South Wind (novel)

South Wind is a 1917 novel by British author Norman Douglas.[1] It is Douglas' most famous book[2] and his only success as a novelist.[3] It is set on an imaginary island called Nepenthe, located off the coast of Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea,[1] a thinly fictionalized description of Capri's residents and visitors. The narrative concerns twelve days during which Thomas Heard, a bishop returning to England from his diocese in Africa, yields his moral vigour to various influences. Philosophical hedonism pervades much of Douglas' writing,[3] and the novel's discussion of moral and sexual issues caused considerable debate.[4]

South Wind
AuthorNorman Douglas
CountryUnited Kingdom
Set inKingdom of Italy
PublisherMartin Secker
Publication date

The South Wind of the title is the Sirocco which wreaks havoc with the islanders' sense of decency and morality.[5] Much of the natural detail in the book is provided by Capri and other Mediterranean locations that Douglas knew well.[3] The island's name Nepenthe denotes a drug of Egyptian origin (mentioned in the Odyssey) which was capable of banishing grief or trouble from the mind.[6] The novel was written in Capri and in London, and after its publication in June 1917 it went through seven editions rapidly, achieving startling large-scale success.[7] Critics at the time complained about the lack of a well-constructed plot.[8] The book was adapted for the stage in London in 1923 by Isabel C. Tippett,[3] and Graham Greene considered the possibility of writing a film script based on it.[9]

In Dorothy Sayers's 1926 detective novel Clouds of Witness, Lord Peter Wimsey goes through the possessions of a murdered man – a young British man living in Paris, whose morality had been put in question. Finding a copy of South Wind Wimsey remarks "Our young friend works out very true to type". In Robert McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together, he mentions meeting Norman Douglas in Venice in 1924, by which time he says South Wind was a minor classic. Apparently when sales continued for years afterwards, Douglas, to whom only a small amount was paid to begin with, received no further payments.[10]


  1. South Wind, Literary Encyclopedia.
  2. Norman Douglas, Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. Stringer 1996, p. 634.
  4. Ousby 1996, p. 118.
  5. Rennison 2009. entry for Norman Douglas
  6. Orel 1992, p. 69.
  7. Orel 1992, p. 73.
  8. Orel 1992, p. 68.
  9. Orel 1992, p. 77.
  10. McAlmon, Robert, Being Geniuses Together 1920-1930 (revised edition with additional chapters by Kay Boyle), North Point Press, San Francisco, 1984, p. 134


  • Ousby, Ian (1996). Cambridge Paperback Guide to Literature in English. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43627-3.
  • Stringer, Jenny (1996). The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Literature in English. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192122711.
  • Orel, Harold (1992). Popular Fiction in England, 1914-1918. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813117898.
  • Rennison, Nick (2009). London Blue Plaque Guide (4th ed.). The History Press. ISBN 9780752499963.

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