Elizabeth Jane Howard: the novelist at 90

Sabine Durrant in The Telegraph:

With_Kingsley_Amis_2727030cElizabeth Jane Howard – Jane to her friends – is the great underrated novelist of the post-war period. For years, she was really more famous for being the muse of her more renowned associates (affairs with Arthur Koestler, Kenneth Tynan, Laurie Lee, Cecil Day-Lewis; marriage to Kingsley Amis). Her first book, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1951, and her subsequent novels, such intricate masterpieces of style and tone as The Long View and The Sea Change, were widely praised, but she was never shortlisted for the Booker. “One was rather sad about that. I have missed the bus now.” It is for The Cazalet Chronicles that she is most known and loved – the unravelling semi-autobiographical saga of an upper-middle-class family in the period around the Second World War, the bulk of which she wrote in a flurry in the 1990s.

…“Kingsley felt women were for f— and cooking. He stopped wanting to f— because if you get really very drunk all the time you stop being able to do it. That was no good. And he hated food. He would say, ‘This isn’t very nice,’ or, worse, ‘This is a bit authentic.’” She laughs, then coughs, giving her chest a bash. “Put that in. It’s funny. He could be terribly funny. That was one of the lovely things about him, really.” Amis wouldn’t see her after she left him – in his Memoirs he refers to her mostly as “my second wife”. Did that upset her? “He never forgave me, I’m afraid. I didn’t realise the depths of his phobias until I read Mart’s [Martin Amis’s] autobiography Experience, his terror of being alone. He concealed it really, and that was a great mistake. If I had known, I think I would have been better at dealing with it.” She is still in touch with Mart, her stepson. “He always says I got him educated and it is absolutely true. I gave him a copy of Pride and Prejudice and made him read it. But I tried just as hard with Sally and Philip, his siblings, and got nowhere, so it might have happened anyway.

Picture: Elizabeth Jane Howard with Kingsley Amis at their wedding reception in 1965.

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