- € 16,99
The definitive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated and controversial dramatists.
To several generations, actor, playwright, songwriter, and filmmaker Noël Coward (1899-1973) was the very personification of wit, glamour, and elegance. Given unprecedented access to the private papers and correspondence of Coward family members, compatriots, and numerous lovers, Samuel Johnson Prize-winning biographer Philip Hoare has produced an illuminating and sophisticated biography of Coward, whose relentless drive for success and approval fueled the stunning bursts of creativity that launched the once-painfully middle class boy from the suburbs of London into a pantheon of theatrical deities that includes Gilbert and Sullivan, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. As much the embodiment of a lifestyle as an actual inhabitant of it, Coward’s carefully cultivated image defined the aspirations of untold numbers of actors, artists, and writers who succeeded him, and Hoare’s meticulously researched biography peels away the layers of this complex persona to reveal the man underneath it all, whom The Times of London decreed upon his death to be the most versatile of all the great figures of the English theater.
Like his life of Stephen Tennant, Serious Pleasures (1990), Hoare's substantial biography of Coward is fastidiously researched and documented. The author traces Coward's colorful family history back to the early 17th century and shows how his middle-class upbringing only fueled his passion for success, a yearning that remained with Coward throughout his life. In painstaking detail, Hoare chronicles Coward's devotion to his mother, his homosexual affairs and his travels within the beau monde. Particularly insightful are the accounts of how, in bursts of creativity, Coward translated real-life encounters and experiences into written art, though often to the extreme displeasure of the friends he wrote about, like Edith Sitwell. While Hoare pays homage to Coward's numerous plays, revues, songs and stories, he doesn't ignore the failures. Nor does Hoare hide Coward's personal shortcomings--his financial mismanagement, temper and quarrels with England--which show the ring around his Eton-collared image. The author's prose can be stilted, and his prolix plot summaries of Coward's plays could be tighter. Nonetheless, Hoare has profiled vividly and in depth a complex legend who had a talent for creating and re-creating both himself and his works. Photograph not seen by PW.