Oliver Soden on The Lives of Noel Coward
Monday 24th April
Topping & Company Booksellers of Bath, York Street, Bath, Somerset BA1 1NG
Oliver Soden is a writer and broadcaster, whose first book, a biography of the composer Michael Tippett, was a Book of the Year in the Observer, Times Literary Supplement and Spectator, and won a Somerset Maugham Award and the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Storytelling. Soden's essays and reviews have appeared in publications including the Guardian, Literary Review and Art Newspaper.
Soden will be with us to talk about Masquerade: The Lives of Noel Coward, described as "the biography - truthful, sympathetic and thorough - that Coward deserves."
The voice, the dressing-gown, the cigarette in its holder, remain unmistakable.
There is rarely a week when one of Private Lives, Hay Fever, and Blithe Spirit is not in production somewhere in the world. Phrases from Noel Coward's songs - "Mad About The Boy", "Mad Dogs and Englishman" - are forever lodged in the public consciousness. He was at one point the most highly paid author in the world. Yet some of his most striking and daring writing remains unfamiliar. As T.S. Eliot said, in 1954, "there are things you can learn from Noel Coward that you won't learn from Shakespeare".
Coward wrote some fifty plays and nine musicals, as well as revues, screenplays, short stories, poetry, and a novel. He was both composer and lyricist for approximately 675 songs. Louis Mountbatten's famous tribute argued that, while there were greater comedians, novelists, composers, painters and so on, only "the master" had combined fourteen talents in one.
So central was he to his age's theatre that any account of his career is also a history of the British stage. And so daring was Coward's unorthdoxy in his closest relationships, obliquely reflected throughout his writing, that it must also be a history of sexual liberation in the twentieth century. In Oliver Soden's sparkling, story-packed new Life, the Master finally gets his due...