Colin Wilson, a self-educated English writer who in 1956 shot to international acclaim with his first book, “The Outsider,” an erudite meditation on existentialism, alienation and creativity, but who incurred critical disdain for a string of later books about murder, sexual deviance and the occult, died on Dec. 5 in Cornwall, England. He was 82.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his son Damon said.

The author of well over 100 volumes of fiction and nonfiction, Mr. Wilson became a sensation at 24, when “The Outsider” was published and instantly touched a deep nerve in postwar Britain.

Ranging over the voracious reading in literature, science, philosophy, religion, biography and the arts that he had done since he was a boy, “The Outsider” had an aim no less ambitious than its scope: to delineate the meaning of human existence.

The book’s central thesis was that men of vision — among them Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Nietzsche, H. G. Wells, T. E. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, Hemingway, van Gogh, William Blake, Nijinsky and the 19th-century mystic Ramakrishna — stood apart from society, repudiating it as banal and disaffecting.

Colin Wilson in 1957. He wrote more than 100 volumes. Credit Express Newspapers/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

“The Outsider is not a freak, but is only more sensitive than the average type of man,” Mr. Wilson wrote. He added: “The Outsider is primarily a critic, and if a critic feels deeply enough about what he is criticizing, he becomes a prophet.”

In years to come, actual critics would argue over whether Mr. Wilson was a brilliant synthesist or merely an accomplished aphorist whose work lacked methodological rigor. But on the book’s publication, most reviewers, including the distinguished English men of letters Philip Toynbee and Cyril Connolly, were lavish in their praise.

Though “The Outsider” was often described as a philosophical work, Mr. Wilson saw it as fundamentally religious. Unlike existentialists whose worldview, he felt, inclined toward a dour nihilism, he purveyed what he called optimistic existentialism.

“Sartre’s feeling was that life is meaningless, that everything is pure chance, that life is a useless passion,” Mr. Wilson told The Toronto Star in 1998. “My basic feeling has always been the opposite, that mankind is on the verge of an evolutionary leap to a higher stage.”

Mr. Wilson argued that it was possible for mankind to achieve this exalted state through the kind of transcendent experience that comes, for instance, in the presence of great works of art. Such transcendence, he maintained, had been rendered largely inaccessible by the grind of daily life.

Despite his hopeful outlook, Mr. Wilson was labeled one of the original Angry Young Men. That appellation, popularized by the British press, described a cohort of emerging writers, including John Osborne and Kingsley Amis.

He deplored the designation, and in fact had little in common with those writers. As the author of a work of nonfiction, Mr. Wilson was neither a dramatist like Mr. Osborne nor a novelist like Mr. Amis. He did not like them personally or artistically, nor they him. (Mr. Amis once tried to push Mr. Wilson off a roof.)

The label derived largely from an accident of timing. “The Outsider” appeared in May 1956, the same month that “Look Back in Anger,” Mr. Osborne’s acclaimed drama of working-class disaffection, opened in London. Like Mr. Osborne, Mr. Wilson came from a modest background in which intellectual pursuits were anathema.

But if Mr. Wilson was no Angry Young Man, with his lush Romantic hair and roll-neck sweaters he more than looked the part. The papers delighted in the fact that to save on rent while writing “The Outsider,” he had spent his nights on Hampstead Heath, the vast London park. They took to photographing him there, posed with his sleeping bag.

Mr. Wilson’s disdain for the contemporary human condition, coupled with his almost preternatural confidence in his own abilities, also played well with the British news media — at least until the almost inevitable literary backlash set in.

Colin Henry Wilson was born in Leicester, England, on June 26, 1931; his father, Arthur, worked in a shoe factory. As a boy, Mr. Wilson later said, he was aware that he differed greatly from the “vegetable mediocrity” surrounding him.

“Ever since I was 9 or 10 years old, I had been convinced that I was a genius and was destined for great things,” he wrote in an autobiographical essay for the reference work Contemporary Authors.

A science prodigy, he planned a career in the field until he discovered that his lifework had been usurped.

