Nicholas Mosley’s reputation as a writer has often been obscured by the extraordinary nature of his family background. Born in 1923 to an aristocratic family, he inherited the title of 3rd Baron Ravensdale. His grandfather was George Curzon, the last Viceroy of India to serve under Queen Victoria. He is also the son of Oswald Mosley, who founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932. Nicholas’s mother, Cynthia Curzon, died when he was ten, and afterwards his father married Diana Mitford.
Mosley’s extensive bibliography contains nineteen novels and eleven non-fiction titles. His early novels employ a realist style and possess a moral intensity in part inspired by French Existentialism. During World War II he served in the British Army in Italy, an experience he drew on for his first novel, Spaces of the Dark (1951), and which haunts many of his subsequent fictions.
Perhaps the best place to begin exploring Mosley’s oeuvre is Accident (1965), which was adapted into a well-known film starring Dirk Bogarde, directed by Joseph Losey and scripted by Harold Pinter. While the film is strong, the novel is even more so, its action taking place within a vivid portrait of Oxford University and its environs, coloured with ominous undertones. The narrative sees a philosopher-don’s moral system brought into question after one of his students is involved in a car crash that he feels personally responsible for.
In Impossible Object (1968) Mosley stretched his fiction into more abstract, modernist territories. In this series of subtly interwoven short stories the precise identities of a number of married couples and lovers are made oblique, to suggest how even spouses can remain, finally, unknown to each other.
The novel which deals most directly with the political consequences of his family life and upbringing is Hopeful Monsters (1990), an epic spanning some 550 pages, which examines the competing ideological confusions of the 1930s through the love story of a Jewish-German anthropologist and an English physicist working on the atomic bomb. It is one of the most important and fully realized British novels of recent decades and deserves to be far better known than it currently is.
His most recent book is Metamorphosis (2014), which considers the possibilities of human evolution through the story of a mysterious child, thought to possess an unprecedented physiology, who is discovered by a humanitarian aid worker in East Africa.
This interview took place one afternoon in June 2014, shortly before Mosley’s 91st birthday, in the front room of his house in North London. Behind him was an enormous wall covered with books both old and recent, whilst to his left were shelves crowded with many objects suggesting an infatuation with mysticism, including Hindu statuettes, classical Chinese paintings and a pair of golden rhinoceroses. The curtains were drawn throughout our conversation, bathing the room in shadows, which were illuminated only by lamplight.