Keates, Jonathan 1946-

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KEATES, Jonathan 1946-

PERSONAL: Born 1946, in Paris, France. Education: Attended Bryanston College and Magdalen College, Oxford.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Chatto & Windus, Random House UK, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England.

CAREER: Writer. City of London School, London, England, teacher of English literature.

AWARDS, HONORS: James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Best Novel, and Hawthornden Prize, both 1983, both for Allegro Postillions.


The Companion Guide to the Shakespeare Country, Collins (London, England), 1979, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1983.

(With Angelo Hornak) Historic London, Letts (New York, NY), 1979.

(With Angelo Hornak) Canterbury Cathedral, Summerfield (London, England), 1980, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1983.

The Love of Italy, Crescent (New York, NY), 1980.

Allegro Postillions (short stories), Salamander Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1983, Braziller (New York, NY), 1985.

Handel: The Man and His Music, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

Tuscany, photographs by Charlie Waite, Salem House (Topsfield, MA), 1989.

Italian Journeys, Picador (London, England), 1992.

Venice, illustrated by John Lawrence, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1994.

Purcell: A Biography, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1995, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1996.

Stendahl, Minerva (London, England), 1995, Carroll and Graf (New York, NY), 1997.

Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture (short stories), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1997.

The Stranger's Gallery, Vintage (London, England), 1998.

Smile Please (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000.

Also author of a commentary on William Bird's Drawings and Sketches of Oxford, Salamander Press (Edinburgh), 1983. Contributor of book reviews to periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: Jonathan Keates is an author "in love with, or romantically most at ease in, the past," according to Andrew Barrow of the Spectator. Graceful prose, impressive scholarship, and a passion for history are the hallmarks of Keates's writings. These qualities are especially evident in his biographies and in the short stories collected in Allegro Postillions and Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, most of which are set in the nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Although he has written nonfiction dating to the past, Keates's interest in the art, music, and literature of an earlier time finds its most creative expression in the short stories of Allegro Postillions. The four tales in this book are all set in Italy, but in the words of Punch contributor Mary Anne Bonney, Keates's Italy "is more an idea than a place." In Books and Bookmen, Justin Wintle called the collection a "dream object" and asserted that Keates is "an author for whom fiction matters." Wintle added that Keates's stories "explore their period through the period's own styles and conventions. There is no modernist intervention àla French Lieutenant's Woman. The action, and there is plenty of it, speaks nearly always for itself."

As in Allegro Postillions, most of the stories in Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture are set in the aristocratic Europe of grand hotels, maidservants, and fancy carriages that existed before World War I. A number of the stories explore gay themes. Barrow confessed in the Spectator that he had to turn to the book's blurb to understand the plot of the first story, but was quick to add that "the story and the collection as a whole rapidly gather momentum. Once you have got the hang of Mr. Keates's wonderfully fancy style and subject matter, everything goes swimmingly." Barrow also commented that although the rawness of some of the book's sexual material could have been "suffocating" if handled by a writer of lesser ability, Keates's "beautifully structured prose makes everything deeply enjoyable."

Keates's Handel: The Man and His Music, a study of eighteenth-century German composer George Frederick Handel, appeared in 1985. It was followed a decade later by a second biography, this time of Henry Purcell, the foremost English composer of the seventeenth century, and the volume's publication was timed to coincide with the tercentenary of Purcell's death. Larry A. Lipkis, writing in Library Journal, lauded Purcell: A Biography as "a marvel of insightful research and witty, elegant prose," and went on to remark that it presents "a vivid picture of Purcell's life and achievements." Keates's accomplishment, Lipkis added, is all the more impressive in light of the paucity of historical evidence concerning Purcell. In the Times Literary Supplement, Paul Griffiths declared that "Keates is vigorous, entertaining, flamboyant, proud: in a word, Purcellian, if at the expense of becoming himself, more than his cherished composer, the book's subject."

Keates's examination of the life of nineteenth-century French novelist Stendahl, which also appeared in 1995, likewise drew praise from several reviewers. Anita Brookner in the London Observer called it an "altogether admirable" biography and Rupert Christiansen in the Spectator praised Keates's "lucidity, wit and . . . military command over both the minutiae of the sources and the broader historical landscape in which Stendahl enacted his complex game with life." Roger Pearson in the Times Literary Supplement judged the biography to be "thoroughly researched, maturely conceived and elegantly written."

Keates's novel Smile Please is set among the gay community of contemporary London. Michael Arditti in the Independent explained that the plot revolves around "the romantic misadventures of a group of leisured, moneyed characters." The story centers on arts foundation staffer Adam and black actor Theo, gay flatmates, and their friends and relations, both married and unmarried, straight and gay. These include Frankie, an American choreographer, the sisters Daisy, Alice, and Serena, and the wealthy Guy. "Like a Restoration play," David Jays noted in the Observer, "Smile Please examines an affective but edgy clutch of friends, seen both on the urban range and marooned together for weekends in the country." "Keates charts all their wrong turnings, their play-acting and fancy footwork with glee," according to a critic for the London Evening Standard. "With its wit, graceful construction, snappy dialogue and slight whiff of narcissism," Arditti concluded, "Smile Please is a novel that Woody Allen might have written had he been a gay Londoner."



Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 34, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985.


Atlantic Monthly, September, 1985, p. 115.

Books and Bookmen, January, 1985, pp. 34-35.

Evening Standard, February 7, 2000, review of Smile Please, p. 60.

Guardian Weekly, September 4, 1994, p. 28.

Herald, February 26, 2000, Kenneth Wright, review of Smile Please, p. 14.

History Today, June, 1985, p. 53.

Independent, February 26, 2000, Michael Arditti, review of Smile Please.

Library Journal, November 1, 1996, p. 69.

Listener, January 19, 1984, p. 26.

New Republic, June 15, 1998, Michael Ravitch, review of Stendhal, p. 37.

Observer (London, England), October 30, 1983, p. 32; January 24, 1993, p. 54; June 26, 1994, p. 16; July 10, 1994, p. 15; July 24, 1994, p. 17; July 30, 1995, p. 17; February 6, 2000, David Jays, review of Smile Please, p. 13.

Opera Quarterly, autumn, 1997, Malcolm S. Cole, review of Purcell, p. 118.

Publishers Weekly, December 20, 1993, p. 66; September 9, 1996, p. 73; February 10, 1997, p. 72.

Punch, November 30, 1983, p. 72.

Spectator, June 25, 1994, pp. 25-26; May 31, 1997, Andrew Barrow, review of Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, pp. 42-43; February 5, 2000, Katie Grant, review of Smile Please, p. 34.

Times Educational Supplement, January 8, 1993, p. 10.

Times Literary Supplement, August 12, 1994, p. 8; September 15, 1995, pp. 3-4.

Wall Street Journal, March 25, 1997, p. A16.

World, October, 1991, p. S16.


Contemporary Writers in the UK, (November 13, 2003).*

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Keates, Jonathan 1946-

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