Women’s Wear Daily
04.17.2014
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Jane Says

LONDON — She was the stunning, fair-haired stepmother who turned the young Martin Amis on to books — and who later left his father, Kingsley, when he refused to quit drinking. Her many lovers included writers like Arthur Koestler, Cecil...

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Elizabeth Jane Howard

Elizabeth Jane Howard

Photo By Howard Sooley

LONDON — She was the stunning, fair-haired stepmother who turned the young Martin Amis on to books — and who later left his father, Kingsley, when he refused to quit drinking. Her many lovers included writers like Arthur Koestler, Cecil Day-Lewis and Laurie Lee. She also wrote 12 novels herself, including four best-selling volumes that make up "The Cazalet Chronicles," about an upper-middle-class English family living through pre- and post-World War II. Now almost 80, Elizabeth Jane Howard has just published her memoirs in the U.K., "Slipstream" (Macmillan), which recount the trickiness of love, plus instructions on how to put dinner on the table and get a novel finished on time.

"It was a man’s world, and that isn’t over yet," Howard says one damp afternoon at her 18th-century house in the Suffolk countryside. "If I had been much more successful than Kingsley, I don’t think he would have been able to stand it."

Although Howard is not exactly a household name in America, in her native Britain she is a highly regarded writer with a devoted following. In his autobiography, "Experience," Martin Amis writes, "As far as I am concerned [Jane] is, with Iris Murdoch, the most interesting woman writer of her generation." As an author as well as the consort of well-connected men, Howard met many of the 20th century’s artistic heavyweights, including E.M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Stephen Spender, Albert Camus and Marc Chagall. But it is her stormy romantic relationships that make "Slipstream" so absorbing.

The eldest of three children, she grew up in genteel surroundings — although, like many girls of her time, she had no formal education. Her father, David, a veteran of World War I, was a suave charmer who loved women, and when his daughter hit puberty, he turned his attentions on her. In "Slipstream," Howard describes how, when she was 15, he tried to fondle and kiss her. "He had suffered shocks when not much older than I was then, and as a consequence he had never, in some senses, grown up," she writes. "He loved me, and when I ceased to be a little girl he simply added another dimension to his love. This was irresponsible and selfish, but it wasn’t wicked."
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