David Wheldon

poet, novelist, pathologist



The Viaduct

An allegory of life as travel and expectation. A man leaves his past and walks away from his city along an abandoned railway. He discovers that the track has become the home of innumerable travellers: the railway, in its disuse, has become a linear metaphor of the human world. Strangeness and unfamiliarity stretch away at either side of the familiar onward perspective.

On this book’s first publication the critic of the London Times said ‘The Viaduct is strange, original, gentle to read. Long ago but never far away Dante and Bunyan took journeys more identifiable but not so very different.’

‘The Viaduct is really a remarkable novel.’
Graham Greene

‘It is a fascinating and original work of art. I still remember the book long after reading it; this is the real test of fiction.’
William Trevor

‘The Viaduct is a mysterious gripping allegory — spare, accomplished and mature. — a remarkable achievement.’
Janice Elliott, The Sunday Telegraph

‘It will be very interesting indeed to see what this exceptional and accomplished writer does next.’
Miranda Seymour, The Spectator

The Viaduct won The Triple First Award in 1982. The final judges were the renowned authors Graham Greene and William Trevor. The prize was £5000. The Viaduct was also shortlisted for the Whitbread Award.

The book was published by The Bodley Head, Penguin Books and the Book Club Associates in London and by George Braziller in New York. The editors were Euan Cameron and Catherine Carver.

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The Course of Instruction

This book is a study of the freedom and development of a life within a human hierarchy. A message arrives for a young researcher at his lodgings: it has a peculiar meaning for him which is at once intensely personal and beyond the power of words to describe. In following its directions he leaves his familiar surroundings, both mental and physical. Rationality becomes superficial and ultimately selfish. ‘Even as recently as [the moment of the letter’s arrival] he had never known how precarious a state of mind self-confidence must be.’

Simply and sparely written, rapid in its progress, often very funny, The Course of Instruction has been compared to the satirical novels of Jonathan Swift. It gives a good entry into David Wheldon’s work.

[PDF files of the text are available: see below.]

‘— a prose that is spartan and scrupulous. . . . one suspects an urge on the part of the author to give the matter and manner of fiction a purer impulse. . . . a strange and deceptively unemphatic work.’
Paul Keegan, The Times Literary Supplement

‘The Course of Instruction is about questioning what is taken for granted. . . by the end of the novel, that complexity, that level of significance for the everyday, is no longer peculiar or irrational, but is the very logic of the narrative. By implicating you, the reader, in that logic, Wheldon has achieved the feat of forcing you into a reexamination of the basis of your own.’
Deborah Philips, City Limits

‘Things are rarely what they seem in Kafka's world, or in David Wheldon’s; but they are not strikingly different, either, at least on initial acquaintance. It is possible at the outset to reconcile the small discrepancies with a temporary laissez-faire engendered by eagerness to conform; to participate: and with that first concession the subject is committed far beyond his own foreseeing. Acceptance becomes automatic as Alexander, [the researcher], is no longer aware of the fundamental change in his situation. The book remains enigmatic and absorbing to the end, leaving all options open for the reader's individual interpretation.’
Marese Murphy, The Irish Times

‘Memorable surrealist scenes. . . but the book's real excitement is that, like a Kafka novel, it invites a continuous succession of interpretations. We surround all our experiences, David Wheldon seems to say, with unjustified assumptions, but without these we are lost. So Alexander is lost without the course which he expected, or when the servants do not behave like servants. Such an interpretation only scratches the surface of this strongly recommended novel.’
Thomas Hinde, The Sunday Telegraph

‘The very evasiveness and repetitiveness of the dialogue contributes to an effect of hypnotic power.’
James Melville, British Book News

The Course of Instruction was published in hardback by The Bodley Head and in paperback by Black Swan

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A Vocation


'From a tower in the mountains the bells ring out, without prediction, at uncanonical hours...a communication real enough but with no apparent purpose. The peasant, who has heard the bells while still within his mother's womb, seeks to find no meaningful sound beyond the elements of a system by which he may live; the magistrate, an educated man, a representative of the state, finds in the unpredictability only an arbitrary and meaningless communication from above.
The landscape, both physical and spiritual, of David Wheldon's strange and mysterious new novel, is seen through the eyes of a foreigner who is both lost and ill: Thomas Colver, a traveller through this land, who though he knows nothing of the place he is in, sees the predicament of the magistrate as though it were a parable, a paradigm of his own condition: in the attempt to gain understanding, all logic becomes the logic of superstition.' (The publisher's jacket description.)

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'It is one of those books that bypass the head and goes straight to the raw edge of consciousness evoking an irresistible and disturbing response'
Janice Elliott, Sunday Telegraph

'Fascinatingly readable. . . whether taken as a meditation on the nature of signs or on the inescapability of faith, it is a book which is likely to echo disturbingly in the reader's mind.' Brian Firth, The Tablet.

'Now, to say that I could not put this book down would be untrue. I did put it down frequently, not from boredom but to savour and consider what I had just read.'
Peter Vansittart, BBC World Service, Book Talks.

'I was very impressed by Wheldon's first novel, The Viaduct. He has a very distinctive style, private, making no concessions to the reader, but with a peculiar and convincing logic of its own. His new book, A Vocation, is equally impressive.'
Michael Pountney, Publishing News.



At the Quay

A messenger arrives by boat at a river-port; his aim is to deliver his message and be free. But the message — the content of which is unknown to him — constrains him. From the first strange formality of the opening moments of this book, the delivery of a letter becomes the structure of a life, and, in a deep sense, the totality of a person.

Throughout the story there hangs the parallel (and unasked) question: can an individual's personhood be more than the partly-understood formality of experience within a culture?

