Howard, Elizabeth Jane 1923-

views updated

HOWARD, Elizabeth Jane 1923-

PERSONAL: Born March 26, 1923, in London, England; daughter of David Liddon and Katharine Margaret (Somervell) Howard; married Peter M. Scott, 1942 (divorced, 1951); married James Douglas-Henry, 1960 (divorced); married Kingsley Amis (an author), 1965 (divorced, 1983); children: (first marriage) Nicola Scott. Education: Privately educated; trained as an actress at the London Mask Theatre School and with the Scott Thorndike Student Repertory.

ADDRESSES: Home—Bridge House, 34 Bridge St., Bungay, Suffolk NR35 1HD, England. Agent—Jonathan Clowes Ltd., Iron Bridge House, Bridge Approach, London NW1 9BD, England.

CAREER: Writer. Actress in Stratford-on-Avon, England, and in repertory theater in Devon, England; British Broadcasting Corp., London, England, broadcaster, 1939–46; Inland Waterways Association, London, secretary, 1947–50; Chatto & Windus Ltd., London, editor, 1953–56; Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd., London, editor, 1957; Queen magazine, London, book critic, 1957–60. Co-artistic director, Salisbury Festival, 1973. Member of awards committee for John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize, Somerset Maugham Award, Whitbread Award, and the Booker Award. Military service: Served as an air raid warden in London, England, during World War II.

MEMBER: Royal Society of Literature (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS: John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize, 1951, for The Beautiful Visit; Yorkshire Post novel of the year award, for Getting It Right. Honorary artistic director, Cheltenham Literary Festival, 1962.



The Beautiful Visit, Random House (New York, NY), 1950.

The Long View, Reynal (New York, NY), 1956.

The Sea Change, J. Cape (London, England), 1959, Harper (New York, NY), 1960.

After Julius (also see below), J. Cape (London, England), 1965, Viking (New York, NY), 1966.

Something in Disguise (also see below), J. Cape (London, England), 1969, Viking (New York, NY), 1970.

Odd Girl Out, Viking (New York, NY), 1972.

Getting It Right (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1982.


The Light Years, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1990.

Marking Time, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1991.

Confusion, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1993.

Casting Off, Macmillan (London, England), 1995.

Falling, Macmillan (London, England), 1999.


(With R. Aickman) We Are for the Dark: Six Ghost Stories, J. Cape (London, England), 1951.

(With Arthur Helps) Bettina: A Portrait (biography), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1957.

The Very Edge (screenplay), 1963.

Mr. Wrong (short stories), J. Cape (London, England), 1975, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.

(Editor) The Lover's Companion: The Pleasures, Joys, and Anguish of Love (anthology), David & Charles (Newton Abbott, England), 1978.

After Julius (television screenplay based on Howard's novel of the same title), 1979.

Something in Disguise (television screenplay based on Howard's novel of the same title), 1980.

(With Fay Maschler) Howard and Maschler on Food, M. Joseph (London, England), 1987.

Getting It Right (screenplay based on Howard's novel of the same title), 1989.

(Editor) Green Shades: An Anthology of Plants, Gardens, and Gardeners, Aurum (London, England), 1990.

(With Fay Maschler) Cooking for Occasion, Macmillan (London, England), 1994.

(Editor) Marriage: An Anthology, Orion, 1998.

Slipstream: A Memoir, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.

Also author of scripts for the television series Upstairs Downstairs, Victorian Scandals, and She. Contributor to periodicals, including Encounter, Sunday Times, Daily Express, New Yorker, Town and Country, Sunday Telegraph, Women's Journal, and the London Times.

ADAPTATIONS: The Cazalet Chronicle were produced for television by the BBC and WGBH-Boston and aired on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre in 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Elizabeth Jane Howard has had a varied career in the arts, beginning as a theater actress and model, moving on to work as an editor at London publishing houses, and culminating in a career as a novelist, short story writer, and nonfiction writer on cooking and gardening. Howard's award-winning first novel, The Beautiful Visit, was followed by such critically acclaimed works as The Long View and After Julius, books that built her reputation among critics as a perceptive writer whose scrupulous eye for the details of dress and decor that often provide the fuel for her acerbic wit. In a review of Mr. Wrong, Howard's second collection of short fiction, Victoria Glendinning observed in the New Statesman that "Howard writes most confidently and touchingly at very close range, about momentary doubts, unspoken anxieties, fleeting perceptions, intense good moments and equally intense bad ones, all inextricably bound up with a natural or domestic setting."

