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  • Elizabeth Jane Howard

  • A Dangerous Innocence
  • By: Artemis Cooper
  • Narrated by: Eleanor Bron
  • Length: 15 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (107 ratings)

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Elizabeth Jane Howard cover art

Elizabeth Jane Howard

By: Artemis Cooper
Narrated by: Eleanor Bron
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Summary

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014) wrote brilliant novels about what love can do to people, but in her own life the lasting relationship she sought so ardently always eluded her. She grew up yearning to be an actress, but when that ambition was thwarted by marriage and the war, she turned to fiction.

Her first novel, The Beautiful Visit, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize - she went on to write 14 more, of which the best-loved were the five volumes of The Cazalet Chronicle.

Following her divorce from her first husband, the celebrated naturalist Peter Scott, Jane embarked on a string of high-profile affairs with Cecil Day-Lewis, Arthur Koestler and Laurie Lee, which turned her into a literary femme fatale. Yet the image of a sophisticated woman hid a romantic innocence which clouded her emotional judgment. She was nearing the end of a disastrous second marriage when she met Kingsley Amis, and for a few years they were a brilliant and glamorous couple - until that marriage too disintegrated. She settled in Suffolk, where she wrote and entertained friends, but her turbulent love life was not over yet. In her early 70s, Jane fell for a con man. His unmasking was the final disillusion and inspired one of her most powerful novels, Falling.

Artemis Cooper interviewed Jane several times in Suffolk. She also talked extensively to her family, friends and contemporaries and had access to all her papers. Her biography explores a woman trying to make sense of her life through her writing as well as illuminating the literary world in which she lived.

©2016 Artemis Cooper (P)2016 John Murray Press

What listeners say about Elizabeth Jane Howard

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Extraordinary biography

This is a really remarkable book that provides full immersion and thorough detail not unlike the subjects famous saga. What it also does is leave the reader with a comprehensive understanding of what made Elizabeth Jane Howard tick, in a beautiful, sympathetic but truthful way. I feel fully acquainted which is a gift.

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A fascinating life, researched thoroughly

Any lover of the Cazalet Chronicles will enjoy learning more about EJH’s life and how she wove her own experiences into her characters. Very sensitively read, although the reader had an issue with saliva, which was audible and grated on my nerves, becoming almost unbearable when using headphones!

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Revealing Memoir

This makes a satisfying accompaniment to the works of Elizabeth Jane Howard, especially the Cazalet Chronicle. It is sensitively read; I would just request - as with some other Audible recordings - a longer pause between sections, to allow the listener to absorb and appreciate what has just been recounted before being thrust into the next element.

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Looking For Love

If you listened to The Cazalets, as I did ((several times, as it happens), then this biography of the author Elizabeth Jane Howard, is indispensable. Told with both sympathy and candour, we are taken through the life and times of this remarkable, supremely gifted woman. Today I think she would be classed as a screaming nymphomaniac, but this book succeeds in convincing us that, following a loveless childhood, she was both 'used and abused' by husbands and lovers, often neglecting a brilliant career because of their demands. This pathetic search for love led her into making many sacrifices, particularly during her marriage to Kingsley Amis.

I enjoyed this well-written, well-read account of an amazing life, and especially as it gives us the real-life backdrop to the many books she wrote.

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An honest and insightful biography

Very well written and insightful with out bring "gossipy" . Elizabeth is incredibly honest about her life which makes it even more interesting. It is beautifully read by Eleanor Bron . All in all and excellent book and reading,I now want to read more by both Artemis Copper snd EJHoward.
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Thoroughly gripping

I've read all EJH's books and have always found her intriguing. This biography is superb and so delightfully read by Eleanor Bron. I highly recommend it!

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A life story well told and well narrated

I have read most of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novels and found all of them well written, intricately put together, incredibly funny and enjoy the way in which Howard has the skill to describe the complexity of relationships. Artemis Cooper’s biography has led me to believe that Howard wrote Novels that were based almost identically on Howard's life experience. An incredibly sensitive, thoughtful and well researched biography that I would recommend to anyone to read. The book left me slightly disappointed in Howard herself as a person. I so wanted her to be a woman full of confidence in herself as a woman and a writer and she was not.

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    5 out of 5 stars

In depth, enormously enjoyable biography.

