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Big Bill's Elizabeth Jane Howard Stuff!
(She wrote "The Beautiful Visit" don't you know!)
Buy Elizabeth Jane Howard Books Through My Amazon Links!
Most book collectors, if they were asked to name a highly collectable modern female novelist, would probably mention either Iris Murdoch or Muriel Spark, whose pedigree and popularity are beyond dispute. But there are a growing number of collectors who consider that the talents of Elizabeth Jane Howard deserve to be rated alongside those of Miss Murdoch and Miss Spark. It's true that her output is far smaller than either of those writers; she has published just eleven books in a longer period than it has taken the others to pen over thirty apiece. But each of her titles has received at least as fulsome a response from the critics as that reserved for her illustrious contemporaries. And there are two advantages for anyone who collects Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's work: first of all, her relatively small output makes the acquisition of a complete set of first editions reasonably easy; and secondly, it is possible to find most of her books relatively cheaply.
Born in London on 26th March, 1923, Elizabeth Jane Howard's early life reads rather like that of a romantic heroine. Educated privately at several schools, she soon moved on to become a drama student at both the London Mask Theatre and the Scott Thorndyke Student Repertory. She did tread the boards for a time at Stratford-upon-Avon, before turning to a career in modeling. Then, at the tender age of 18, she met and married the naturalist Peter Scott, then an officer in the wartime Royal Navy.
Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's own war years were spent in London as an Air Raid Warden, although she also worked briefly in radio broadcasting. Her literary interests (already kindled at school, where she wrote two plays and 400 "immensely dull pages" about a horse) continued after the war when she began to review books in her spare time, and started work on her first novel.
The result was "The Beautiful Visit", which was published in 1950 by Jonathan Cape. Few first novels have received a more enthusiastic welcome. Antonia White in the 'New Statesman' described Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard as a "remarkable talent", with "true imagination and a kind of sensuous power".
The narrative of "The Beautiful Visit" concerns a woman who is reviewing her life through the written pages of two lengthy diaries. As she reveals in a brief prologue, her intention is simply to "glance at them for the contrast they provided to my present circumstances". In the story that follows, Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard recalls a childhood visit to the rural home of a distant relative where her heroine could escape from her unhappy home, which "smelt of dusty carpets and forgotten meals; of grievance and misfortune". Her portrait of family tensions at the onset of the novel is particularly memorable.
As the story unfolds, an atmosphere of nostalgia descends, and Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's evocation of the First World War is truly magical. In mood, the novel resembles L.P. Hartley's "The Go-Between", which it preceded by three years. The book was so highly regarded that it won the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize the following year.
Today, first editions of "The Beautiful Visit" in dust-wrappers are hard to find.
Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard dedicated this first book to Robert Aickman, and it was with this author that she collaborated on her second work, "We Are For The Dark" (1951). This book was an unlikely departure, as it featured six ghost stories, all imaginatively conceived with moments of real heart-quickening suspense. The inspiration behind the stories was undoubtedly Aickman's, as his knowledge of the paranormal is extensive and his involvement in psychic research, especially at the famous Borley Rectory, is well-known. But the prose style is certainly that of Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard, though it could be said that the confines of the short story rather cramp the elegant prose of her novels. Despite this, the stories are masterfully told, and today "We Are For The Dark" is a much sought-after title, not only by collectors of Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's work but also by ghost story enthusiasts as well
A more representative collection of Elizabeth Jane Howard's short stories appeared in 1975, under the tide "Mr Wrong". Mysteriously, "Three Miles Up", one of the tales from that 1951 collection, reappears here, despite the publisher's claim that only one story - "Toutes Directions", from 'Cosmopolitan' in 1973 - had previously been published. As there is no credit to Robert Aickman in the later collection, we can probably assume that this story was penned entirely by Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard.
Several of the stories in "Mr Wrong" were written in the early 1950s, and have the same 'feel' as her first novel. Others were clearly written later, and show the broader outlook of her more recent work. Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's own theory about the short story is simple. She believes that they ought to have the depth and impact of a novel, achieved in a very restricted space. Today, "Mr Wrong" is the most difficult of her recent books to track down. A copy in its Mon Mohan dust-wrapper features a detail reproduced from Titian's "Allegory of Prudence".
