John Barrington Wain CBE (14 March 1925 - 24 May 1994) was an English poet, novelist, and critic, associated with the literary group known as "The Movement". He worked for most of his life as a freelance journalist and author, writing and reviewing for newspapers and the radio.
Wain was born and grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, the son of a dentist, Arnold Wain, and his wife Annie, née Turner. He had an older sister and a younger brother, Noel. After attending Newcastle under Lyme High School, he entered St. John's College, Oxford, gaining a first in his BA in 1946 and an MA in 1950. He was a Fereday Fellow of St John's between 1946 and 1949. On 4 July 1947, Wain married Marianne Uffenheimer (born 1923 or 1924), but they divorced in 1956. He then married Eirian Mary James (1920-1988), deputy director of the recorded sound department of the British Council, on 1 January 1960. They had three sons and lived mainly in Wolvercote, Oxford. Wain married his third wife, Patricia Adams (born 1942 or 1943), an art teacher, in 1989. He died in Oxford on 24 May 1994.
Wain wrote his first novel, Hurry on Down, in 1953: a comic picaresque story about an unsettled university graduate who rejects the standards of conventional society. Other notable novels include Strike the Father Dead (1962), a tale of a jazzman's rebellion against his conventional father, and Young Shoulders (1982), winner of the Whitbread Prize, the tale of a young boy dealing with the death of loved ones.
Wain was also a prolific poet and critic, with critical works on fellow Midland writers Arnold Bennett, Samuel Johnson (for which he was awarded the 1974 James Tait Black Memorial Prize), and William Shakespeare. Among the other writers about whom he wrote are the Americans Theodore Roethke and Edmund Wilson. He himself was the subject of a bibliography by David Gerard.
Wain taught at the University of Reading during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and in 1963 spent a term as professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London. He was the first fellow in creative arts at Brasenose College, Oxford (1971-1972), and was appointed a supernumerary fellow in 1973. In that same year, he was elected to the five-year post of Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford: some of his lectures are collected in his book Professing Poetry. Wain was appointed a CBE in 1984. He was made an honorary fellow of his old college, St John's, Oxford, in 1985.
Wain was often referred to as one of the "Angry Young Men", a term applied to 1950s writers such as John Braine, John Osborne, Alan Sillitoe and Keith Waterhouse, as radicals who opposed the British establishment and conservative elements of society at that time. Indeed, he did contribute to Declaration, an anthology of manifestos by writers associated with the philosophy, and a chapter of his novel Hurry on Down was excerpted in a popular paperback sampler, Protest: The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men.
Nevertheless, it may be more accurate to associate Wain with The Movement, a group of post-war poets including Kingsley Amis, D. J. Enright, Thom Gunn, Elizabeth Jennings and Philip Larkin. Amis and Larkin, good friends of Wain's for a time, were also associated with the "angries". But aside from their poetry, it may be more accurate to refer to these three, as was sometimes done at the time, as "The New University Wits" - writers who desired to communicate rather than experiment, and who often did so in a comic manner. However, they all became more serious after their initial work. Wain is still known for his poetry (for example, his Apology for Understatement) and literary interests (contributions to The Observer), although his work is no longer as popular as it was. Critical remarks about Wain by Amis and Larkin in their posthumously published letters may have contributed to diminishing his reputation.
Wain's tutor at Oxford had been C. S. Lewis. He encountered, but did not consider himself part of the group of Lewis's literary acquaintances, the Inklings. Wain was as serious about literature as the Inklings, and believed as they did in the primacy of literature as communication, but as a modern realist writer he shared neither their conservative social beliefs nor their propensity for fantasy.