For much of a career spanning more than 60 years, the writer Elizabeth Jane Howard, who has died aged 90, suffered a certain condescension from literary editors as a writer of "women's novels". But it did not deter her. She herself described her readers as "women and educated men", and expressed "puzzlement" when Margaret Drabble left her out of her 1985 edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature.
Jane (as she was always called) achieved a triumph in her 70s with The Cazalet Chronicle, a highly praised tetralogy of novels set in the England of 1937-47. The first two books, The Light Years (1990) and Marking Time (1991), became an acclaimed BBC TV series, The Cazalets, in 2001; though the BBC then cancelled a planned second series of the last two books, Confusion (1993) and Casting Off (1995). Jane bore both triumph and disappointment with the dignity that had already seen her through decades of literary acclaim and disdain.
She herself thought her work had improved with age. These novels show her maturity as a compelling storyteller, shrewd and accurate in human observation, with a fine ear for dialogue and an evident pleasure in the English language and landscape. She was thoroughly at home in their setting, which was just the sort of upper-middle-class English family, London locations and country houses (the main one is called Home Place) in which her own roots lay. In a later novel, Falling (1999), she chiselled a perfect structure for a story that contains many of the torments of love, betrayal and misjudgment that bedevilled her own life.
Like the Cazalets, her background was privileged but not easy. She was born in London. Her father, David, was a timber merchant who had swept her mother, Katharine, off her feet when she was a dancer in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The family lived in a big house in Notting Hill with a tribe of servants; there were enchanting childhood summers in her grandparents' country house in Sussex. Her education was typical of her class and time: she had governesses at home while her two younger brothers went away to school.
This lack of formal education fed her self-doubt, but she showed great self-discipline and dedication in her chosen profession. Her output was prolific and her books achieved popularity and recognition. Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit (1950), won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize; as well as further novels she wrote short stories, articles, television plays, film scripts and a book on food with Fay Maschler. She also edited several anthologies. Her contributions to literary life included organising the Cheltenham and Salisbury festivals. She was made a CBE in 2000.
Jane was a very handsome, impressive woman. Though she looked rather grand, she did not use hauteur; there was a disarming candour and even humility in the way she talked about herself. It took her almost a lifetime, years of which she spent in psychotherapy, to come to terms with her relationship with her mother, who – she believed – did not like her. This experience, she said with harsh honesty, had made her "a tart for affection" for most of her life. Her striking looks, intelligence and varied talents brought her many admirers.
As a young woman she acted and modelled, and later she broadcast, cooked, sewed, gardened and decorated houses with flair and skill. But looking back, she declared that she had made a complete hash of her life, admitting and regretting her mistakes.
She was a bit of a bolter, as she was the first to admit: she married three times. The first, in 1942, was to Peter Scott, later a world-renowned naturalist and at that time a naval officer and war hero. She had her only child, Nicola, at 19. When Nicola was three, Jane – unhappy in her marriage and feeling unable to give her daughter as good a life as her distinguished husband could – left them both, an abandonment that brought deep difficulties between mother and daughter for many years, although they found resolution.
The poets Laurie Lee and Cecil Day-Lewis, whose wives were her friends, were among her lovers after her first divorce. Yet if there was duplicity in her makeup there were also qualities that attracted devoted friendship. Both the Lees and both the Day-Lewises wanted her to be godmother to their daughters; she accepted both requests. Day-Lewis wrote his last poem on her table, while staying as a guest in her house in the weeks before his death.
Her second marriage, to James Douglas-Henry in 1959, was for Jane a disaster of which, even in her many frank interviews, she could barely speak. But she indicated that he was unfaithful, did not make love to her, and was only interested in her money, of which she had very little. She left him after five years.
As an innovative director of the Cheltenham literary festival of 1962, she invited her fellow novelist Kingsley Amis to discuss sex and censorship in literature with Carson McCullers and Joseph Heller. The attraction between Amis and herself was powerful enough to end both their marriages. Their 18-year relationship made a gut-wrenching but fascinating public story, which began with romantic passion, high hopes and an elopement to Spain. It looked like a perfect match. One reason why she loved him, she said, was that he made her laugh. They married in 1965.
