On the Face of It

On the Face of It Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Colin Dexter's On the Face of It. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Colin Dexter

Susan Hill was born on the coast of North Yorkshire, England in the middle of World War II. She wrote her first novel, The Enclosure, before she graduated from King’s College London. In 1975 she married Stanley Wells, a Shakespeare scholar, and they moved to Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. The two separated in 2013, when Hill began a relationship with the television producer and writer Barbara Machin. Hill is best known for her gothic ghost stories and crime novels, but she has also written plays, non-fiction, and children’s stories. Her most popular works are The Woman in Black, The Mist in the Mirror, and I’m the King of the Castle. She has won numerous literary honors including the Somerset Maugham Award, and in 2012 Hill was appointed by the Queen as Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to literature.
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Historical Context of On the Face of It

On the Face of It is probably set in rural England sometime around the time of its writing (1975). The only specific historical event mentioned in the play is “the war”—World War II—during which Mr. Lamb had his leg blown off by a bomb.

Other Books Related to On the Face of It

Hill’s best-known other works are quite different in style from On the Face of It. She is most famous for her ghost stories and crime novels, which are often compared to the works of Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca and The Birds. Within the play itself, Derry’s sense of alienation and isolation because of his perceived ugliness are also reminiscent of the famous novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.
Key Facts about On the Face of It
  • Full Title: On the Face of It
  • Where Written: England
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Drama
  • Genre: Play
  • Setting: Rural England
  • Climax: Derry finds Mr. Lamb fallen in his garden
  • Antagonist: Derry’s mother, society
  • Point of View: Drama

Extra Credit for On the Face of It

Controversial Beginnings. Hill’s first novel The Enclosure, which was published when she was only 19 years old, was criticized as being too sexual and inappropriate for a “schoolgirl.”

Management Skills. Hill also runs her own small publishing company, which has published several of her works as well as those of other authors.