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Robert Payne (author)

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Name  Robert Payne
Role  Novelist
Died  March 3, 1983, Bermuda

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People also search for  Stephen Chen, Karl Marx, Leonardo da Vinci
Books  Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse‑tung: Ruler of, Zero: The Story of Terrorism, The dream and the tomb, The Holy Fire: The Story of th

Pierre Stephen Robert Payne (1911 – 1983) was an English-born author, known principally for works of biography and history, although he also wrote novels, poetry, magazine articles and many other works. After working in Singapore and China, he moved to the United States in 1946 and became a professor of English literature. From 1954 onwards he lived as a writer in New York.


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A prolific author, Payne is best known for his biographies of prominent historical figures, such as Leonardo, Hitler, Stalin, Marx, Lenin, Mao Zedong and Gandhi, several of which were selected for Book of the Month Club. These works are praised for their readability and literary power, although not always for their historical rigour.

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Early life

Payne was born on 4 December 1911 at Saltash, Cornwall. He was the son of Stephen Payne, an English naval architect, and Mireille Louise Antonia (Dorey) Payne, originally from France. He was educated at St. Paul's School in London, the Diocesan College at Rondebosch and the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the universities of Liverpool and Munich, and the Sorbonne.


As a young man Payne worked as a shipwright, in England and then at the Singapore Naval Base, where he transferred to Army Intelligence. He worked in China between 1941 and 1946, as cultural attaché to the British Embassy and as a teacher at Fuhtan University at Chungking and at Lianda University, Kunming. While in China he became a friend of Joseph Needham. In 1946, Payne met and interviewed Mao Zedong in Yenan, providing background for his 1950 work Mao Tse-tung: Ruler of Red China. During the interview, Mao correctly predicted that it would take only a year and half for the Communist forces to conquer China after the armistice with Chiang Kai-shek and his followers was broken.

Payne moved to the United States in 1946 and from 1949-54 was Professor of English and author in residence at Alabama College, Montevallo. He became a US citizen in 1953 and settled in New York in 1954, devoting himself to writing and shifting his focus in part from novels and poetry to biography. He was chairman of the Translation Committee of PEN International, and in 1976 co-founded the Translation Center at Columbia University. He edited The Russian Library series for Washington Square Press. He died in Bermuda on 18 February 1983.


Payne married Rose Hsiung, daughter of Hsiung Hse-ling, a former prime minister of China, in 1942. They divorced in 1951. He married Sheila Lalwani in 1981.


Early writing by Payne included two novels, The War in the Marshes and The Mountain and the Stars. He also reported for newspapers on the Spanish Civil War and from China on the war with Japan. While in China he also wrote autobiographical works, historical novels, and worked on The White Pony, a compilation of Chinese poetry.

A "workaholic" who often produced several books within a year, Payne wrote over 100 published books, including novels, histories and biographies. He was best known for the biographies, which included studies of Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Dostoyevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Chiang Kai-shek, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, Sun Yat-sen, André Malraux, Shakespeare, Alexander the Great, the White Rajahs of Sarawak and General George C. Marshall. Some of his works were Book of the Month Club selections: these were The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler and The Life and Death of Lenin as Main Selections; The Gold of Troy as a Dual Selection; The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi and The World of Art as Alternate Selections, and The Rise and Fall of Stalin and The Dream and the Tomb as other selections.

Payne's biographies were sometimes informed by his personal encounters with his subjects. Payne had actually met Hitler in 1937 in Munich at the Hotel Vierjahrenzeiten at the invitation of Rudolf Hess. As Payne recounted in his book "Eyewitness", Hitler offered him a strawberry cream cake. Payne also dined and had long conversations with Mao Zedong in 1946.

As a novelist, Payne used the pseudonyms Richard Cargoe, John Anthony Devon, Howard Horne, Valentin Tikhonov, and Robert Young. In 1954, he published a pastiche novella, The Deluge, as Leonardo da Vinci; the book was mostly Payne's writing, incorporating "fragmentary da Vinci notes." He also performed translations into English from many languages, including works by Pasternak and Kierkegaard.

Payne contributed many articles to leading magazines including The New York Times Magazine, United Nations World and Saturday Review. The New York Times and Saturday Review frequently featured book reviews by him.

Many of Payne's better-known works have been re-published in digital form by the British publisher Endeavour Press. World rights to all works by Payne are handled by David Higham Associates, London, U.K.

Francis Ford Coppola, who was the co-screenwriter of the award-winning 1970 film "Patton", lifted almost verbatim the last words of the film from the first paragraph of Payne's book "The Roman Triumph", ending with the phrase, "all glory is fleeting." Payne received no screen credit for this contribution.

Critical reaction

Payne was described in 1947 as "a poet and a believer in the permanent power of beauty", and as a "young English author whose versatility and prolific output have astonished the literary world". The New York Times in 1950 called him "the most versatile writer of the year". Orville Prescott, book reviewer for the New York Times, claimed that "No man alive can write more beautiful prose than Robert Payne."

Payne's biography of Hitler was seen as attempting to "humanize the inhuman Hitler". The American critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote that the effect of this approach was "interesting and terrifying". The historian Alan Bullock commented that Payne's focus on Hitler's personal life resulted in a good account of Hitler's earlier years, but proved less productive for his later life when he "becomes absorbed in politics". The Biography Book recognised the "narrative and imaginative power" of Payne's account, while stating that "it incorporates speculation as fact". One example of this was the book's acceptance of claims by Bridget Dowling (Hitler's sister-in-law) and others that Hitler had spent time in Liverpool before 1914, a claim later described as "conclusively disproved".

Payne was said to be "a firm adherent to the conspiracy theory of politics" and among biographies of Lenin, Payne's book was described as "the easiest to read ... also the easiest to forget". The Los Angeles Times commented on the Leonardo biography that "Payne makes a persuasive case ... The biography is ... a rendering of respect and admiration for the man."


Robert Payne (author) Wikipedia