Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Jane Austen of her time, Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote some of the most intimate, acute and penetrating novels of the Twentieth-Century including the book considered to be her masterpiece, The Long View, but she is best-known for her Cazalet novels, tracing a family from the 1930’s through wartime and beyond.
The Cazalet Series
Other Fiction by Elizabeth Jane Howard
When Elizabeth Jane Howard died in 2014, many obituaries chose to focus on the more salacious aspects of a life the Telegraph called "a dizzying amatory whirl". Like other mid-Twentieth Century ‘bolter’ Nancy Mitford, Howard’s work was long overshadowed, something she struggled with through most of her career.
Born in 1923, her first novel came out of a conscious decision to turn her back on so-called respectable married life, choosing to live alone with ‘a bare bulb in the ceiling, wooden floors full of malignant nails… the only thing I was sure of was that I wanted to write.’
She faced considerable opposition and censure, with her mother famously telling her spitefully, "what on Earth makes you think that anyone would ever publish anything that you wrote?" but publish she did, winning the John Llewellyn Rhy Prize for her first novel The Beautiful Visit about a young girl becoming disillusioned with marriage, as well as collaborating with Robert Aickman on the successful collection We Are For the Dark.
The Marriage Plot
The novels that followed drew closely on Howard’s own life, particularly when it came to women’s lives and the restraints placed upon them by social and family expectation and convention. Her second novel, The Long View, was written experimentally (against the insistence of her publishers) in reverse chronology, working backwards from a failing marriage to a young girl’s first tentative experiences.
Her next five novels were written against the backdrop of a marriage to the author Kingsley Amis as well as a constant struggle to write whilst also working at other projects, including television work and modelling for Vogue.
Again, it was writing that won out in the end, with Howard finally leaving Amis and the following period saw the publication of her most popular series, The Cazalets, following a family from the late 1930’s through the war years.
In these books, Howard describes a wild world of parties and social decadence, a place where women (and men) behave recklessly and often badly, but she also defines privation and deep personal dissatisfaction. She said later that in other novels of the time, "family life was merely a background. I thought it would be interesting to do it the other way round."
Howard died in 2014 after completing the final Cazalet novel, All Change in her nineties. Her interest in women’s lives, from the domestic to the socioeconomic, never wavered. Hilary Mantel calls Howard the novelist she tells everyone to read, commenting that "the novels are panoramic, expansive, intriguing as social history and generous in their storytelling. They are the product of a lifetime’s experience, and come from a writer who knew her aim and had the stamina and technical skill to achieve it."
Howard herself was both more modest and more circumspect, she wrote simply because she had to - "it's the thing that makes me get up in the morning" she said.
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