Howard's early novels demonstrate her ability to combine sympathetic portrayals of female characters with satirical set pieces, poking fun at the characters. In The Long View, Howard tells the story of a marriage by following its participants backwards in time, from a 1950 party given in honor of their son, to their first meeting in 1926. "It is, simply, a brilliant book," wrote Michele Slung in a Washington Post Book World review of the novel's 1990 reissue. "And it amounts to something of a sacred object among those who have read it, many of us more than once." Similarly, at the time of its original publication, Daniel George wrote in the Spectator that "not many novels deserve to be read twice. This one does—preferably, the second time, from finish to start." The Long View was followed by The Sea Change, a narrative told alternatingly by its four protagonists. Again, Howard's writing elicited ardent responses from critics who admired her delicate handling of her characters' relationships. The novel's theme, stated a Times Literary Supplement reviewer of The Sea Change, is "the flux of relationships at a level of intimacy which demands the most delicate investigation if we are to discover truth, and the most intricate selection of situations that will appear both complete and natural."

"Events as much as background seem merely devices used to aid her in discovering more about the human heart," remarked the Times Literary Supplement critic, but this technique came to be seen as old-fashioned by the turbulent 1970s. Some reviewers began to detect an unaccustomed element of uncertainty in the author herself. In a review of After Julius, a novel centered on a weekend party during which the death of Julius twenty years earlier finally catches up with his wife and two daughters, a contributor to the Times Literary Supplement noted: "It is as though, unsure of the contemporary relevance of the central situation she has chosen, Miss Howard has forced herself to provide entertainment for all readers—cosy sentiment, earthy passion, proletarian protest, fastidious respect for convention, in-jokes and authentic factual detail. The mixture does not jell."

Getting It Right, in which a morbidly shy male hairdresser is transformed by a sexual encounter with an overdressed, upper middle-class woman, was generally well received, but garnered similar complaints. The novel "seems to have been written under some odd and regrettable compulsions towards up-to-dateness, from which [Howard] should feel herself honourably absolved," wrote Anne Duchene in the Times Literary Supplement. Such criticisms were not levied, however, at Howard's 1975 collection of short stories, Mr. Wrong. The book contains six pieces in which, according to Jerome Charyn in the New York Times Book Review, Howard displays her "special grace": "delineating the little corrosions of tight family structures—the bickering husbands and wives, the cruel, secretive world of children in a country house, the territorial squabbles of mothers and daughters, the bonds of jealousy between a beautiful girl and her grandmother."

Likewise, the shift in critical prejudice toward a more democratic approach in literature stood Howard in good stead as she entered the 1990s with the first installment of the "Cazalet Chronicle," The Light Years. Patrick Parrinder noted in the London Review of Books that Howard included the trials and tribulations of the wealthy Cazalet family's servants in her minutely detailed history of the family. "This is a shrewd move, and a sign of our own times rather like the recent opening-up to visitors of the kitchens and pantries of National Trust houses," Parrinder observed. In addition to the servants, there are the Cazalets themselves: Brig and Duchy, the mother and father of the clan; Edward, their philandering son, and his brothers Hugh, who was injured in the First World War, and Rupert, who longs to be a painter; their respective wives, and their unmarried sister Rachel, who may or may not be a lesbian. Of the many children produced by this generation, three daughters, Louise, Polly, and Clary, capture the majority of the narrative attention and reader interest, critics noted.

The "Cazalet Chronicle" extends to four volumes. The Light Years was followed by Marking Time, Confusion, and Casting Off. The chronicle begins before the onset of World War II, continues through the war, and concludes with the early postwar years in England as experienced by three generations of a family made wealthy by the timber industry. Despite the scrupulously detailed time period, these four works are not war novels, according to reviewers, but rather novels of the home front that focus on the lives of the women and children of the Cazalet family. "Somehow, Elizabeth Jane Howard crams it all in: the births, marriages, deaths, love affairs; the ageing grandparents, the rheumaticky servants, the young children in their Sussex Arcadia," observed J.K.L. Walker in a Times Literary Supplement review of Confusion. "On its level, it is a flawless, busy, yet ultimately sentimental performance."

Though readers of the installments following the first noted the need to keep track of Howard's large cast of characters, it was generally acknowledged that the author did a good job of aiding the reader in this task. Susan Dooley, a contributor to the Washington Post Book World noted this effort in her review of Marking Time and concluded: "Howard is a delightful writer, giving each of the multitude a distinctive voice, and by the second chapter I was mostly in control of the characters." As installments of the "Cazalet Chronicle" continued to appear, the critical response to the series was generally enthusiastic. A complaint registered by Muriel Spanier in the New York Times Book Review about the lack of "dramatic tension" in The Light Years, became praise for the third novel's "persuasive melancholy" through which the author sets the stage for postwar revelations and "the implications of peace," according to Judy Cooke in the New Statesman & Society. Indeed, Cooke continued, "What is so extraordinarily deft is the author's ability to focus on that moment when the public and private concerns [of her characters] are brought to bear upon each other." Thus, as in her early works, Howard's novels of the 1990s are primarily about relationships. "Howard is not interested in writing about society or history, but about relationships, and specifically sex. She does this extremely well, and with bleak humour," observed Claire Harman in her Times Literary Supplement review of Casting Off.

