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Elizabeth Jane Howard

A Dangerous Innocence
Narrated by: Eleanor Bron
Length: 15 hrs and 26 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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Publisher's 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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An Enlightening of Innocence

A brilliant insight into the mind and life of Elizabeth Jane Howard! I have enjoyed all of her books very much and the information about her life, marriages and unrequited love affairs adds to the appreciation of her work.

The narrator is good, but I feel that in some parts of the reading she sounds rather bored with it all.

This book would appeal to anyone interested in Elizabeth Jane Howard's work.

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  • Honora
  • 06-05-2019

Highly recommend though flaw in the narration

Engrossing well written bio. My only complaint is that while I love Eleanor Byron’s narration, this time it was a bit marred by no vocal paragraph or episodic pauses. That is, it was like one run-on paragraph. “Jill died the following Monday. Jane began work on her novel...” (not literally an example from the book) without so much as a pause. I frequently had to replay the narration because it was all run together leading to some startling misinterpretations of cause and effect. It did drive me to buying the Kindle version so it was good for Amazon.

1 person found this helpful

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  • zaza
  • 29-03-2019

unlike any biography I've read

A beautiful story of a turbulent but rich life, written with insight and flow, and with perfectly matched narration. "Reads" like a novel!

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  • Kate Rendham
  • 25-09-2016

A rather depressing life

Is there anything you would change about this book?

You cannot change a book that is about a person whose life has all the promise of an early summer morning, with the sun rising above the horizon with its warm glow, only to find that the promise is broken and it rains all day.

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

I have read most of Elizabeth Jane Howard's books and loved theml, well written, interesting characters well portrayed but never dreamt that the person behind the book had a tragic love life that rambles on from one affair after another, that makes in the end for dull reading.

Have you listened to any of Eleanor Bron’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Do you think Elizabeth Jane Howard needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

I found this book quite depressing and her love affairs tedious. Is there something missing that another book might enlighten us with her life.

Any additional comments?

I was full of hope when I began this book but became bored with her tedious love life.

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  • DartmoorDiva
  • 15-02-2017

Fascinating

An absolutely fascinating book. Eleanor Bron is a fine actress, but I found her narration difficult. It was as if the microphone was too close to her mouth, I could hear ever little sound from swallowing to lip licking etc. Found it really off-putting.

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  • susie
  • 23-05-2019

An admirable biography.

This is a thoughtful, insightful book about an extraordinary woman. Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote with such apparent ease and with great observational excellence, yet it was eye-opening to read what a tortured soul she was. She was evidently an indulged woman, very needy in every regard, but seemed to carry a burden of never feeling she was good enough, having failed to find the 'great love of her life'. Her charisma and beauty did not seem to give her the confidence one would expect but she used these to attract to her an enormous group of admirers, most of whom she regarded as friends and on whom she was constantly reliant. She was evidently a kind and generous woman but these traits were seemingly often repaid by an expected loyalty.
It is now apparent that she had an enormous work ethic....only partly for her writing, but in the efforts she made in entertaining lavishly, in fundraising, and in her many talents in gardening, sewing and all forms of creativity. One feels she would be rather exhausting company, albeit entertaining. However, whilst never making judgemental comment upon her subject Artemis Cooper leaves one aware that despite writing books which have enjoyed a constant large following, she had some real character flaws. As a mother, a mistress and as a wife she remained essentially a self-absorbed woman.who was never quite truly happy. Nonetheless, by the end of this biography one can only be in awe of such a force of nature as Elizabeth Jane Howard.
The clarity, simplicity and honesty of this biography are to be applauded. Great research has obviously been done to ensure its accuracy. Highly recommended.


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  • Nike
  • 24-09-2017

Very Revelatory

Yes what a lot to get one's head around. Lie is stranger than fiction. Very moving in parts and so entertaining. Thank you.

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  • Fiona
  • 13-10-2016

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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  • MS REBECCA WARREN
  • 24-07-2017

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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  • Pamela
  • 25-05-2017

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.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • gmb
  • 02-01-2017

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.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Ali H
  • 01-08-2020

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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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-09-2017

In depth, enormously enjoyable biography.

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

1 person found this helpful

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  • Trevor
  • 10-01-2017

The Thinking Man's Courtesan?

I have never read any of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s novels but she has cropped up in a number of books that I have read including those concerning Tom Rolt, Robert Aickman and the early days of the Inland Waterways Association as well as Martin Amis’s memoir "Experience".

What seems to have struck everybody about EJH was her physical beauty. I have never been able to see this but obviously photographs do not do her justice as so many people were struck by it. Great beauty can be a curse as well as a blessing and, coupled with moral ambivalence can, as in her case, be very damaging, not least to its possessor.

It is perhaps unfair to call her sexually voracious but she does not seem to have done much to resist the advances of a good many men within the literary and intellectual circles in which she moved – even if they happened to be married to one of her friends!

The book gives Eleanor Bron little scope for anything but a fairly routine reading and this made me wonder whether audiobooks are really the best vehicle for biography? Great for novels but in this case I greatly missed being able to refer to photographs and, particularly, an index.

1 person found this helpful