Artemis Cooper gives a delightful and generous insight into all aspects of Elizabeth Jane Howard's interesting life.

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Superb!

I’ve read all the Cazalet novels at least twice plus one or two others by EJ Howard and have always been fascinated by a writer who could bring childhood and the pains of growing up in a distant, almost foreign era so brilliantly alive. Since the main and most vivid Cazalet protagonists are girls and then young women, one couldn’t help but imagine there was a great chunk of the author in each of them and I longed to find out more about this woman who bestrode most of the twentieth century, so my first port of call was her own memoir, Slipstream - long before Artemis Cooper’s biography was even thought of, probably. Thus I came to her book with some trepidation, fearing the cool gaze of another pair of eyes might shatter some cherished illusions! I needn’t have worried: Ms Cooper’s objectivity and research (including plenty of interviews with EJH’s friends and family) reveal facets of her personality EJH might not have wished to show or perhaps been able to perceive, but she is never cruel or unfairly critical. Warts and all, the character that emerges in this biography is much more well-rounded, real and psychologically coherent than EJH’s own rather wraith-like self portrait!

It seems almost inevitable that a ‘well born’, beautiful, talented woman whose life spans some very interesting decades will have an interesting, full life, and so it was with Elizabeth Jane Howard who from late teens onwards was rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. Virtually every cultural icon of the twentieth century you can think of wafts through her drawing-room, or she through theirs. Never a dull conversation, no inarticulate acquaintances. There’s always someone prepared to lend a cottage in the country or a villa in Europe; the often broke Jane always manages to magic up the perfect frock for every occasion; restaurant meals, theatre, holidays always materialise just so conveniently!

This rarefied existence isn’t as offputting as it might seem - chiefly because of the sheer charm of most of the characters one encounters throughout this life, especially EJH herself, who is also (mostly) generous, thoughtful and a real grafter. Characters who lack charm are made to sound interesting just by dint of their awfulness! Nobody is ... ‘ordinary’.

Beyond the books Elizabeth Jane Howard is perhaps best known for her string of husbands and lovers, many of them famous. Here we stumble on the conundrum which Artemis Cooper tries to probe: why was this intelligent and fascinating woman who loved to love and be loved so hopeless at sustaining a relationship or emerging from one unhurt? Ms Cooper points to childhood neglect and abuse which, together with a lack of much formal education, generated insecurity and lack of confidence. The gawky teenager whose homesickness was so crippling she couldn’t spend a single night away from home becomes the clingy beauty who puts up with no end of awfulness on the part of some of her men, rather than walk away. At least half of her marriage to Kingsley Amis (her longest relationship) was marred by almost unbelievable cruelty and selfishness on his part, combined with drudgery and, Ms Cooper hints, self-righteousness on hers. This is no dizzy blonde popping pills, but a resourceful, gifted woman who can sew, cook, create gardens and beautiful interiors and, oh, write a dozen novels as well as scores of reviews and articles, alongside voracious reading. A sort of hollowness is suggested - a passivity beyond even the conventional image of the 1950s or 1960s wife. The ease and rapidity with which Jane Howard would embark on her affairs seems quite startling even by today’s standards; it’s not clear if she was ever gossiped or bitched about, which would have been quite predictable in that day and age. There’s never any suggestion, either in this book or in her own memoir, of EJH building up a longing for someone over time from afar; she finds herself in a situation where someone makes it clear he fancies her and it’s as if she thinks, “Oh, I’d better fancy you back, then,” (whether he’s married to her best friend or not) and next thing you know, she’s passionately in love!

Artemis Cooper exposes this strange psychology but doesn’t really explain it, probably because it’s so inexplicable.

But an untortured character wouldn’t make nearly such a good read! I highly recommend this book, faultlessly read by Eleanor Bron whose voice is perfect in capturing the clipped tones of the upper class of the times. Artemis Cooper has produced a thoughtful, entertaining, fair and sympathetic account of a full, perplexing, sometimes infuriating life, not nearly as well known as it should be, and I know I’ll be listening to or reading this biography again soon, just as I have the best of her subject’s.

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    5 out of 5 stars

Elizabeth Jane Howard

A superb biography and beautifully read by Eleanor Bron. I really didn't want it to end. What better accolade for a book.

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