‘There are deep metaphysical insights here.’ Iris Murdoch

‘It has the resonance of ancient myth, and persuades us that profound mysteries are inherent in the simplest questions.’
Kevin Loader, The Sunday Telegraph

At the Quay was published by Barrie and Jenkins, London

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Days and Orders

This novel is a study of the nature of an individual within the accommodation of an age. Little is taken for granted — not even the fact of name or shared history. The novel itself can be read as a modern translation of a work of a distant age and is thus open to endless interpretations depending on the reader's cast of mind. All is brought into question: even the cultural nature of asking a question.

The protagonist, Gesso, arrives at an inn; he believes that he is searched for by an unknown man who arrived here with a message for him, but who has now left. Through a series of dialogues with a young serving woman, Mima, he attempts to elucidate the identity of the searcher and the nature of his message — but all that his questions are able to do is to show him that he has himself begun a search that is in some way parallel to that of the unknown stranger.

Unstated though troubling questions emerge. Is the world constructed by an unknown (and unknowable) part of oneself to stand interpretation by a knowable and known? Is this where the idea of one's own self begins? Is personhood a reality that transcends time or is it continually construed by the timeless love of another?

Days and Orders is a philosophical novel which, for all the shifts of its internal consistency, makes considerable demands on the reader. It has found no mainstream publisher, and has been published by the author. The full text is available by email (see contact page).

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Short Stories

Five collections of short stories, some of which can be read as pdf files.

Recently updated. New additions.

Link short_stories.html

Published short stories

The Vigil was published by The Woven Tale Press in February 2017. http://www.thewoventalepress.net

Six Lost Plots was published by Confingo Publishing in Spring 2017. http://www.confingopublishing.uk/

The Automaton was published by Nightjar Press in June 2017

Who shall have the choir seat? was published by The Woven Tale Press in September 2017 http://www.thewoventalepress.net

The Seat of Consciousness was published by Confingo publishing in October 2017 http://www.confingopublishing.uk/

Medusa's Metaphors was published by Confingo publishing in May 2018

The Admiral Intercedes was published by The Woven Tale Press in October 2018 http://www.thewoventalepress.net

Strait Jacket and Padded Cell was published by The Woven Tale Press in July 2019 http://www.thewoventalepress.net

October Hysterics was published by The Woven Tale Press in May 2020 http://www.thewoventalepress.net



The Uncompliant Stranger
The Muffled Drum

The Uncompliant Stranger is a sequence of fifty-one sonnets. These are universal creation poems—of person, of age, of world.

In the printed edition the sonnets are arranged singly on each page. Thirteen of these poems face dark and arresting drawings by Sarah Longlands. Poem and drawing are related in sense or mood.

The Uncompliant Stranger (complete text)




The Muffled Drum

This is a sequence of thirteen poems, irregular, moody, contrasting strangely with the metrical sonnet sequence they accompany. Thirteen diverse voices — including those of Crazy Jane and an emigrant — speak. Silence follows.

Titles, first lines and extracts


The Uncompliant Stranger and The Muffled Drum are presented in a single volume.


The Present Perennial

contains the sequence Penrhos Garnedd, written in North Wales; this is given here in full.

Titles, first lines and extracts



Language in a Narrow Place

This is a collection of fifty-seven poems including the sequence Senses and Elements. The question is asked: is it possible to distinguish between the way of perception and that which is perceived?

Language in a Narrow Place contains poems which seem foreign to the culture of the age but which hold it up for examination as though it were weightless.

Titles, first lines and extracts



A Road Assumed

This collection of poems was published in January 2000. It includes the sequence In Eleusis, a developing metaphor of a life as both day-break recalled and last-light presaged.

Titles, first lines and extracts




Night Altitude

This is a collection of 41 poems, personal and reflective; many of these poems are meditations on the subtle and ever-changing boundary between person and world.

Titles, first lines and extracts



A Lens to the Sun

The poems in this collection range from the title-poem, A Lens to the Sun, with its lapidary surface-simplicity, to Neutral colour, ungendered touch, where thought is placed astride the border of the physical and mental worlds. Both poems are given here, together with When he had proved to them that knowledge is innate, a commentary on Plato’s Meno but equally applicable to our own world.

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Changes, days, lives

The poems examine the ambiguous and elusive nature of identity. Though they are various in style — from the freedom of the six-line poem ‘The senses change with hours’ to the formality of ‘The boundary never to be crossed’ — each has a claim to be the title-poem.

Titles, first lines and extracts



recent writing


draftshave their own life, incomplete, unfinished, fragmentary, seldom seen — perhaps this is for the best. But the lack of conscious syncretion stands at an edge.


Ariel's Freedom Poems given in the first person by the immortal sprite Ariel as he wanders the earth and ponders the nature of his being.

The Fates A sequence of poems concerning the nature of the Fates.

annotated poemsrecently written poems, with notes made at the time of or shortly after writing. An author’s view of his own work, of no more value than the view of another. Details of conscious influences are given.

problematic poemsdifficult poems which stand different readings in different moods. These brief poems have a shifting interior life. A reading is helped less by annotation or commentary than by a study of like-minded poems by this and other writers.

Traduction Francaise

Occasional Essays

A brief biography

Contact page(with details of available texts)

The Microbiology of Multiple Sclerosis

Links to other sites


Where evidence has gone


Where evidence has gone
the orphaned world remains.
The spring of day still rises on the glass
of windows and the threshold of the door
still opens at the path untrodden
to the gate. The grasses and the stand
of trees have different roads of recall
and the seed in waiting bears the future blind.

updated 9th May 2018