As many critics of Howard's fiction have noted, the author draws heavily on her own life to create her novels; this was particularly the case with "Cazalet Chronicle." However, in 2002 she completed a true-to-life account of her own story with Slipstream: A Memoir. Despite what many readers would regard as a glamorous and privileged life during which the talented and beautiful Howard hobnobbed with famous writers and enjoyed a successful career as broadcaster, screenplay writer, and novelist, much of this autobiography is laced with psychological turmoil. Beginning with her childhood, Howard relates her grief about having a mother who showed her no affection and a father who, at one point, tried to sexually molest her—an incident that made its way into her chronicles tetralogy. When she became an adult, she endured one unsuccessful relationship after another, including three divorces, the last of which, to renowned writer Kingsley Amis, ended when Amis's drinking and chauvinism made him intolerable to live with. Through it all, Howard's low self-esteem is very apparent, as is her ardent desire to love and be loved in return. Reviewers also noted that the author in no way shies from portraying herself in the most unflattering light. "Unlike most autobiographers," related Anne Chisholm in the London Sunday Telegraph, "Elizabeth Jane Howard seems not to be aiming for admiration or approval; she paints a quite unattractive picture of the young woman she used to be, who tried to love her little daughter but nevertheless farmed her out to family and friends, who knew that she should not sleep with her friend's husbands but somehow could never say no."

Although Contemporary Review critic Catherine Wade disliked the first half of Howard's autobiography, describing it as mostly "clumsy name-dropping," she enjoyed the second half for digging "more deeply" into her life. Here, commented Wade, Howard accomplishes many feats, including writing "superbly about the male literary temperament" and her "honest and direct writing about pain and the trials of youth." Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Sarah Curtis explained that "Slipstream is not so much a memoir as an autobiography in its full sense, an endeavour to fathom the reasons for her own actions over eight complicated decades, laudable in its intentions but difficult to accomplish." Curtis went on to speculate that the reader might actually gain better insights into Howard through "a close reading of her novels …, but Slipstream is a powerful attempt by Howard" to reveal herself frankly to her audience.

Howard once told CA: "I have never regarded myself as an innovator. Novels have been, are, and always will be an exploration of human nature. If they do not at least attempt to do that, they are something else. Novels are also storytelling—a most ancient practise that has always been required. So I believe that it is necessary to tell a story. I also find that I need to have a theme: in The Sea Change I was exploring what people can change about themselves and what is immutable. In After Julius it was an exercise in looking at the differences between public and private responsibilities. In Odd Girl Out I was trying to find out why some people find it necessary to live with lies. The Cazalet tetralogy was not meant to be a war novel, it was meant to be a record of how England changed in the ten years from 1937–47. Although of course, the war was a reason for a great deal of the change, it was so much foreground that novelists hadn't, I felt, recorded the social and domestic upheaval.

"Themes, of any kind, imply some sort of moral structure, and I think all good novels should have one. The reader may not agree with the belief system or ideas that are implicit in any novel, but it should be there.

"I would resist the charge of sentimentality quoted in some reviews of my books. I think that reviewers often confuse the fact that sometimes things turn out well—or better than might have been expected—with sentiment. There are swings and roundabouts in everyone's lives and an unrelieved account of roundabouts is not necessarily a morally—or artistically superior position."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 7, 1977, pp. 164-165; Volume 29, 1984, pp. 242-247.

Contemporary Novelists, 6th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 496-499.

Howard, Elizabeth Jane, Slipstream: A Memoir, Macmillan (London, England), 2002.


Antioch Review, fall, 1992, review of Marking Time, p. 782.

Booklist, June 15, 1992, Brad Hooper, review of Marking Time, p. 1787.

Christian Science Monitor, July 1, 1994, Merle Rubin, review of Confusion, p. 10.

Contemporary Review, September, 2003, Catherine Wade, "Elizabeth Jane Howard's Endless Literary Circles," review of Slipstream, p. 178.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 2, 2002, Kathryn Hughes, review of Slipstream, p. 4.

