Beverley Nichols : A Life

Bryan Connon

Published by Timber Press, Incorporated, 2005
ISBN 10: 088192444X / ISBN 13: 9780881924442
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Synopsis: The reissuing of Beverley Nichols's delightful books by Timber Press has sparked renewed interest in this unjustly neglected writer. He burst onto the literary scene not long after his studies at Oxford, and his versatility was impressive; his successes included novels, plays, children's stories, biography, political commentary, and books on religion, travel, and gardening. He also composed for the musical stage and ghostwrote the autobiography of the famous singer Nellie Melba. He moved in fashionable and artistic circles where he attained a certain measure of celebrity. Fame did not elude him, but greatness did. In his later years, Nichols was known chiefly for his books on gardens and cats, and he grew increasingly bitter about his failure to be accepted as a serious writer. Bryan Connon has written a fascinating study of a talented man in whom, in J. W. Lambert's phrase, a keen mind "functioned beneath the glad rags," and whose huge and diverse literary output chronicles the events, moods, and personalities of the fascinating age in which he lived. This biography was first published in 1991 by Constable in the U.K., but its distribution was limited and it was never available in the United States. It will be of interest to the thousands of readers who have come to know Nichols through Merry Hall; they will discover an altogether more complex personality than the witty, sometimes sardonic persona he created in his writings.

Review: Beverley Nichols was a multitalented, nearly frenetic British socialite who would no doubt be humiliated to know that he is best remembered for his garden writings. He starred in movies in the 1920s, wrote music and songs for the theater, reported for newspapers, and wrote his own memoirs early on (Twenty-Five), plus numerous novels, mysteries, cat books, and biographies. He captured all his wild enthusiasms in print, and--lucky for us--he loved plants, gardens, and the eccentric personalities associated with them, which he celebrated in books about his own houses and gardens, Down the Garden Path, Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and Sunlight on the Lawn.

This biography re-creates Nichols's lively role in the English social milieu between and after the wars. Nichols consorted with the best and brightest (or the most written and talked about, anyway) for more than 40 years. He spent time with the Greek royal family, interviewed President Coolidge, and maintained friendships with Cecil Beaton, Noel Coward, and Somerset Maugham. Somehow he found time not only to create and care for gardens but also to write about them, and putting the man in the setting helps to understand and further appreciate his garden writings.

While A Life certainly throws light on the circumstances of Nichols's life, readers familiar with the man from his own melodramatic autobiography Father Figure may close the covers of this book no more enlightened about his emotional reactions to growing up one of three sons with a mother he idealized and a drunken father he abhorred, or his unfulfilling personal life as a homosexual in a time when such behavior was illegal and widely unacceptable. --Valerie Easton

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Title: Beverley Nichols : A Life
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication Date: 2005
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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