For eight years the couple held court to their friends and colleagues in a beautiful house on Hadley Common in Barnet. Jane later revealed that under the appearance of effortless glamour, she was single-handedly trying to do everything, from repairing and decorating the house to tending the huge garden. But she was not writing very much. Kingsley did that. His two adolescent sons, her brother and mother and a painter friend lived with them, and she produced regular meals for the household and spectacular ones for weekend guests, while struggling to cope with the idiosyncrasies of her husband. Years later it pleased her greatly when her stepson Martin Amis expressed gratitude for her contribution to his life as a writer. It was Jane who spotted ability and ambition in the teenage layabout. She got him reading (Jane Austen was the first breakthrough), and thence to Oxford. In his memoirs, Martin placed her – as a novelist – in the august company of Iris Murdoch, praising her "poetic eye" and "penetrating sanity".
The collapse of her third marriage was understandable, with its many pressures, but no less painful for that. In its latter years, especially after they moved from Barnet to Hampstead because Kingsley was missing his London life and friends, it became clear to Jane that he had come to dislike her. Nonetheless it was brave of her to leave him in 1980. This was not the first time she had been hurt by a man she had loved, but starting again was now a more daunting prospect. She was 57, and – although she did not seek or receive Amis's financial help – not as well-off as she seemed.
She planned her departure with a stratagem designed to minimise the hurt to Kingsley, which nevertheless outraged him. She went to a health farm for 10 days, thinking it would help him get used to her not being around; then, on the day she was due back, she had a note delivered to the house from her solicitor to say she was not returning. She went to live in Camden Town, in a house facing the traffic of a rat-run.
Kingsley never spoke to her again. His undisguised animosity to Jane figured in his late novels, and resurfaced in letters and biographies published after his death. The cruelty, subtlety and sharpness of this drama as it played out also proved worthy of her own pen, and the relationship and its protagonists appear several times in her fiction.
In 1990 Jane moved out of London and finally settled in a lovely old house in Suffolk, with some land, a riverbank and an island. There, she wrote, read, gardened, did her beautiful patchwork and tapestry, cherished her dog and her plants, and welcomed her friends, godchildren and family at weekends.
Her frank and detailed autobiography, Slipstream (2002), revealed how closely the Cazalet family was modelled on her own and that the roots of her novel Falling were in her own encounter with a conman. In November 2013, a fifth Cazalet novel, All Change, was published, shortly after a long-running dramatisation of the original quartet on BBC Radio 4.
In her later years she seemed blessed with a peace and pleasure that had hitherto eluded her. She was alone, and made it clear that she would have preferred not to be. But reconciliation had ended the years of estrangement with Nicola, and she basked in the affection of her daughter, four grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, who all survive her.
Jane once admitted that writing was the most "frightening" thing she did, and that she did not enjoy it. "I find it much too anxious a business," she said. She once tried to give it up altogether. But she couldn't. "When you write something which comes off, it's a feeling like no other," she said. "It's like being visited by something outside yourself."
• Elizabeth Jane Howard, writer, born 26 March 1923; died 2 January 2014
See also: Jane Howard (disambiguation)
|Elizabeth Jane Howard|
|Born||(1923-03-26)26 March 1923|
London, England, UK
|Died||2 January 2014(2014-01-02) (aged 90)|
Bungay, Suffolk, England, UK
|Spouse||Peter Scott (m. 1942; div. 1951)|
James Douglas-Henry (m. 1958–?)
Kingsley Amis (m. 1965; div. 1983)
Elizabeth Jane Howard, CBE, FRSL (26 March 1923 – 2 January 2014), was an English novelist, author of 12 novels including the best-selling series TheCazalet Chronicles.
Howard worked briefly as an actress in provincial repertory and occasionally as a model before her writing career, which began in 1947.
Howard's first novel, The Beautiful Visit (1950), described as "distinctive, self- assured and remarkably sensual", won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1951 for best novel by a writer under 30. She next collaborated with Robert Aickman, writing three of the six short stories in the collection We Are for the Dark (1951).
