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Betjeman: A Life de A. N. Wilson

Betjeman: A Life (edição: 2006)

de A. N. Wilson

MembrosResenhasPopularidadeAvaliação médiaMenções
975220,100 (3.57)5
"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, Betjeman was the classic example of the melancholy clown, whose sadness found its perfect mood-music in the hymns of a poignant Anglicanism."--BOOK JACKET.… (mais)
Título:Betjeman: A Life
Autores:A. N. Wilson
Informação:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2006), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 368 pages
Coleções:Sua biblioteca

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Betjeman de A. N. Wilson


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Exibindo 5 de 5
I like the writings of A.N. Wilson and this biography is no exception. Betjeman was a popular English poet of the 20th century and became widely beloved because of his easily grasped poems. He was a polymath and became well-known as a presenter on early BBC-TV on such subjects as churches, architectural preservation especially of Victorian era buildings, and the English country-side. A devout Anglican and a married man, he nevertheless lived most of his adult years with his mistress, a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret. He counted among his friends the Queen Mother. Wilson shows us a complex person yet a charming person. He was intensely loyal to his friends and worked hard to maintain friendships yet he was estranged from his wife and son. Wilson obviously likes his subject and wants us to know him in all his complexity. ( )
  Roamin1 | Aug 28, 2016 |
This is a warts-and-all portrait, released in time for the 2006 centenary, and some of the warts are quite large. His continual ‘falling in love’ for instance gets a bit tedious as one reads on. His unashamed desire to climb as far as he could into high (titled) society is also a bit off-putting, as is his ambivalence about his sexuality: one minute he’s telling everyone he is. Then he’s saying he isn’t. And also, rather like Graham Greene, his firm Christian beliefs became flexible when the situation required.

Well, we can’t all be perfect. He was a fine poet with a terrific skill at rhyme and timing and the striking turn of phrase. And he involved himself fully against one of the great vandalisms of the day: the destruction of England’s architectural heritage, especially its Victorian heritage. He was also one of the most popular broadcasters on the new medium of television with a gift for being understood by ordinary people (something not too usual in poets!).

John Betjeman 1906-1984
The downside to this TV / film success was that it more or less took over his life and there’s a view, shared by this biographer, that he would have written more and even better poetry if he had not been engulfed by the BBC and other bodies like Shell, for which he did out a series of county-by-county tourist guides.

He was a gregarious, friendly sort of person with a pronounced sense of humour, traits which Wilson brings out in this book, and which infuse his poetry, although he too had his dark moments (‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough… ‘). I think the author does a good job of work: “When we assess the life of a popular writer, we are doing rather more than telling the story of their days from birth to death. We are also describing someone who made a profound appeal to their own contemporaries, and therefore we are seeing something about their generation’. Betjeman certainly did appeal to his contemporaries. He was a fine poet, is a fine poet, with all the usual personal failings.

A good read this book, although I would have liked a little more about the poetry. To which the only reply must be: Well, then, go and read the poetry. Quite right too.

Recommended. ( )
2 vote Eamonn12 | Apr 13, 2011 |
A.N. Wilson almost seems to have been born to be Betjeman's biographer: a clever, witty novelist in his youth; fascinated by Victorian decorative arts and Anglo-Catholic religion; from a public school and Oxford background not wildly dissimilar to Betjeman's; a sucker for Royals, Mitfords and other forms of upper-crust English quaintness. He's even a bit of a TV pundit, if not quite on the same sort of scale as the late Laureate.

Not surprisingly, then, this is a very perceptive biography that helps us make sense of Betjeman's religious convictions, in particular. I'm sure Wilson is right in arguing that religion is absolutely central to understanding Betjeman's career and complicated private life. He also does a pretty good job of explaining Betjeman the TV personality and defender of architectural heritage. On the poetry he's perhaps not quite as strong: he points out fairly accurately where Betjeman's strengths as a poet lay, but doesn't really analyse them in much detail. If you're not a Betjeman fan when you set out, this is unlikely to convert you. Wilson comes to the conclusion that, even though he clowned around and produced a lot of doggerel, in the final analysis Betjeman left us with more really good work ("about thirty poems") than most other really well-known poets.

When writing this biography, Wilson was famously taken in by a hoax letter supposedly written by Betjeman to one of his lovers. The letter turns out to contain a rude comment about Wilson hidden in an acrostic, and required an erratum slip in the (UK) first edition. I don't think this seriously undermines the credibility of the biography, but it does point out that Wilson is becoming sufficiently pompous for other writers to think it worthwhile going to a bit of trouble to take him down a peg or two. It also illustrates that the editing of this book was not all that it might have been: there are quite a few minor problems of style and structure (tortuous sentences, repetitions, references back to things he hasn't said yet) in the first edition that aren't up to Wilson's usual standard. Still definitely worth reading if you're interested in Betjeman and his many friends, but not quite all it might have been. ( )
  thorold | Jan 2, 2011 |
John Betjeman was Britain's poet laureate (1972-84) and a beloved television personality who railed against the demolition of Victorian architecture in favor of postwar modernism. These two accomplishments don't naturally intertwine but much of Betjeman's life was a dichotomy. He was a devout churchgoer who never was able to decide between his mistress and his wife. He carefully nurtured hundreds of friendships well into old age but referred to his estranged son as "It". His poetry was fine but many thought that he sacrificed his art to his demanding TV work and fame. It's difficult to believe that anyone in TV could keep anything secret today; back then, his fans were completely unaware of Betj's highly complicated life.

