Walter Allen was born in February 1911 in Aston, Birmingham. He was educated at the University of Birmingham.
He published his first novel, Innocence is Drowned, in 1938. He is best known for his classic study, The English Novel: A Short Critical History, which was published in 1954.
He worked in numerous academic positions and in journalism. He held the post of Literary Editor of the New Statesman and was a broadcaster. In 1967 he took a position as Professor of English Studies at the University of Ulster.
Allen suffered from a stroke in the mid-seventies which left him housebound at his home in Islington. He died in London in on 28 February 1995.