Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) wrote brilliant novels about what love can do to people, but in her own life the lasting relationship she sought so ardently always eluded her. She grew up yearning to be an actress, but when that ambition was thwarted by marriage and the war, she turned to fiction.
Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize - she went on to write 14 more, of which the best-loved were the five volumes of The Cazalet Chronicle.
Following her divorce from her first husband, the celebrated naturalist Peter Scott, Jane embarked on a string of high-profile affairs with Cecil Day-Lewis, Arthur Koestler and Laurie Lee, which turned her into a literary femme fatale. Yet the image of a sophisticated woman hid a romantic innocence which clouded her emotional judgment. She was nearing the end of a disastrous second marriage when she met Kingsley Amis, and for a few years they were a brilliant and glamorous couple - until that marriage too disintegrated. She settled in Suffolk, where she wrote and entertained friends, but her turbulent love life was not over yet. In her early 70s, Jane fell for a con man. His unmasking was the final disillusion and inspired one of her most powerful novels, Falling.
Artemis Cooper interviewed Jane several times in Suffolk. She also talked extensively to her family, friends and contemporaries and had access to all her papers. Her biography explores a woman trying to make sense of her life through her writing as well as illuminating the literary world in which she lived.
©2016 Artemis Cooper (P)2016 John Murray Press
I have never read any of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novels but she has cropped up in a number of books that I have read including those concerning Tom Rolt, Robert Aickman and the early days of the Inland Waterways Association as well as Martin Amis’s memoir "Experience".
What seems to have struck everybody about EJH was her physical beauty. I have never been able to see this but obviously photographs do not do her justice as so many people were struck by it. Great beauty can be a curse as well as a blessing and, coupled with moral ambivalence can, as in her case, be very damaging, not least to its possessor.
It is perhaps unfair to call her sexually voracious but she does not seem to have done much to resist the advances of a good many men within the literary and intellectual circles in which she moved – even if they happened to be married to one of her friends!
The book gives Eleanor Bron little scope for anything but a fairly routine reading and this made me wonder whether audiobooks are really the best vehicle for biography? Great for novels but in this case I greatly missed being able to refer to photographs and, particularly, an index.
"A rather depressing life"
You cannot change a book that is about a person whose life has all the promise of an early summer morning, with the sun rising above the horizon with its warm glow, only to find that the promise is broken and it rains all day.
I have read most of Elizabeth Jane Howard's books and loved theml, well written, interesting characters well portrayed but never dreamt that the person behind the book had a tragic love life that rambles on from one affair after another, that makes in the end for dull reading.
I found this book quite depressing and her love affairs tedious. Is there something missing that another book might enlighten us with her life.
I was full of hope when I began this book but became bored with her tedious love life.
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