ZOMBIE THREAD ALERT: This thread hasn't been posted on for a while.
A fifth instalment of the Cazalets!(17 Posts)
Just read an interview with Elizabeth Jane Howard - she's currently writing no 5!!
I read the quartet on the advice of mn-ers and really enjoyed it.
Get cracking, MsHoward!
Ooh, how exciting! I love those books. Been a while since I read them - I will have to reread so I am ready for number 5!
I love them too
Read the article on EJH in the Saturday Times - was that the same one OP? She is amazing for 89
I LOVED these! Great news that EJH is doing another one!
Destination where did you hear this? Couldn't find anything online about it...
In the Saturday Times magazine - interview with EJH. Will be behind pay wall. Not sure if I can copy and paste but will try later if possible.
Excellent! Can't wait to read it!
For years, Elizabeth Jane Howards ravishing beauty overshadowed her literary talent. Now, at 89, she talks to Louise Carpenter about her work and the great loves of her life
Elizabeth Jane Howard CBE drags on a cigarette, despite a cluster of asthma inhalers piled up in the mesh pocket of her Zimmer frame. Now 89, she has never stopped smoking or writing, citing the interdependence of the two activities. Writing is still the reason Jane, as she is known to everybody, gets up every morning, the reason why her brain is still as sharp as that of a woman half her age. Smoking, she says, makes writing possible, even though it is contributing to the serious deterioration of her lungs, sending her into hospital for months at a time.
She looks around the book-lined study of her house in Suffolk, where she has lived for more than 20 years. There is a lift in the corner, which whizzes her upstairs to her bedroom because she is crippled with arthritis. The lift came because she could not bear to install a Stannah Stairlift on the beautiful staircase. The study is where she works and where she spends most of her time, writing (two pages a day, religiously), sewing, reading (70 novels a year) and watching television. Its where she drinks her bloody mary every night.
Howard is working on a fifth volume of the Cazalet Chronicles, which will thrill the thousands of fans whose devotion to the previous four volumes finally put Howards name on to the bestseller lists in the Nineties and made her almost as famous as her very famous ex-husband, the writer Kingsley Amis. Those books are in the process of being dramatised for BBC Radio 4. It seems Howards time has come round again.
For years, though, the quality of Howards books has been overshadowed by her ravishing beauty, now transmuted by age. Today, she is a rather stately presence in her armchair. You sit there, she says, directing me to a sofa opposite. She wears a beige sweater with heavy gold necklace and gold earrings. Her once much noted dark, waist-length hair is white and cut short around her face. Her voice is low like a mans and the laugh is more a growl. The cough is hacking. But despite the bouts of ill health, sitting in her chair rather than hobbling with her frame, Howard could still pass for 15 years younger.
The beauty attracted lovers, hordes of them, many of whom were married: Arthur Koestler; Laurie Lee; Cecil Day-Lewis, with whom she betrayed his wife, Jill Balcon, her best friend at the time; Cyril Connolly; and, most notorious of all, her affair with Amis, whom she married in 1965 and divorced rancorously in 1983 for his drinking, bullying and general misogyny.
It is only now, looking back over her life, that Howard sees that most of the men she slept with did not love her for her mind but for her looks. The mistakes one makes when one is young are fascinating, she says, her growl of a laugh rumbling through the room like thunder. Because my view of myself was not beautiful. I thought these people liked me because I had a good mind. Ha, ha they couldnt have cared less about my mind, didnt begin to! That was an initial but basic error. They saw me not as a dumb blonde, but something like that.
Not all of them, surely, I say. What about Amis? You used to read each others manuscripts every night. He liked your books, didnt he? Yes, we had intelligent conversations certainly. And we always read to each other and that was extremely good for both of us because we were good at criticising in a way that was possible for the other person we missed it. Well, I missed it. I dont suppose he did.
