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Coward: A Genius,
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This review is from: The Letters of Noel Coward (Hardcover)
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?
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.
It is delicious, it is delectable and one reads and wonders what manner of man could think of such lines as:
With shoulder-straps of shagreen and maybe
A brassiere of lapis lazuli.
Forget that one truth must be faced-
Although you may measure repentance at leisure-
You HAVEN'T been married in haste.
This was interestingly to Ian Fleming (remember him?) for they worked in British Intelligence during the war.
I am not going to mention the oft repeated Mad Dogs . . . but his was a free spirit, although at times incarcerated in relationships (Jack Wilson for example.)
Still it is a triumph for Barry Day, the editor.I have read letters of many great letter writers (the last one was of John Gielgud) and in this book the arrangement-closing a chapter by breaking chronology and adding comments that gives this book almost a novel like quality. One can get lost in it like in a Noel Coward play and not realize these are just a bunch of letters.
I strongly recommend the book to literature lovers, playgoers, appreciator of verses and of the glorious English Theatre. (I put the spelling knowingly)