Dirk Bogarde Essay - Critical Essays

Bogarde, Dirk


Bogarde, Dirk 1921–

Born Derek Niven Van den Bogaerdes, Bogarde is a British actor who achieved recognition as an author with the publication of two autobiographies and a novel, A Gentle Occupation. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 77-80.)

D.A.N. Jones

The title [A Postillion Struck by Lightning] is rather dowdy, for a film-star's memoirs…. But this is a very different sort of book, deliberately avoiding humorous anecdotes and name-dropping. Dirk Bogarde has attempted to present certain episodes in his life as chapters in a poetic novel, and one often suspects that he has bent the facts towards fiction….

Look up the reference to Virginia Woolf [mentioned in the index] and you find she is the lonely, creepy lady who disturbed the boy Bogarde and his friends as they were fishing in a Sussex river: they rejected her friendly advances and wondered, after she had gone, why there were so many witches in Sussex. This seems the opposite of name-dropping. Bogarde wants the lonely woman as an image, for poetic purposes, and her name is unimportant, tucked casually into this odd index…. Perhaps, though, he is being craftily throwaway. He will introduce a friend of his youth, tell a story relevant to his narrative, and then slip in, so casually, the friend's famous name, Scofield or Ustinov….

The first part of the book is an evocation of summer childhood in Sussex. Bogarde is very fond of his childhood memories, and has attempted to re-create its atmosphere at his home in rural France. He refers to Christopher Robin and to the William books, aware that he is himself indulging in the artificially sweet-tempered sentiment of such books…. But his account of this idyllic life has its sour moments—the meanness and selfishness of children, their ruthless and wounding behaviour, as well as their charm and joy. The whole section is admirably balanced and convincing….

Selective as ever, he deals with his film career in one impressionistic chapter, one chosen "scene" … But the whole book is, indirectly, relevant to his acting career….

D.A.N. Jones, "Brief Encounters," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3915, March 25, 1977, p. 340.

Caroline Seebohm

The author [of A Postillion Struck by Lightning] is Dirk Bogarde—not merely a star but a marvelous actor, who in recent years has tended to choose roles that, while being doubtful at the box office, have had pretensions to art. His book may be accused of courting the same fate.

Bogarde divides his memoirs into two parts, Summer and Winter. Summer is highly impressionistic evocation of an English childhood…. This first part draws heavily on dialogue and vignettes for its effect.

The second part is a more straightforward narrative of adolescence, unhappy school days in Scotland and gradual commitment to an acting career. By the end of the book, Bogarde has signed up for the Army after the outbreak of World War II. There is a sort of postscript chapter set in Hollywood when the actor is nearly 40, struggling with the role of Franz Liszt and the various indignities of Hollywood life.

Not earth-shattering material, to be sure….

Dirk Bogarde is a surprisingly good writer,… even though there are moments in the first part when the tone jars…. He sometimes uses a faux-naïf style to convey childlike impressions, which does not come off. And after a while one wonders what the point is—there is very little sense of direction in the early reminiscences. The second part, in which he uses a more adult voice and eye, has much more drive.

Bogarde's reason...

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Jonathan Keates

[Snakes and Ladders] adheres to the best tradition of autobiography in managing to distract us, by whatever means, from noting the number of times the pronoun [I] is actually repeated. As though to remind us that when not posturing on camera he really can write, Dirk Bogarde prints a couple of poems in an appendix. Such as assurance was quite unnecessary, given the skill and charm with which he manipulated the materials of A Postillion Struck by Lightning.

The same selective reticence, an adroit mixture of anecdote, character-sketch and self-analysis, makes him appear pleasantly bemused at his own triumph, much of which is due to an intelligence seldom found amid the chewy montelimar and crunchy praline of thespian egos….

His success in these witty and accomplished memoirs is to persuade us that acting is perhaps less important to him than the need to regain the innocence and security so precisely conveyed in his earlier book. (p. 518)

Jonathan Keates, "I Say, I Say," in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 96, No. 2483, October 20, 1978, pp. 517-18.∗

Moira Hodgson

"Snakes and Ladders," the second volume of Dirk Bogarde's memoirs, [is] drawn from 30 years of journals and letters…. With his keen eye for detail and actor's ear for dialogue, he brings us a picture of survival in an industry in which money is prized more than art….