Although Howard and Amis were married for nearly 20 years, the rot set in early, according to Amis after about five years, when they were still living in their large house, Lemmons, on the outskirts of London. Their slow and painful limp towards divorce is well documented: he stopped wanting sex with her; he drank too much; she nagged him about his badly behaved boys, the novelist Martin Amis, and his brother Philip, who were high on drugs to a lesser or greater extent; she herself was knocking back Valium for anxiety.
I think [Amis] thought that women were for f***ing and making his meals, she says, matter-of-factly. And he wasnt very keen on food; he was very difficult to feed. When the sex stopped it was all my fault, of course, but it wasnt really. It became a sort of nervous enterprise for him which was not likely to come off. Amis called Howard the worst mistake of his life, a view that Martin Amis, whom Howard still sees and whom she helped educate into Oxford, has said reveals his father in revisionist mode and it still pains me to see it.
Her other marriages were no more successful. The first was when she was 19, to Peter Scott, son of the explorer Captain Scott. He talked about guns and boats the whole time and went away to war, where she was convinced hed die, so she fell in love with his brother and slept with him. The second was to a man called Jim Douglas-Henry, who she says married her for what he thought was her money. She divorced him for Amis. Douglas-Henry never slept with her after they married The only time Ive ever experienced sexual jealousy because hed sleep with other women but she had married him for what [the stage actress] Mrs Patrick Campbell calls the deep, deep peace of the double bed after the hurly-burly of the chaise longue.
Isnt that the most wonderful remark? she says. All women must feel it, mustnt they? You must have been through it, when you are asked out every night of the week and you think, I must have one night thats not like that, you know?
Actually, I wonder if that many women do know what she means. Her whole life has been the hurly-burly of the chaise longue. Of all her lovers, which one would she want with her now? Laurie Lee, she says, emitting the low growl again. They were truly sexually compatible. He was very sensitive too, she says. He understood me, that was the point, and made allowances for me. He was wonderful with me. In the past, she has said that she was frigid until she met Lee. Years after the affair, he sent her a postcard with the message, I think of you with rapture. She still has it.
But Laurie was a real handful, she adds. More growling. I think Id need Kathy to help me with him. Yes, Id have Laurie if I could have Kathy too. It hardly needs saying that Kathy was Lees wife. After a particularly sexually intense holiday in Spain with Lee, she brought Kathy back an embroidered shirt as a gift. How could you do that to her? Did you not feel guilty? No, not at all, she says. Theres nothing like a morning in Howards company to make one feel priggish and petit bourgeois. She knew about it anyway. We spent many happy evenings à trois after that.
Yes, you so often ended up being A triangle? she finishes. Somehow that didnt seem to be very important. But [I was always] getting myself into a mess and not being very happy. I suppose it had something to do with that. I fell in love with people whom I was never going to be able to marry. I never thought Id marry Kingsley. (Amis was married too, to Hilly, the mother of his three children, who finally dumped him when she had enough of the dreadful rows and his carousing.)
For all the eventual bad feeling, Howard admits to having loved Amis very much, even after it ended. Were you ever unfaithful to him? Let me think now, she says, going through her Rolodex of lovers in her mind. She sniffs. No, she replies after a pause. I wasnt. He was, Im sure of it. A woman just knows when a man comes back from a long day in London. I dont think any man has ever been faithful to me and I think its very unlikely that most men are, because what is important is what you have got with them, not what they have with other people.
And what about with the other men?
Well, let me try to think she says, as if shes doing the crossword. Actually, I know the answer to this already. In her memoir, Slipstream, published in 2002, she is very honest about her affairs. I longed for a mutual love, she writes. I didnt understand that they must be resisted in the first place. I thought they simply struck one like lightning and one had no choice. Did the men have anything in common? Well, a lot of them were Jewish, she says. And difficult? Yes, and difficult.
Her chief regrets are not the relationships apart from the intense guilt she felt over betraying Jill Balcon, her best friend for whom she did eventually break off her affair with Cecil Day-Lewis but being such a slow learner, failing to move on from old mistakes, and the fact that she never went to university nor travelled the world (travel books sit next to fiction in her study; biography is in the passage). I only spent two terms at school, she says, and, I would have loved to travel, but I was always so short of money.
