Synopses & Reviews
John Betjeman was by far the most popular poet of the twentieth century; his collected poems sold more than two million copies. As poet laureate of England, he became a national icon, but behind the public man were doubts and demons. The poet best known for writing hymns of praise to athletic middle-class girls on the tennis courts led a tempestuous emotional life. For much of his fifty-year marriage to Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of a field marshal, Betjeman had a relationship with Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. Betjeman, a devout Anglican, was tormented by guilt about the storms this emotional triangle caused. Betjeman, published to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the poet's birth, is the first to use fully the vast archive of personal material relating to his private life, including literally hundreds of letters written by his wife about their life together and apart. Here too are chronicled his many friendships, ranging from "Bosie" Douglas to the young satirists of Private Eye, from the Mitford sisters to the Crazy Gang. This is a celebration of a much-loved poet, a brave campaigner for architecture at risk, and a highly popular public performer. Betjeman was the classic example of the melancholy clown, whose sadness found its perfect mood music in the hymns of a poignant Anglicanism.
"Certainly Britain's most popular poet since Kipling, John Betjeman (1906 1984) began as the shy son of a London manufacturer, got kicked out of Oxford for not taking his studies seriously and ended up as poet laureate (1972 1984). He also became a celebrity, known across the U.K. for hosting TV programs about travel and architecture, for his campaigns to preserve Victorian buildings and for Summoned by Bells (1960), his bestselling verse account of his childhood and youth. The English admired his unassuming comic persona, his devotion to the Anglican Church, his loyalty (somehow simultaneous, and real) to both aristocrats and Middle England, and his stand on behalf of Victorian values, which modern life seemed to have eroded. This enthusiastic, always readable biography from the prolific English critic Wilson (After the Victorians) follows Betjeman's rise to public acclaim, his sometimes surprising friends and acquaintances (Lord Alfred Douglas, Evelyn Waugh), and his frequently frustrating private affairs: unwilling to either divorce or live with his wife, Betjeman spent decades with a devoted younger mistress. With his sources in hymns and English music-hall comedy, his great causes (Anglican services and Victorian churches) quintessentially, parochially English, Betjeman seems as unlikely an export as Marmite. Whatever American fans he has, however, will be well served by this compact life, issued simultaneously with Betjeman's Collected Poems for his centenary (FSG, $17 paper ISBN 0-374-12653-4). 74 b&w illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Praise for The Victorians: "The ideal conductor of a guided tour through British politics, society and culture as it displayed itself during the reign of Queen Victoria...Incapable of writing a dull sentence, and appearing to have read everything of pertinence to his vast subject, Wilson never shrinks from fully engaging his materials." --William H. Pritchard, Chicago Tribune "A vivid portrait of Victorian Britain and Britons...the kind of book that turns people on to history." --The Economist
The critically acclaimed author of The Victorians furnishes an in-depth portrait of popular twentieth-century English poet John Betjeman, based on an archive of personal material relating to Betjeman's private life, including his fifty-year marriage to Penelope Chetwode, his love affair with Elizabeth Cavendish, his friendships, and his role as a writer.
Published to coincide with the 100th anniversary of poet John Betjeman's birth, this biography is the first to use fully the vast archive of personal material relating to his private life, including literally hundreds of letters written by his wife about their life together and apart.
About the Author
A.N. Wilson, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. He is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including The Victorians, Paul, and My Name Is Legion.