With "The Long View" (1956), Elizabeth Jane Howard confirmed her reputation as an authoress of the first rank. The structure of the novel is particularly unusual: the story begins in 1950 with a middle-aged couple, Antonia and Conrad, locked in an unhappy marriage. The narrative then progresses backwards in two steps to 1926, to reveal Antonia's childhood, which helps to explain later events. The structure works perfectly as an analysis of a marriage in various stages of its development and destruction. The portrayal of Antonia as a daughter, wife, lover and mother is such an astonishing achievement that it surely must have been partly autobiographical. And the settings in the novel are equally compelling, shifting from the drab dinner parties of 1950s London to the cosmopolitan life of Paris and the brighter atmosphere of Southern France.
"The Long View" was taken up by The Book Society, and subsequently became Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's most commercially successful book. This edition - identifiable by the words 'Jonathan Cape & The Book Society' at the foot of the title page - is fairly easy to find.
On the strength of her success as a novelist, Elizabeth Jane Howard was now able to extend her career as a reviewer, eventually becoming the chief literary critic for 'Queen' magazine. She also became an editor at Chatto & Windus, and later at Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
But her first love was still novel writing, and with "The Sea Change" (1959), Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard again showed that she gave as much care to the structure of her novels as she did to her prose. This time, the story unfolded through the alternating narrations of a small number of closely linked characters. In one sense, the theme of this book is similar to that of "The Beautiful Visit": the exposure of naive youth to a materialistic world. This time the 'innocent' is a young girl brought up in a village parsonage, who meets an ageing Bohemian playwright who seeks to renew his life through his love for the young girl.
As always, the prose is extremely refined, with a wealth of emotion woven into every page - an aspect of Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's work which has impressed many critics. The intensity of feeling and experience which goes into every book is incredible; as one reviewer put it, "It's rather like pouring gallons of milk into a jug which magically condenses it." To gain this effect, Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard has to write extremely slowly. Around three hundred words a day is her maximum, although her care in choosing words ensures that rearranging or cutting are rarely necessary. It is, as Elizabeth Jane Howard admits, "a very anxious and nerve racking process". She also believes that at the end of a novel a writer should have used up all he or she has to say about a particular subject.
In the field of modern first editions, "The Sea Change" is a unique item. The boards have a grey, marbled effect, and the dust-wrapper is made of transparent plastic. Unfortunately, the plastic is rather unstable and over the years it tends to become more brittle, especially if it is exposed to the dry heat of central heating. This causes it to tear more easily, and it can't be fully repaired. Fine copies are therefore very difficult to find.
Inevitably in Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Howard's fiction, the past leads to the present, and nowhere is this shown to greater effect than in "After Julius" (1965). The novel follows the course of six lives, and the effect upon each of the death of Julius twenty years earlier. The structure is similar to the alternate narratives of "The Sea Change", but it is not quite so rigidly adhered to. In this book, each episode is observed from at least two points of view, until the story is unveiled a little further and a third character takes over.
Unusually in Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's work, the story of "After Julius" takes place during a brief period - a three-day country house weekend. The setting is superbly drawn, a most striking feature of the book.
The critics were universal in their praise for the novel, and for the first time Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's work was compared to that of the highly collectable Elizabeth Bowen.
By now Elizabeth Jane Howard had married a fellow novelist, Kingsley Amis, and moved to a large family home at Hadley Wood in Hertfordshire, where they were to live for the next decade. It was here she wrote "Something In Disguise" (1969), which is notable for its excellent and diverse characterisation. Its cast ranges from the feckless Oxford graduates lounging in London to an elderly Colonel, a would-be murderer prevented only by the intervention of fate in the shape of a cat!
The 'Sunday Telegraph' described the novel as "one of Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's best", and the 'Guardian' commented on "the delicious funniness" of Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's book, and compared her to Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford. Indeed, there are many moments of sparkling wit in all Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's books, for which she deserves more notice. Hers is an extremely subtle, often satirical form of humour: for example, in "The Long View", after the dinner party which opens the novel, the men rejoin the women, "having discussed the fundamentals as superficially as the women had discussed the superficialities fundamentally". A particularly dull dinner party in "Odd Girl Out" (1972) has one of the minor characters musing over a menu that "had everything he would expect upon it, and this was exactly what he would have expected". Her work is full of such humorous social observations.