It is obvious that despite the wisdom of age and the power of hindsight, even now Howard would not say no to the right man.
I sometimes ask myself, Would you really want someone in your life? And when I think I would, the person is absolutely perfect and fitting in with me all the time. She laughs. But in real life, am I up to the rough and tumble? The arguments? I think I am really!
Despite all the lovers and husbands or maybe because of them Howard says that for much of her life she has suffered from chronic loneliness. She hates being alone, a state that can be as disastrous for her writing as not smoking.
When she moved to Suffolk from London in 1991, still bruised from the failure of the marriage to Kingsley I desperately didnt want to be a bolter. It was failure number three she reconfigured the house to create five bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, so that it would be more appealing to guests. But then, at the end of the weekend, theyd have to leave and Id literally weep, begging them to stay another week. Ive always worked better when Im not alone.
Towards the end of the Nineties, she fell for a man who pursued her, at first by letter. He heard her admit on Desert Island Discs that she was lonely and he told her he wanted to be her friend. He meticulously researched her, reading biographies of husband number one, Peter Scott (by now a naturalist and Sir Peter), and Amis. Slowly, the man inveigled his way into her life, telling her how beautiful she was (she wrote back to say that she was now fat with white hair). He came to stay and they began an affair. She gave him money, and he told her he wanted to marry her. I was quite sure I didnt want to marry him. I had that much sense. But I thought it would be very nice to have an affair for a change I was about 72. I suppose I had the fun of feeling in love for a bit.
The mans obsession came during a period in which Howard was particularly susceptible. What she thought had been piles actually turned out to be cancerous growths. She underwent radiotherapy and had a temporary colostomy bag fitted. I was lonely and vulnerable. My friends thought he was frightfully boring but obviously terribly in love with me. He wasnt in love with me at all. He told Howard many stories about how he had ended up friendless and penniless, and he never tripped up except once, thank God, when he said one of his wives had died in a riding accident.
Howards only daughter, Nicola Starks, by Scott, felt uneasy in the company of her mothers new lover, as did many of Howards friends. Nicola made some checks. There had been no such death. His lies began to unravel. It was devastating when Nicola told me, says Howard. Once again, her judgment in men had been left wanting. People like that, con men, are very good at finding out who they can do it to. I believe he would have murdered me.
Howard turned the experience into her novel, Falling, published in 1999 and subsequently dramatised on ITV. After the book came out, the man sent Howard a postcard of the Statue of Liberty with the message, Having a new adventure with a lady on the train. He signed it Henry, the character in the book. He was a psychopath and thank God hes now dead, says Howard with a shiver.
Howard has come to see that her female friends have been a vital source of strength throughout her life. She loves being with women, and in the many Howard triangles she often ended up liking the wives more.
She has been a member of a womens group for 30 years. It still meets at her house once a year. I think all women need other women, whether they are sisters, friends or acquaintances, because you dont actually talk to another woman in the same way as you do a man. Women need that intimacy and if they havent got it and something goes wrong with the husband, they do feel very cut off. Another woman knows what it feels like.
Howard saw this when she befriended Oona Chaplin, wife of Charlie. Oona clung to Howard, despite her rich and gilded life and eight children. She had the worlds largest collection of lipsticks, you know, like a child. I dont think she wore one of them. She was very lonely in Switzerland, with none of her family or friends near her.
At the beginning of this year, Howards own life changed immeasurably. If before there had been something of the Oona Chaplin about her stuck out in Suffolk, willing and waiting for friends to visit it changed when her daughter and her husband moved five minutes down the road. I feel marvellous now. I feel incredibly lucky. Im not lonely at all any more. In the arc of my life, I have certainly got a lot more than I deserve.
Howards relationship with her daughter has not always been an easy one. When Howard left Scott in her early twenties, she also walked away from Nicola, who was brought up by a nanny. I see now that Nicola and I had the worst possible start in life, Howard writes in Slipstream. I love my daughter as much as I love anyone in the world, but the bad start led to much unhappiness for both of us, and I, being the elder, must accept the blame.