In other words, he's a great character on whom to base a biography. I haven't read one yet where the subject was a dear old soul who was faithful to his family and whom everyone admired. Although Betjeman was pretty much loved by one and all, including his wife Penelope who raised the children, saw to the upkeep of their home and offered a divorce which neither pursued; and his mistress, Elizabeth Cavendish, sister of the Duke of Devonshire, who waited in vain for him to divorce, nursed him at the end and who sacrificed children for the sake of being with him. Her sister-in-law, the Duchess, spoke years after his death of "the charm, the blinding charm" of the man. And about his love life: "People kept expecting him to do the right thing, but maybe he did do the right thing - and maybe the right thing was not to make a decision."

An only child, born in 1906 to a purveyor of fine bric-a-brac (condiment-sets, onyx ashtrays, dressing tables, etc.), his was a world of stringent class structure. Due to the huge loss of men in the first World War, he was among the first group of middle class men attending Oxford permitted to visit the grand houses of their aristocratic classmates. His great wit and clownish behavior made him everyone's favorite and he never missed an opportunity to ingratiate himself to his "betters". There was no chance that he would move into the family business, causing a permanent rift with his father, and he was determined to pursue a life of letters. His connections provided shelter and a post as a writer at the "Architectural Review" and his devotion to the churches and Victorian architecture of England was born. It was a cause he segued into television documentaries in the early 1950s, taking the viewer on tours of their own country and pointing out the beauties to be found. His manner was folksy and appealing and he was beloved by millions, as was his poetry.

This is very accessible poetry, mostly written in short meter or trimeter. Wilson quotes snippets of it here, just a taste that makes the reader want to get a collection of them or - even better - listen to them read on YouTube. The best: "Death in Leamington" and "The Death of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel", both heartbreaking and tender story-poems; "Myfanwy" and "Joan Hunter Dunne" about sporty, capable English girls he admired from afar; and "The Mistress" (not his own, but about another woman he's caught a glimpse of):

"But why do I call her 'The Mistress'
Who know not her way of life?
Because she has more of a cared-for air
Than many a legal wife."

About his uncared-for wife: also an aristocrat, the hard working Penelope was brought up in India and for some unexplained reason returned to England with a Cockney accent. Many of her letters are written in a strange, phonetical way (also unexplained):
"Oi know oi was ysterical on Tuesday morning. Oi oped and oi thought oi would be mooch calmer about everythin after moi reception into the arms of the scarlet Woman boot oi serpose it cannot appen all at oonce."


John Osborne's play "Inadmissable Evidence" is about Betj's tangled personal life, a work that Betj professed to be delighted with. Although plagued with guilt by his love life, his confessions to his priest and his weekly attendance at church never waned. Elizabeth Cavendish has decreed that her letters to Betj will not be made public until fifty years after his death, so she is the silent one in the trio. She always refused to meet Penelope who wanted to meet her. I imagine that were someone to write it, hers would be the saddest biography of all.
2 vote NarratorLady | Sep 22, 2010 |
The sad but true fact is that all too often biographies end with a death. In this case, Wilson adds the death of Penelope, JB’s wife, almost as a coda. Betjeman turns out to be a more interesting biographical subject than one might have imagined; alongside the poems, the church architecture and the TV programs (clearly much less of a household knowledge thing here) Betj was a charming, conflicted, religious, loving and indecisive man. (A telling vignette is offered in the observation of a daughter, who when tending to her father in his decline takes his soft hand and realizes he ‘had not done a day of manual work’ in his life. The book, though often laboriously detailed to the point of driving the reader to madness, also reveals an interesting perspective on the lives of the academic, the cultured and the privileged in the war and post war eras.
  JimPratt | Jun 29, 2010 |
Exibindo 5 de 5
Wilson writes that “if most of Betjeman’s poems were suits, you would say that they needed at least two more fittings at the tailor’s,” and concludes that of the hundreds he wrote, only 30 are truly first-rate. That seems a little on the generous side. Most of his best poems, like some of Byron’s, Auden’s and Larkin’s, press right up against the boundary of light verse in their quickness, wittiness and sharpness. But unlike those other poets he had no deeper register, and when he tried for a more serious note, he frequently fell into mawkishness and doggerel. It didn’t help his writing at all when in 1972 he was appointed poet laureate. Unlike most of his successors, who have tried to dodge the laureate’s official commission to produce ceremonial verse for public occasions, Betjeman embraced the task and turned out one embarrassment after another.
adicionado por John_Vaughan | editarNY Times, CHARLES McGRATH (Apr 9, 2012)
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"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, Betjeman was the classic example of the melancholy clown, whose sadness found its perfect mood-music in the hymns of a poignant Anglicanism."--BOOK JACKET.

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