Betjeman

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9780091797027: Betjeman

A new life of John Betjeman by an award-winning biographer, published to mark the centenary of the poet’s birth.

John Betjeman was by far the most popular poet of the twentieth century. His collected poems sold over two million copies. Television audiences loved his quirky evocations of landscape and architecture.

As Poet Laureate, 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.

This book is the first to use fully the vast archive of personal material relating to Betjeman’s 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.

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About the Author:

A. N. Wilson is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. He is an award-winning biographer and a celebrated novelist.

From Publishers Weekly:

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. 74 b&w illus. (Dec.)
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