Guardian (London, England), November 2, 2002, Anthony Thwaite, "When Will Miss Howard Take Off All Her Clothes?: Anthony Thwaite Admires the Resilience and Common Sense in Elizabeth Jane Howard's Revealing Autobiography: Slipstream," p. 9; November 9, 2002, Andrew Brown, "Loves and Letters: Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Famous Beauty, She Married Young and, after a Series of Affairs, Left Her First Husband and Daughter to Become a Writer," p. 20.

Library Journal, September 15, 1982, review of Getting It Right, p. 1769; August, 1990, Lydia Burruel Johnson, review of The Light Years, p. 141; July, 1992, Lydia Burruel Johnson, review of Marking Time, p. 124.

London Review of Books, July 26, 1990, Patrick Parrinder, review of The Light Years, pp. 19-20.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 14, 1982, Charles Champlin, review of Getting It Right, p. 3; April 22, 1984, Charles Champlin, "99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939: A Personal Choice," p. 1.

Mademoiselle, November, 1982, Jane Howard, review of Getting It Right, p. 64.

Ms., March, 1983, Ingeborg Day, review of Getting It Right, p. 33.

Nation, December 4, 1982, Jonathan Birchall, review of Getting It Right, pp. 598-600.

New Statesman, July 11, 1975, Victoria Glendinning, review of Mr. Wrong, p. 60; May 14, 1982, Marion Glastonbury, review of Getting It Right, p. 25; November 11, 2002, Lisa Allardice, "Penetrating Sanity," review of Slipstream: A Memoir, p. 49; December 2, 2002, review of Slipstream, p. 44.

New Statesman & Society, December 3, 1993, Judy Cooke, review of Confusion, p. 40.

Newsweek, November 15, 1982, review of Getting It Right, p. 108.

New Yorker, November 15, 1982, review of Getting It Right, p. 203.

New York Times Book Review, February 22, 1976, Jerome Charyn, review of Mr. Wrong, p. 36; March 6, 1983, Eve Otenberg, review of Getting It Right, pp. 28-29; September 16, 1990, Muriel Spanier, review of The Light Years, p. 21; July 19, 1992, Alida Becker, review of Marking Time, p. 20.

Publishers Weekly, September 24, 1982, review of Getting It Right, p. 61; July 20, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of The Light Years, p. 49; July 15, 1992, review of Marking Time, p. 84; February 28, 1994, review of Confusion, p. 73, and Marking Time, p. 82.

Spectator, March 16, 1956, Daniel George, review of The Long View, p. 352; November 13, 1993, Janet Barron, review of Confusion, p. 32; November 4, 1995, review of Casting Off, p. 52.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), November 3, 2002, Anne Chisholm, "Everything Always Ended in Tears; Elizabeth Jane Howard May Have Romanticised Her Life in Her Fiction but Not in This Memoir, Finds Anne Chisholm."

Sunday Times (London, England), June 16, 2002, Richard Brooks, "Wife Reveals Bitter End of Amis Marriage," p. 7; October 6, 2002, Margarette Driscoll, "A Moth Drawn to the Flame of Unsuitable Men," p. 2; October 20, 2002, Humphrey Carpenter, "Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places," review of Slipstream, p. 36.

Times (London, England), November 3, 1995, Valerie Grove, "'I Had to Bolt from Kingsley or Become an Awful Person,'" interview with Elizabeth Jane Howard, p. 17; November 6, 2002, Moira Petty, "What Does Life Teach Us about Love?," review of Slipstream, p. 9.

Times Educational Supplement, December 29, 1995, review of Casting Off, p. 12.

Times Literary Supplement, November 20, 1959, review of The Sea Change, p. 673; November 4, 1965, review of After Julius, p. 973; May 14, 1982, Anne Duchene, review of Getting It Right, p. 536; November 8, 1991, Isobel Armstrong, review of Marking Time, p. 30; October 29, 1993, J.K.L. Walker, review of Confusion, p. 20; November 10, 1995, Claire Harman, review of Casting Off, p. 23; September 17, 1999, Natasha Cooper, review of Falling, p. 23; November 15, 2002, Sarah Curtis, "Domestic Burdens," review of Slipstream, p. 25.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), January 12, 1997, review of Odd Girl Out, p. 2.

Wall Street Journal, August 2, 1996, Merle Rubin, review of Casting Off, p. A12.

Washington Post Book World, September 30, 1990, Michele Slung, review of The Long View, p. 8; April 28, 1992, Susan Dooley, review of Marking Time, p. C3.

WWD, December 27, 2002, Samantha Conti, "Jane Says," review of Slipstream, p. 16.


Elizabeth Jane Howard Home Page, (September 2, 2005).

About this article

Howard, Elizabeth Jane 1923-

Updated About content Print Article