Her second novel, The Long View (1956), describes a marriage in reverse chronology; Angela Lambert remarked, "Why The Long View isn't recognised as one of the great novels of the 20th century I will never know." Five further novels followed before she embarked on her best known work, the Cazalet Chronicles, at the suggestion of her stepson Martin Amis.
The Chronicles were a family saga "about the ways in which English life changed during the war years, particularly for women." They follow three generations of a middle-class English family and draw heavily on Howard's own life and memories. The first four volumes, The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, and Casting Off, were published from 1990 to 1995. The fifth, All Change, was written in just a year and published in 2013; it was her final novel. Millions of copies of the Cazalet Chronicles were sold world-wide.
The Light Years and Marking Time were serialised by Cinema Verity for BBC Television as The Cazalets in 2001. A BBC Radio 4 version in 45 episodes was also broadcast from 2012.
Howard wrote the screenplay for the 1989 movie Getting It Right, directed by Randal Kleiser, based on her 1982 novel of the same name, as well as TV scripts for Upstairs, Downstairs.
She also wrote a book of short stories, Mr. Wrong (1975), and edited two anthologies, including The Lover's Companion (1978).
Howard's parents were David Liddon Howard (1896–1958), a timber merchant, and Katharine Margaret ('Kit') Somervell (1895–1975), a dancer with Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and daughter of the composer Sir Arthur Somervell. One of her brothers, Colin, lived with her and her third husband, Sir Kingsley Amis, for 17 years. She was educated at Francis Holland School and studied domestic science and drama at Ebury Street, London.
Howard married Peter Scott in 1942, at age 19, and they had a daughter, Nicola (born 1943). Howard left Scott in 1946 to become a writer, and they were divorced in 1951. At this time she was employed as part-time secretary to the pioneering canals conservation organisation the Inland Waterways Association, where she met and collaborated with Robert Aickman. She had an affair with Aickman, described in her autobiography Slipstream (2002).
Her second marriage, to Australian broadcaster James Douglas-Henry in 1958, was brief. Her third marriage, to novelist Sir Kingsley Amis, whom she met while helping organise the Cheltenham Literary Festival, lasted from 1965 to 1983; for part of that time, 1968–1976, they lived at Lemmons, a Georgian house in Barnet, where Howard wrote Something in Disguise (1969). Her stepson, Martin Amis, has credited her with encouraging him to become a more serious reader and writer.
Howard also had romantic liaisons with Laurie Lee, Kenneth Tynan, Arthur Koestler, Cecil Day-Lewis, Nancy Spain and others.
In later life, she lived in Bungay, Suffolk, and was appointed CBE in 2000. She died at home on 2 January 2014, aged 90.
Autobiography and biographies
Howard's autobiography, Slipstream, was published in 2002. A biography, entitled Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence by Artemis Cooper, was published by John Murray in 2017. A reviewer said it was "strongest in the case it makes for the virtues of Howard's fiction".
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- "Elizabeth Jane Howard", BBC Radio 4, 29 October 2002, accessed 1 November 2010.
- Millard, Rosie. "The beauty and the psycho", The Times, 12 October 2008, accessed 1 November 2010.
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- ^ abBrown, Andrew (9 November 2002). "Profile: Elizabeth Jane Howard". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
- ^ abcdWilson, Frances (30 December 2012). "Elizabeth Jane Howard: interview". The Telegraph. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
- ^"IMDb profile of Getting It Right (film)".
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- ^ abcBeauman, Nicola (3 January 2014). "Elizabeth Jane Howard: Writer". The Independent. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
- ^Cockcroft, Lucy (9 October 2007). "Family defends 'racist' Sir Kingsley Amis". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-02-17.
- ^Leader, Zachary. The Life of Kingsley Amis, Jonathan Cape, 2006, p. 633.
- ^Cooper, Jonathan (23 April 1990). "Novelist Martin Amis Carries on a Family Tradition: Scathing Wit and Supreme Self-Confidence". People. Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- ^Clark, Alex (14 November 2013). "Review: All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard". The Guardian.
- ^Anthony Thwaite (9 November 2002). "When will Miss Howard take off all her clothes?". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
- ^Adams, Matthew (3–4 June 2017). "Talent and torment". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 September 2017.