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The Letters of Noel Coward Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 13, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writers labor to come up with lines half as good as those Noël Coward dropped into the mailbox every day—I felt that some sort of scene was necessary to celebrate my first entrance into America, so I said, 'Little lamb, who made thee,' to a customs official. The playwright, actor and songwriter is in fine form in these missives, telegrams and poems (he would rhyme almost anything, even communications to his business manager), presented along with return mail from friends and luminaries. Day (Coward on Film: The Cinema of Noel Coward) arranges the well-chosen selections in roughly chronological order with some unobtrusive narrative context; at times he spotlights a lifelong correspondence with a single person to flesh out Coward's relationships, such as with Gertrude Lawrence. Coward's voice is charming, whimsical, sharp-eyed and canny, often alternating, in the showbiz way, between effusive warmth (letter to Tallulah Bankhead: Thank you very much, darling, for all your sweetness and your insane generosity) and cutting putdown (letter about Tallulah Bankhead: a conceited slut). A true intellectual of the stage, his comments on the nitty-gritty of writing, pacing, character and acting technique are incisive. Fans of Coward's plays and students of 20th-century theater will be fascinated, but casual readers will also find an entertaining browse. Photos. (Nov. 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Coward was a genius [and] as we see here, a letter writer extraordinaire…What we get is much more than Coward’s letters, however delectable…We also get letters to Coward, many of them as entertaining as [his] for he corresponded with many of the mightiest pens in literature and show business…The result is a first class biography.”

–John Simon, The New York Times Book Review

“Barry Day has done a superb job with the collection…it is a feast...”

– Edward Herrmann, The Wall Street Journal

“(It) glitters with the multi-gifted playwright’s claws-out bitchiness, tremendous charm, and creative genius…”

Vanity Fair

“Evocative…addressed to an astonishing array of people…”

– Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times

“Delightful, absorbing, skillfully-shaped; this collection enables the reader to be part of Coward’s extended family.”

– Robert Kimball

“Thanks to Noel and Barry, ‘I feel I’ve been to a marvelous party.’ What a treat!”

– Rosemary Harris

 “The sheen of the Coward legacy is further polished with this fascinating document of an important era in our collective cultural history. Sir Noel continues to be impertinently pertinent!”

– Michael Feinstein

 “Noel Coward’s letters are everything one would expect: witty, sentimental, peevish, touching. They are wonderful to read. What astounds me, however, is Barry Day’s brilliant, imaginatively edited commentary. He sets the letters up with care and intelligence; Noel Coward comes to life because the letters have been placed in such an informed and vivid context.”

– Andre Bishop, Artistic Director, Lincoln Center Theater

“Noel Coward is my number one hero. As far as I’m concerned, the British have a monopoly on humor, and our beloved Noel has a monopoly within a monopoly.”

– Hugh Martin

“A sumptuous banquet! Bringing Coward’s world so vividly to life that I keep expecting him to walk through the door.”

– Lynn Redgrave

“So many letters from his friends makes the telling of Noel’s life so much deeper and well-rounded. All in all, a rich book with a remarkably protean hero who both shapes and reflects his times.”

– Margot Peters

“Master had a singular impact on so many of our lives and Barry Day’s perceptive analysis of his correspondence is both illuminating and irresistible. Noel’s renowned wit, his unfailing generosity, his acute sense of contemporary history is here for everyone to enjoy.”

– Richard Attenborough

“Precise, Witty, remarkably observed, and gloriously English.”

– Judi Dench

“Thirty years after his death, it seems increasingly obvious that Noël Coward is the most enduring English playwright of the mid twentieth century. This meticulously edited collection of his letters will excite and amuse anyone interested in him, the theatre and his staggeringly wide circle of correspondents.”

– Nicholas Hytner, Artistic Director at the National Theatre

“A uniquely charming and enticing journey through a remarkable life. Coward’s own record is made all the more delightful by the wise and helpful interpolations of Barry Day, the soundest authority on the Master that there is.”

– Stephen Fry

“Here you get the truly private Noël…what really matters is the insight we get from these letters into a far more complex, thoughtful and kindly figure than the one we thought we knew.”

