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Laurie Lee: The Well-Loved Stranger Hardcover – 28 Oct 1999
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The author of one of the great memoirs of the century, Cider With Rosie, was also one of the most secretive and elusive of men. "The most devious person it is possible to invent", said his brother Jack. And Lee himself admitted, "I am a person of concealment. No one has ever managed to get through." Whether Valerie Grove ever really gets through, in this magisterial, 500-page biography, is perhaps open to debate. But she brings Lee vividly to life, in all his charm and flirtatiousness, lyricism and laziness. From his early childhood in the beautiful Slad valley in the Cotswolds, to his time in the Spanish Civil War (where he may or may not have fought at the terrible battle of Teruel--depending whom you believe), to his latter days sitting in the Chelsea Arts Club, the Great Author, with a keen eye for a pretty girl in a short skirt, was no intellectual, no thinker. He appeared to have no convictions or opinions and lived entirely through his senses. Perhaps that is why he remains such an elusive character to comprehend. Nevertheless this is a fine and enjoyable biography, the first to be written since his death, with the full co-operation of his estate and access to his wonderful letters. --Christopher Hart
About the Author
Valerie Grove writes a weekly column for The Times. She has written one biography (of the children's writer Dodie Smith), entitled Dear Dodie (Chatto,1996) which was listed as one of the 12 finalists for the NCR Award.
She is married to the journalist Trevor Grove, and lives in Highgate, London N6.
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Whilst Laurie was in Spain the Civil War broke out and, caught up in heavy shellfire, he suffered an epileptic fit - a disorder which, throughout his life, Laurie tried hard to conceal. Wilma persuaded Laurie to return to England with her, but once home Laurie wasn't able to settle and in 1937 (after meeting the "beautiful and fascinating" Lorna Wishart), he managed to find his way back into Spain with plans to join the International Brigade as a volunteer. Although Laurie's intention was to help the Republicans in their fight against Franco's Nationalist army, under the stress of the situation he suffered several more epileptic fits and, after only nine weeks in Spain, Laurie was sent home to England, which caused him lasting embarrassment and shame. However, back again in England, Laurie was now able to focus more on his writing and was also able to spend time with Lorna Wishart, with whom he fell deeply in love and who became his muse. After several years with the very alluring, but self-centred Lorna (who gave birth to their daughter, Yasmin) Lorna ended their liaison, leaving Laurie heartbroken and reluctant to ever again involve himself so wholeheartedly in a relationship. There is, of course, much more to this well-researched 500+ page biography than I have mentioned in this review, where the reader learns of Laurie Lee's love affairs (both before and after his marriage); his courtship of the lovely teenaged Kathy (niece of Lorna Wishart), who later became his much-younger wife - who selflessly devoted herself to Laurie and was remarkably tolerant of his infidelities, his difficult behaviour and his increasing reliance on alcohol; of Laurie's road to fame through his famous memoir 'Cider with Rosie'; of his friendship with Cecil Day-Lewis and Rosamond Lehmann; of his affair with Elizabeth Jane Howard, and a huge amount more.
Valerie Grove, who had the cooperation of Laurie Lee's widow and access to all of his papers, has produced an interesting and very readable account of her subject, and although sympathetic in her approach to a man she describes as effortlessly charming, Ms Grove does not shy away from revealing Laurie Lee's less admirable qualities or from discussing the veracity of his some of his autobiographical material. Interestingly, Laurie Lee was referred to by his brother, Jack, as "The most devious person it is possible to invent" and even after reading this well-researched biography, he still appears somewhat of an enigma, but one that I now know very much more about than I did before. Recommended.
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