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Betjeman Paperback – 6 Sep 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Arrow; New Ed edition (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099498375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099498377
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 111,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.N. Wilson was born in 1950 and educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he holds a prominent position in the world of literature and journalism. He is an award-winning biographer and a celebrated novelist, winning prizes for much of his work. He lives in North London.

Product Description


"Wilson's forte is the character and he brilliantly conveys Betjeman's odd mixture of introspection and sociability, gaiety and melancholia, exhibition and self-disgust ... Betjeman is a poet who badly needs saving from his soppier fans, and this Wilson has done" (Lynn Barber Daily Telegraph)

"Funny, poignant and unusually well written, Wilson's biography does the old boy proud" (Jeremy Lewis Mail on Sunday)


An A-grade demonstration of the point of Betjeman, the vast constituencies to which he appealed and the area of English life that he made his own

" (D.J. Taylor Independent)

"Terrific... [Wilson's] book zeroes in on Betjeman's struggles with his faith, which he places dead centre of the life and work, and on his family difficulties, and does so with extraordinary imaginative sympathy... Essential" (Spectator)

"A joy to read and re-read - the perfect match of author and subject" (Hugh Massingberd Spectator)

Book Description

The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller

'A joy to read and re-read - the perfect match of author and subject' Hugh Massingberd, 'Books of the Year', Spectator

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By William on 9 Nov. 2006
Format: Hardcover
AN Wilson succeeds where Bevis Hillier failed by producing a compact, balanced, but still affectionate portrait of Britain's favourite post war poet. Wilson is very good on the marital threesome, sympathetic to both Penelope and Elizabeth. He also deals well with Betjeman's guilt, religious angst and fear of death. Happily the book does not dwell on Betj's TV and radio work, which was always a distraction, but focuses instead, properly in my view, on his poetry and his life as a poet. You may disagree with Wilson's choice of Betjeman's 30 best poems, but he succeeds in catapulting the reader back to old laureate's work, which is surely a mark of a great biography. Add to that AN Wilson splendid prose, little asides and occasional barbs and you have a marvellous, absorbing read in prospect. Anyone even remotely interested in Betjeman should have this on their shelves.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bluecashmere. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
It was particularly interesting coming to the Betjeman biography having just completed Philip Larkin's "Letters to Monica". Not only were they the two most popular and accessible poets of their era, they also became close friends, Betjeman placing his London flat at the disposal of Larkin and Monica - a love nest on neutral ground. However, while for the greater part of his life, Larkin lived in modest circumstances and followed a professional career, Betjeman inhabited a very different world. If his roots were in trade, his background was nonetheless wealthy and through his natural gregariousness and desire to be liked, not to mention his social aspirations, he was soon in the midst of a Bohemian, social and intellectual elite centred around London and Oxford. At times the litany of famous names is overwhelming and clearly Betjeman fed on his increasing fame in a way redolent of Oscar Wilde, the link reinforced via Lord Alfred Douglas.

A. N. Wilson shows evidence of painstaking research and clearly feels a deep affinity with his subject. On the whole the poetry receives short shrift, even given that it doesn't lend itself to detailed analysis in the way that say, Plath's does. Many might quarrel too with his list of Betjeman's best poems; there seem to me notable omissions, "Greenaway" for example. It is in many ways an extraordinary life and Wilson cleverly allows it to appear to speak for itself, without obtrusive comment. There are some wonderful anecdotes. I particularly like the one involving John Osborne and the church visit and light is thrown on so many notables from Auden to Waugh and Osbert Lancaster, Hugh Gaitskell to Anthony Blunt and Princess Margaret, along with a host of Oxford academics, politicians, broadcasters and those further on the edge of society + the omnipresent Archie. I approached the book with modest expectations but found myself utterly beguiled. Strongly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Metropolitan Critic on 28 Oct. 2012
Format: Paperback
A.N. Wilson is a figure who provokes extreme reactions. His critics complain about the shoddy scholarship, the factual unreliability, the tendency to underplay his reliance on existing published work. He does not have much patience for the grinding and often dull business of documenting sources, checking facts, chasing everything back to the archives.

His defenders enjoy the splendid prose, the sense of fun, the eye for the revealing detail and the outrageous generalisations.

Both sides have a point. Certainly, no historian should rely on any of his facts without independent confirmation. His unreliability has been exposed too often. But then again, surely there is a place for books whose primary purpose is to entertain rather than inform?

Considered as entertainments, Wilson's biographies are a runaway success. No doubt in an ideal world, one would want scholarly rigour and fun, but if I had to choose I'd probably go for fun. His books on C.S. Lewis and Iris Murdoch are also excellent.

Betjeman emerges in Wilson's portrait as distinctly less teddy bearish than the popular image. He and his wife appear to have treated their son Paul with real contempt, regularly referring to the boy as "It" in his presence. As Dave Pelzer has pointed out, this mode of address is generally not indicative of great parenting skills.

I listened to the audio recording of the Betjeman biography made for BBC Audiobooks by Bill Wallis. He reads the book well, although (I'm not the first to say this) he gives Betjeman's wife Penelope a weird rustic accent which cannot be remotely similar to what she actually sounded like.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dermot Elworthy on 20 Feb. 2009
Format: Hardcover
I feel this fine book works well in two differing respects; as an easily-read biography and as a companion to and a commentary upon Betjeman's earlier life as chronicled in "Summoned By Bells". A N Wilson's account is an intelligently, sympathetically and often wittily written addition to the Betjeman literature.

There is much "Betjemania" that the author might have included to produce an unwieldy tome but in my view Mr Wilson has edited this well; I have no quibble with the exclusion, for example, of the radio and television material. Betjeman was very "audio/visual" and without his voice or picture, the scripts lose much of their essential appeal. It is sometimes difficult to gauge how serious JB was with much of his self-deprecation but he did describe himself as "poet and hack", suggesting that he recognised that the quality of his prose was rather less than that of his verse. If nothing else, this exclusion has spared us Betjeman's irritatingly interminable references to "ilex trees" to be found in every front garden, churchyard and municipal park visited in his radio travels. This is not to suggest that his prose undertakings were without merit - quite the contrary, although they were of varying quality - but some culling of his considerable output is necessary to condense things to this convenient degree. For those seeking the minutiae, there is available another biography of different authorship.

Mr Wilson has drawn a character tortured by seemingly irreconcilable contradictions and doubts - manifested most obviously in his religious allegiances ranging from Baptist to, I suspect, crypto-Papist; the "love triangle" as well as the other aspects of this multi-faceted but in some respects, weak character.
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