– Sheridan Morley


This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375423036
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375423031
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #293,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Granted, some very fine biographies have been written, those that seem to paint seamless portraits. Yet, for this reader nothing can compare to someone's letters, written with no thought that they will ever be read by anyone save the recipient. These letters are mirrors, if you will, of a person's thoughts and emotions. They are in the person's own words - every adjective, nuance, inflection is his or her choice. And when the choices are Noel Coward's, it is pleasurable reading indeed.

Urbane, witty, snippy, multi-talented, observant, caring, Coward had talent to spare. He was a songwriter, playwright, actor, artist, bon vivant, advisor, trusted friend. And such friends they were - from Marlene Dietrich to the Queen Mother to Somerset Maugham to Liz Taylor (whom he once described as being "hung with rubies and diamonds and looking like a pregnant Pagoda."

His quick wit was always razor sharp, used both to bolster and skewer. When his old friend Clifton Webb lost his mother, Webb was evidently given to prolonged crying bouts which caused Coward to comment, "It must be rough to be orphaned at seventy-one."

His jests and jibes made him a wanted guest and sought after companion. Many of these witticisms are contained in this delightful compendium of letters both from and to Coward. Thoughtfully arranged by Barry Day they are a chronicle of Coward's life from his earliest days when at the age of two he had to be taken from church because he danced in the aisle to accompany the hymn being played. He faithfully sent a weekly missive to his mother, Violet. Thus, we're privy to what life was like for child actors at the turn of the century. During this period he met the 15-year-old Gertrude Lawrence who would play a large part in his professional life.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By RMitra, mystery writer on December 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If There Wasn't Death

Noel Coward was a genius. In 1925, he had four plays running in the West End. He was twenty-six years old. The first play that brought him success and recognition was The Vortex, about a middle aged woman who is sleeping around with younger men, and one day her young son comes home. The Lord Chancellor of London briefly thought about banning the play for reference to drug use (Coward had to appear in person and plead his case to the contrary)and for deep Freudian implications and someone said to ban the play was to ban Hamlet forever.
I am just mentioning this to show what kind a mature thinker Coward was at an early age. He wrote extensively, and he wrote verses which were funny, tart and at times poignant:
Cocktails and laughter
But what comes after?
Nobody knows.

He had a tendency to sign his epistles with terms like Poppa, Snoop, Master.
In case you did not know, he was gay.
But his inner circle consisted of three women, including Joyce Carey, daughter of Lillian Brathwaite who played the unhappy woman, mother to Coward in the Vortex. (Don't confuse her with him: Joyce Cary, the celebrated Irish novelist), Gladys Calthrop and the invaluable Lornie. So whatever he was, he was not flashing it around.
He helped Laurence Olivier's early career (Larry might not have agreed to that) and John Gielgud was his understudy in the Vortex.
This is an epistolary feast, spanning decades and stretching to 800 pages in the current tome.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C H Miller on January 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I was surprised to receive this book as a gift -- why would I want to read the fatuities of a bygone wit? -- and began it with a sigh. But after the first chapter I was hooked, then entertained, then admiring and enthralled at the resilient, insightful, delightful and life-affirming personality of Noel Coward. The matter of his life is fascinating -- the world of the English theatre from the time he was a teenager and the next six decades, later encompassing the American musical theatre and Hollywood scenes, and ultimately the whole world, as he was a lifelong globetrotter for whom political difficulties and borders melted away. His letters (and many to him from a broad array of distinguished and eloquent correspondents) are fresh, and funny, and topical about the theatre, England, World War II, patriotism, the press, the royal family, romance vs. life vs. art. The book is wonderfully assembled, with many fascinating photographs, and unobtrusive but always apt commentary by editor Barry Day filling in facts and thoughtful analysis as to Coward's life and surrounding events. Day chooses and arranges his material brilliantly, interspersing a basic chronological approach with a few chapters (called "Intermissions") that interject a lifelong perspective on Coward's relationships with certain people. Editor Day wisely keeps the star -- Coward the letter-writer -- center-stage throughout, providing the set-dressing that allows the production to be a hit. The result is the conjuring up of Coward as a theatrical phenomenon who is shown also to be an insightful and sensitive human being who was quite determined that the generally indifferent state of the universe would not deter him from success and having a good time.
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