A. Wyatt Tilby

Introduction and note on the text

A Stiff-Necked Generation was written by Aubrey Wyatt Tilby in 1920 during a period of convalescence from a serious illness, presumed to be tuberculosis. The illness left him with a permanently deformed hip which had a significant effect on the remainder of his literary career. In his diary entry of October 29, 1921 he wrote: “...passed the Essay on Consciousness for Fisher Unwin to publish. Eighteen years ago tomorrow I began The English People Overseas with no thought of writing on such a subject as this. But lameness knocked out the possibility of further history writing, and now philosophy has won all my allegiance...”

Although written as a novel, it is understood that the author decided not to publish A Stiff-Necked Generation during his lifetime for fear of offending his family upon which it is closely based. However, the inscription of “by John Doran” on the original typed manuscript, in what is believed to be the author’s handwriting, would seem to indicate that he had at least considered publishing it under a pseudonym.

Safe with the knowledge that all those referred to in the novel have long since departed, it was agreed by all the inheritors of the author’s estate that the time was now right for his only known work of fiction to be published.

Knowing exactly where the fiction begins and reality ends is a matter of some conjecture. There are many details in the novel which are known to be factual, from the general outline of the narrative to smaller details, such as the author having been taught as a child in times of hardship to sandwich himself in sheets of newspaper in order keep himself warm at night. It is also true that the author did not attend school because of a doctor’s prognosis that he would not live to adulthood; a fact which makes his subsequent life and career all the more remarkable. Other aspects of the novel, such as the premature death of his aunt Helen, the occupation of his uncle Martin — recorded in the 1891 census as “Secry [sic] of a Church Society & Organist” (see 1891 census in the Archive section) — and many of the exact locations are known to be fictitious.

Readers may be interested to research the real-life characters from the book through census, birth, death and marriage records. Some information is provided in the Archive section, but there are still several gaps in that knowledge which the author’s family would be interested to fill; in particular, the real identity of Arthur’s illegitimate half-brother (if indeed he ever really existed).

As one of the author’s twelve great-grandchildren, it has been a privilege first to read and now to publish such a precious record of our family history and worthy addition to his previously published works.

Great care has been taken to reproduce the text of the original manuscript as faithfully as possible. Whilst the temptation to make amendments was sometimes great, as the author was no longer alive to accept or reject any suggestions, the editorial policy has been to keep all revisions to a minimum. Alterations have only been made where there were clear mistakes, such as typing errors, inconsistencies, or where the original punctuation distorted the intended meaning.

It has been formally agreed by all those who have inherited the author’s copyright that all the profits generated from the sale of this book shall be donated to biomedical research into ME; a condition which has rendered me housebound for most of my adult life, since 1992.

Thanks are due to James Wyatt-Tilby, Lucy Hutchinson, Sonia McMullen, Barbara Saunders and Hugh McMullen for their help in preparing the manuscript for publication.

Click here to read the first two chapters online.

Robert Saunders
Editor & publisher