“My ambition was to develop the atomic bomb,” Mr. Wilson later said. “When this was done in 1945, I lost interest in science.”

He vowed instead to become a writer. Leaving school at 16, he held a series of low-level jobs: wool-factory worker, tax collector, laborer, hospital porter. At about 20 he married Betty Troop, a nurse 10 years his senior with whom he was expecting a child. The marriage lasted 18 months.

Mr. Wilson and his wife, Joy, in their London flat in 1957. “The Outsider” was published in 1956. Credit Keystone, via Getty Images

On his own in London, Mr. Wilson worked in a cafe by night, spending his days in the reading room of the British Museum, toiling over the manuscript that would become “The Outsider.”

Published by Victor Gollancz in Britain and Houghton Mifflin Company in the United States (where its reception was more measured but nonetheless favorable), the book was translated into many languages.

For Mr. Wilson, the response seemed to augur a major career in world letters. But his growing fascination with deviance — a form of outsiderdom, after all — soon began to tar him.

In an incident reported in the British papers, the father of the young woman who would become Mr. Wilson’s second wife once descended on a dinner party in the couple’s London apartment, brandishing a horsewhip.

The man had come across what he thought were Mr. Wilson’s journals, which detailed acts of sexual sadism, murderous fantasies and other depredations.

“’You’re a homosexual with six mistresses,” Mr. Wilson’s future father-in-law cried, somewhat illogically. The journals in question were actually notes for Mr. Wilson’s first novel, “Ritual in the Dark,” published in 1960.

Attempting to salvage his reputation, Mr. Wilson released his actual journals to the newspapers. But what he had written in those pages (“The day must come when I am hailed as a major prophet”) did him no favors with press or public.

By the end of 1956, some reviewers of “The Outsider” had openly revised their early, rapturous positions. Mr. Wilson’s next nonfiction book, “Religion and the Rebel,” a sequel to “The Outsider” published in 1957, was far less well received.

With his second wife, the former Joy Stewart, he retreated to Cornwall to read and write away from the London literary whirl. He lived for many years in Gorran Haven, a fishing village there.

Volumes in Mr. Wilson’s prodigious output met with occasional success — among them were a nonfiction book, “The Occult,” and a science fiction novel, “The Mind Parasites” — but for the most part he was ignored, if not outright derided, by reviewers.

By his own account, Mr. Wilson was a firm believer in the paranormal phenomena that increasingly occupied his pen; his fascination with murder, he said, stemmed from his vision of the killer as the archetypal outsider.

All in all, this subject matter seemed to ordain him to be misunderstood.

“The police called on me during their investigations into the Yorkshire Ripper murders,” Mr. Wilson said in a 1993 interview, referring to the brutal serial killings in the north of England in the 1970s and early ’80s. “I assumed they wanted my advice. In fact, I was a suspect.”

Mr. Wilson’s survivors include his wife, Joy; their two sons, Damon and Rowan; their daughter, Sally Dyer; a son, Roderick, from his first marriage; and nine grandchildren.

His other books include the novels “The Schoolgirl Murder Case,” “The Space Vampires” and “The Sex Diary of a Metaphysician”; two volumes of memoir, “Voyage to a Beginning” and “Dreaming to Some Purpose”; and the nonfiction works “Rasputin and the Fall of the Romanovs,” “A Criminal History of Mankind,” “Beyond the Occult: A Twenty-Year Investigation Into the Paranormal,” “Alien Dawn: An Investigation Into the Contact Experience” and “The Misfits: A Study of Sexual Outsiders.”

However much he was neglected by the critics in later years, Mr. Wilson remained certain of his literary import.

“I suspect that I am probably the greatest writer of the 20th century,” he told the British newspaper The Guardian in 2006. “In 500 years’ time, they’ll say, ‘Wilson was a genius,’ because I’m a turning point in intellectual history.”

Correction: December 16, 2013

Because of an editing error, a reporting credit on Friday with an obituary about the author Colin Wilson omitted a contributor. Brad Spurgeon reported from Paris.