"Odd Girl Out" is a particularly modern novel, and it is far removed from the evocative tranquillity of "The Beautiful Visit". The central character is the rich, rootless and amoral Arabella Dawick, who attaches herself one lazy summer to the naive and idyllic country existence of Edmund and Anne Conihiw. The couple are too steeped in middle-class politeness to turn her away. In her typically elegant manner, Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard portrays the web of love and passion that entangles the trio. Arabella sleeps with each in turn, seeks to become indispensable to both, and hopes - for the first time in her life - to feel at home. She succeeds for a while, but as the summer draws to a close it is Arabella who becomes the real victim.
It is a brilliantly conceived novel, full of irony and populated by the most astutely observed characters. The dust-wrapper -which features a detail from Botticelli's "Primavera", and was designed by Raymond Hawkey - is an added attraction.
Despite Elizabeth Jane Elizabeth Jane Howard's solid critical acclaim, her books have never been consistently high sellers, and the 1970s saw her turning to dramatisation in an attempt to attract a wider audience. Highly praised television versions of "After Julius" and "Something in Disguise" were produced, the latter starring Anton Rodgers and Elizabeth Garvie. Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard also wrote for several well-known I970s television series, most notably an episode for "Upstairs Downstairs" called "The Glorious Dead".
By, this time, Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard and Kingsley Amis had returned to London, where they set up home in Hampstead. Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard worked on the top floor, while Amis had his study on the bottom floor But at the end of the 1970s, their marriage failed, and they went their separate ways. It was a time of intense unhappiness for Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard, and for a while she was unable to write fiction at all. She moved into a friend's empty basement flat in Camden Town, together with her two most cherished possessions, her typewriter and a spaniel called Rosy. And it was here that she began work on a new novel.
She also edited an attractively produced anthology entitled 'The Lover's Companion", published for Valentine's Day in 1978. Among the 81 writers whose work she included were Catherine of Aragon, Bertrand Russell, Rosamund Lehmann and, briefly, Kingsley Amis.
Her latest novel, "Getting It Right", appeared in 1982. This time the main character was Gavin, a sensitive and shy hairdresser whose sheltered existence is shattered by a visit to a party. The book won the 'Yorkshire Post' novel of the year award.
Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's most recent appearance in print was in a cookery book called "Elizabeth Jane Howard and Maschler On Food", written in collaboration with Fay Maschler. It would perhaps be the ideal end to a day, to dine on one of Miss Elizabeth Jane Howard's recipes, and then curl up with one of her exquisite novels.
A brief word on how this works. If you click on any of the links below, you'll be taken to the page at Amazon where you can buy the book. Because you've linked to there from my site, I get commission on the sale. It's not a lot, but it helps to keep this and my other sites afloat.
|After Julius (tape)|
|Casting Off (tape)|
|Getting It Right [UNABRIDGED] (tape)|
|Marking Time (tape)|
|Odd Girl Out|
|Odd Girl Out (tape)|
|Something in Disguise [UNABRIDGED] (tape)|
|Something in disguise|
|The Beautiful Visit (tape)|
|The Light Years|
|The Long View|
|We Are for the Dark|
|After Julius: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Beautiful Visit: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Casting Off (tape)|
|Confusion: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Elizabeth Jane Howard Double|
|Getting it Right: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Getting It Right|
|Long View: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Marking Time (tape)|
|Odd Girl Out: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Odd Girl Out|
|Sea Change: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Something in Disguise: Complete and Unabridged (tape)|
|Something in Disguise|
|The Beautiful Visit|
|The Light Years|
|The Light Years (tape)|
|The Long View|
|The Lover's Companion|
|The Sea Change|
Where can you get all those old, out of print books? Here!
And if you fancy searching Amazon.com for any ol' li'l thang at all....why not go direct from here!
Or if you prefer Amazon.co.uk
The above article was adapted from the original authored by one David Howard in the August 1989 issue of Book and Magazine Collector (UK.). I've tweaked it a little here and there to make it more contemporary.
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