That was painful to write, I can tell you, Howard admits to me. But I had to be honest. Please be careful what you say, wont you? she pleads, suddenly very vulnerable once more. It is a poignant moment. Howard is desperate not to lose her daughter again. She reckons it took about 30 years for the rift to heal. I have said sorry and we dont talk about it any more.
She is very much more a part of my life now than she was then, Nicola tells me later. I remember a holiday we had when it was just the two of us. Non-stop time together; that helped. She has got more time for me now because she doesnt have such a busy social or professional life. It has worked out very well for us.
Its true to say that writers are selfish people, says Howard. All artists are really. But its not quite enough of an excuse.
For her part, Howard still hasnt forgiven her own upper middle-class mother for rejecting her (she too grew up cared for by nannies, in London and Sussex). Howard nursed her mother until her death while she was living at Lemmons, but it was too late for her to forgive her. She was a very sad, unhappy woman, very unfulfilled and she didnt like me, she explains. On the other hand, she has forgiven her father for his continued attempts to sexually molest her, which she came to see as a key factor in her early frigidity.
Howard can no longer cook or garden, two of her great loves, and she can no longer drive. She has a full-time nurse, Teddy, a highly strung, obstinate Bulgarian woman whom she adores, but with whom she can sometimes have a cantankerous relationship. (Can you get my cigarettes please? she asks her during my visit. The right-hand drawer of the desk. Much huffing from Teddy. The right-hand drawer!)
Beyond the disciplined daily writing a skill she learned from Amis she still has a multitude of people to stay: old friends, younger friends, godchildren, grandchildren Shes hoping Mart Martin Amis will visit her this summer while he is back from New York. If anything, Martin is her true parental success story. Ive always loved him. He is very generous to say that I got him educated. Its true, but he didnt have to say it.
She recalls going to a railway station and seeing two words on a poster: MARTIN AMIS. Extraordinary, she says. But do lots of people really read his books? Well, they must do, I say, because hes very wealthy.
Well, she says, he is married to a very rich woman.
As she says of herself, shes honest to the last.
Elizabeth Jane Howard supports the Tomorrow Together campaign to improve life for an ageing population; tomorrowtogether.org.uk
For years, though, the quality of Howards books has been overshadowed by her ravishing beauty, now transmuted by age
Honestly - what utter shite this line is. How could a writer's work be overshadowed by beauty? I'm not saying that more attractive authors don't find it easier on the publicity circuit, or even that it might be harder to get published as a first-time novelist if you're not a pretty young thing but seriously.
Anyway, that rant aside, hope EJH gets on well with the book!
Still can't wait to read it!
Thanks for the heads-up, Desination!
I loved the Cazalet chronicles (and was very interested when I read her memoir to discover that the character of Louise was heavily autobiographical). I am slightly wary of no. 5 just because the existing books are SO good, and it would be awful if the new one didn't live up to them. But we shall see!
Let's hope she completes it.
I've read the Cazalet novels twice and am now reading Slipstream - I hadn't realised how much of the novels was autobiographical.
I am so thrilled to hear this news. I adore those books.
I find EJH quite tricky, though, which I think comes across in the interview. Slipstream was a bit of a depressing read, because I really wanted to like her but found her very self-absorbed still, and quite selfish - even though she's honest about it, I find it difficult to reconcile with the sense of empathy that I get from the books. I can't help feeling that if I met her, she would probably despise me for not being glamorous and clever ... but I want to like her so much, iykwim.
This won't stop me buying the book on publication day, though
great news love EJH/
can't quite remember slipstream, I know I have read it. Cregg remind me please.
read the one about Henry Kent which was quite recent
Is slipstream about her? Her autobiography,
she is very like the character Louise in the Cazalet saga.
The first Cazalet book is 89p on Kindle at the moment, the memoir is £2.86.
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