Michael Cox

(1948 – 2009)

Michael Cox: Biographical Sketch

Michael Andrew Cox (Finedon, Northamptonshire, England, October 23, 1948 – Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, March 31, 2009) was an English biographer, novelist, musician, and former Senior Commissioning Editor of reference books for Oxford University Press.  In addition to the various anthologies of Victorian literature that Cox edited, he is best known for his novel The Meaning of Night, whose publication rights were sold to John Murray (a subdivision of Hodder Headline) for the record sum of £430,000 in January 2005, after a hotly contested UK auction.

Cox studied English and graduated from St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge in 1971.  Having initially intended to be an academic, he then however signed a contract with EMI and published two albums and several singles under the pseudonym Matthew Ellis. He also recorded an album for DJM as Obie Clayton.

In 1977, Cox joined Thorsons Publishing Group (later part of Harper Collins).  His first book (1983) was a biography of the Victorian ghost story writer M.R. James.  Between 1983 and 1997 he compiled and edited several anthologies of (chiefly, but not exclusively Victorian) short stories for Oxford University Press.  In 1989 Cox joined Oxford University Press, where he became senior commissioning editor and there compiled two encyclopedias, A Dictionary of Writers and their Works (1991) and The Oxford Chronology of English Literature (2002).

His first novel, The Meaning of Night, was published in 2006 and was shortlisted for the 2007 Costa first novel award. Inspired by authors such as Charles Dickens (a childhood favorite), Wilkie Collins, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, this thriller is set in a dirty, corrupting 1850s London, and an idyllic country estate named Evenwood.  The completion of The Meaning of Night – a writing project that he had been contemplating for more than 30 years – was brought on by a diagnosis of the recurrence of a rare form of cancer, which Cox feared would render him blind and unable to write.  Cox finished and successfully sold both this novel and a sequel, The Glass of Time (set twenty years later), but died of cancer on March 31, 2009 before he had the opportunity to complete the third book of what he had intended to be a trilogy of novels.

Read more about Michael Cox on Wikipedia.



  • The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (1986)
    – Editor, with R.A. Gilbert.
  • The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories (1991)
    – Editor, with R.A. Gilbert.
  • Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection: An Oxford Anthology (1992)
    – Editor.
  • The Oxford Book of Historical Stories (1994)
    – Editor, with Jack Adrian.
  • The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost Stories (1996)
    – Editor.
  • The Oxford Book of Spy Stories (1996)
    – Editor.
  • 12 Victorian Ghost Stories (1997)
    – Editor.
  • 12 Tales of the Supernatural (1997)
    – Editor.
  • Twelve English Detective Stories (1999)
    – Editor.
  • The Subversive Vegetarian: Tactics, Information, And Recipes For The Conversion Of Meat Eaters (1980)
  • MR James: An Informal Portrait (1983)
  • The New Vegetarian: The Complete Survival Plan for Those Who Have Given Up Meat (1985)
  • A Dictionary of Writers and their Works (1991)
  • The Oxford Chronology of English Literature (2002)
    – Abbreviated version published as The Concise Oxford Chronology of English Literature (2004).


A Selection of Quotes

The Meaning of Night

“For Death is the meaning of night;
The eternal shadow
Into which all lives must fall,
All hopes expire.”

“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”

“I had retained little of what is generally called religion, except for a visceral conviction that our lives are controlled by some universal mechanism that is greater than ourselves. Perhaps that was what others called God. Perhaps not.”

“It is trite to speak of a broken heart. Hearts are not broken; they continue to beat, the blood still courses, even in the bitter after-days of betrayal. but something is broken when pain beyond words is suffered; some connection that formerly existed with light and hope and bright mornings is severed, and can never be restored.”

“The summer passed quietly. I busied myself as best I could, reading a good deal.”

“But greater than all these delights would be the possession of this wondrous library for my own use and pleasure. What more could my bibliophile’s soul ask for? Here were marvels without end, treasures beyond knowing. You have seen the worst of me in these confessions. Here, then, let me throw into the opposite side of the balance, what I truly believe is the best of me: my devotion to the mental life, to those divine faculties of intellect and imagination which, when exercised to the utmost, can make gods of us all.”

Find more quotes by Michael Cox on Goodreads.