably, like himself, they had enjoyed the privilege of university, not then the purview of the lower classes.

However, as Toolroom demonstrates, Shute valued the honest artisan, his social integrity and contributions to society, more than the contributions of the upper classes.

[edit] References
Croft, Julian (2000) 'Norway, Nevil Shute (1899 - 1960)' in Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 15 Melbourne University Press, pp 498-499. Accessed 14 June 2007
Giffuni, Cathy (1988) Nevil Shute, a bibliography Adelaide: Auslib Press ISBN 0958989575
Haigh, Gideon (2007) 'Shute's sands of time' in The Daily Telegraph,,21826948-5001031,00.html Accessed 14 June 2007

[edit] Notes
^ Croft (2002)
^ Haigh (2007)

[edit] Works
Stephen Morris and Pilotage (1923, published posthumously in 1961) ISBN 1-84232-297-4
Marazan (1926) ISBN 1-84232-265-6
So Disdained (1928) ISBN 1-84232-294-X
Lonely Road (1932) ISBN 1-84232-261-3
Ruined City (1938) (also published under the title Kindling) ISBN 1-84232-290-7
What Happened to the Corbetts (1939) (also published under the title Ordeal) ISBN 1-84232-302-4
An Old Captivity (1940) ISBN 1-84232-275-3 also published as Vinland the Good (1946) ISBN 1-889439-11-8
Landfall: A Channel Story (1940) ISBN 1-84232-258-3
Pied Piper (1942) ISBN 1-84232-278-8
Most Secret (1942) ISBN 1-84232-269-9
Pastoral (1944) ISBN 1-84232-277-X
The Chequer Board (1947) ISBN 1-84232-248-6
No Highway (1948) ISBN 1-84232-273-7
A Town Like Alice (1950) (also published under the title The Legacy) ISBN 1-84232-300-8
Round the Bend (1951) ISBN 1-84232-289-3
The Far Country (1952) ISBN 1-84232-251-6
In the Wet (1953) ISBN 1-84232-254-0
Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer (1954) ISBN 1-84232-291-5
Requiem for a Wren (1955) (also published under the title The Breaking Wave) ISBN 1-84232-286-9
Beyond the Black Stump (1956) ISBN 1-84232-246-X
On the Beach (1957) ISBN 1-84232-276-1
The Rainbow and the Rose (1958) ISBN 1-84232-283-4
Trustee from the Toolroom (1960) ISBN 1-84232-301-6
The Seafarers (published in 2000)

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