Elizabeth Jane Howard 1924-2014 - novelist

1923 - 2014

Connections with St John’s Wood

Although Elizabeth Jane Howard (Jane) was brought up in Kensington, she often visited St John’s Wood as a child as her grandfather,  composer Sir Arthur Somervell, lived at 105 Clifton Hill,  one of the Gothic villas on corner sites on the Eyre estate.There were three bedrooms on the first floor – one was for Gania, one for Mo’s study and a tiny third room in which he slept.  On the top floor were 2  small attics in which grandchildren used to stay and one was papered like the sky, with clouds.  Each time we stayed we were given a paper seagull to stick wherever we pleased in the sky. There was also a large drawing room, a small dining room leading off it, a cavernous basement and a small square back garden.  Another house she knew well was Acombe Lodge, 8 Grove End Road, (home of artist George Dunlop Leslie in the 1870s), where she went for piano lesson with Harold Craxton. This was a large semi detached house adjacent to Lords cricket ground, the sort of house that had rooms opening out of one another, often rather dark in spite of the French windows in most of the ground floor rooms.  

Living in Clifton Hill

Later, EJH’s parents, timber merchant Major David Liddon Howard MC (1896-1958) and Katharine (Kit) Somervell (1895-1975) formerly a dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, moved to a small three bedroomed house on Clifton Hill, which faced north and south so that one side was always dark. However it had a sunny garden at the back. In 1942 Elizabeth married Peter Scott, naturalist, naval officer and war hero, the son of explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his sculptress wife Kathleen Bruce. A daughter Nicola was born in 1943 and Elizabeth describes walking home in the black out to the Clifton Hill house where there was no heating except for a gas fire in the nursery and an occasional fire in the drawing room when they could get some coal.  The marriage was unhappy and Elizabeth left in 1946divorcing in 1951.

Disastrous marriages

After various affairs,  in 1959 she made a disastrous marriage to Australian broadcaster James Douglas Henry, which ended in 1963 and she found a 5 bedroom  Edwardian villa on Maida Vale to share with brother Colin  and her new husband, author  Kingsley Amis. this had a  double drawing room  and a study for Kingsley,  plus an octagonal conservatory at back and a large garden with fruit trees that backed on to Hamilton Terrace.  In 1968 they moved to Lemmons  Hadley Wood,  until their split in 1983, after which she move to Bridget House in Bungay, Suffolk.


The Beautiful Visit (1950), Howard’s first novel, won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 1951 for best novel by a writer under 30. Her second, The Long View (1956), describes a marriage in reverse chronology; five further novels followed before she embarked on  the Cazalet Chronicle, a family saga about the ways in which English life changed during the war years, particularly for women. The novels draw heavily on Howard’s own life and memories.  The first four volumes, The Light  YearsMarking TimeConfusion, and Casting Off, were published from 1990 to 1995. The fifth, All Change, was written in just a year and published in 2013; it was her final novel.

The Duchess of Cornwall wrote of the Cazalet chronicles in 2022– if I were sent to a desert island with one book this would be my choice- EJH’s evocative ? which immediately conjures up the long lost days of rationing, telegrams that brought  either great joy or utter devastation and agonising dental care. Every reader will find at least one character with which they can identify in these often underestimated wonderful novels.

Her life

Jacqui Graham, a publicist and friend wrote: Jane had an extraordinary gift for creating worlds, not just in her books but in her homes and gardens. Her love of gardening would explain why her gardens were so magical – those drifts of snowdrops the long length of her garden in Bungay and the carpets of cowslips and bluebells on her beloved island in the River Waveney beyond the garden and meadow. But her houses were full of magical treasures, beautiful paintings, drawings by Peter Scott, photos of friends and lovers, wonderful furniture, all effortlessly but artfully arranged.

Amazingly attractive to men, generally the men in her life ignored her intellectual gifts and treated her as a domestic drudge.  After marrying Amis, who took not the slightest interest in household management or childcare, she ended up looking after his three children (aged 17,16 and 12 at the time of their marriage) for a large percentage of the time, two artists, Sargy Mann and Terry Raybauld, her mother, who died in the house in 1972 and her brother Colin.  She would be cooking Sunday luncheons for 20 while her husband drank and showed off. She also must have felt her books were underestimated and belittled by the male novelists and critics of her era but the real reason the books are underestimated – let’s be blunt – is that they are by a woman. Until very recently there was a category of books “by women, for women”. This category was unofficial, because indefensible. (Hilary Mantel)

Despite her beauty and intelligence,  surprisingly she spent most of her long and eventful existence in a state of desperate unhappiness, forever being let down by people from whom she sought affection and struggling to balance her emotional needs with the peace of mind required to write her books. (Hilary Mantel) In the 18 years of their relationship with Amis she only wrote 5 novels to his 15. But perhaps she is having her revenge now as many of the male novelists lauded in her lifetime are rarely read while her novels are selling in their millions.

Elizabeth Jane Howard’s  memoirs “Slipstream”, from which some of these quotations have been taken,  show how much of the Cazalet chronicles was based on her family experiences.



This page was added on 24/04/2014.

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