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Betjeman: A Life Hardcover – 30 Nov 2006

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 375 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (30 Nov. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374111987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374111984
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 3.2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,070,882 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

Review

'An A-grade demonstration of the point of Betjeman… and the area
of English life that he made his own.' -- D.J. Taylor, Independent

'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.' -- Mail on Sunday

'Terrific…There is really interesting and unexpected material…
[Wilson’s] book zeroes in on Betjeman’s struggles…with extraordinary
imaginative sympathy.' -- Spectator

‘Beautiful, inspiring and brilliantly perceptive… The masterpiece
that A.N. Wilson was born to write.’ -- Country Life --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A new life of Betjeman by an award-winning biographer, published to mark the centenary of the poet's birth (2004-03-15) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 43 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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2 of 2 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By DERRICK MATTHEWS on 25 Jun. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I have downloaded the Kindle version to read later this year when on holiday. I have already read the paperback version and can see why the product was a Sunday Times bestseller. The man and his life is a paradox. The book was easy to read and is the perfect book to read at the end of the day. Not too difficult to take in and leaving one wanting more the next evening. It opened up a new horizon for me. I have been buying the same type books for years based on my lifetime interest and this was a great change. You know what they say about a change .. it is as good as a rest .. and so it has been. I have purchased other Betjeman books for further reading. This has opened other horizons - R.S Thomas and Phillip Larkin. So, if you are interested in Paradoxes and are looking for a change then I don't think that you will be disappointed.

Derrick Matthews, South Wales, United Kingdom.
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