The successful autobiographer, Virginia Woolf has written, needs to record two levels of existence: "The rapid passage of events and actions; the slow opening up of single, and solemn moments of concentrated emotion." Mr. Bogarde does this admirably. He is an intelligent writer, thoughtful and modest without exaggerated self-deprecation. Yet there's much that he passes over in silence….

This volume opens with his induction into the army and covers the war years, his return to the theater and subsequent stardom….

Mr. Bogarde's descriptions of his army days—the boredom, his colleagues, the death of a friend, an interview for his commission in which he unwittingly tells an officer that before the war he was "a sort of chorus boy, really,"—are masterly. So too are the passages on his return to civilian life and the struggle to get back to the stage. They have the starkness and lucidity of the childhood reminiscences in "A Postillion Struck by Lightning," his first memoir. But once Mr. Bogarde becomes a "star" the candor goes. Perhaps his reticence is understandable. "I now lived in an alien world … in which all the standards and beliefs we had been brought up to respect as right and honourable were almost completely redundant … by placing ourselves from choice apparently, in the glare of the spotlight, we had automatically forfeited our privacy, and for the most part, our lives." So he no longer takes us into his confidence. He is cautious and guarded about his famous friends…. We hear of no romantic involvements after 1947. How does someone of his caliber make a success of such attachments in the film world? He fails to satisfy our curiosity. (p. 9)

The title of Mr. Bogarde's book comes from a popular children's game of chance…. Mr. Bogarde makes much of the element of chance in his successful career. But his life suggests that if you play with shrewdness, intelligence and an uncompromising desire for quality, you load the dice in your favor. (p. 29)

Moira Hodgson, "Waylaid by Fame," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 8, 1979, pp. 9, 29.

John Mellors

In his first novel, A Gentle Occupation, Dirk Bogarde draws on his army experience to throw light on a little-known 'peacetime war' in the Dutch East Indies after the Japanese had surrendered not to the Dutch but to Indonesian 'freedom-fighters'. An Indian Division … is pitchforked into a tricky situation in an unnamed island north of Java. Their mission is to extract the Dutch from prison camps and protect them from the terriorists….

Bogarde was in this campaign … and he succeeds in making the reader come close to experiencing the same sights and smells, the same fear and anger which filled the deceptively bright days and the menacingly dark nights of Dutch refugees and British and Indian soldiers. The plot involves treachery and assassination, a love affair which flourishes and others which are doomed; but A Gentle Occupation is at its best in descriptions of place and studies of people, mainly of women.

John Mellors, "War in Peace" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1980; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), in The Listener, Vol. 103, No. 2654, March 20, 1980, p. 382.∗

SeáN Wyse Jackson


With [A Gentle Occupation], Dirk Bogarde accepts the challenge issued by more than one admirer of his excellent autobiographies … and acquits himself with much honor. A Gentle Occupation is set on an imaginary island between Borneo and Java…. The Dutch and Japanese occupations of the island have left a legacy of old betrayals, cruelty and lost love; these form the mainspring of the book….

Here, death is always present—as memory, threat and reality—and the book does not stint on blood and pain. Sometimes, however, these deaths seem too useful to the author, as if they were necessary for the demands of the plot, rather than contingent on...

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David Wilson

[The island setting of A Gentle Occupation] is fictional, but the narrative is based on a chaos of facts which Dirk Bogarde clearly remembers from experience. He has assembled a large cast of characters—British, Indian, Dutch, American and mongrel—and deploys them with a structural adroitness and an imaginative range which belies the fact that this is his first novel.

His catalyst is Rooke, an actor by trade, a captain in Intelligence who is happily anticipating repatriation when he is posted to the island as a "surplus replacement"…. [Rooke learns quickly]—and the manner of his education reflects both the precision and the density of the novel—an appreciation of the hidden wounds of...

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The Virginia Quarterly Review

[Dirk Bogarde's first novel, A Gentle Occupation], is not nearly so well crafted as his two autobiographical volumes, but it is certainly a very good start in the genre…. [A] young British officer … finds himself in the midst of a nationalist guerrilla war on the one hand and a nest of colonialist vipers on the other. It is potentially a good yarn, and Bogarde writes awfully clever dialogue; but in the end the story falls of its own weight. It is simply too ponderous, the characters too wooden to hold our attention.

"Notes on Current Books: 'A Gentle Occupation'," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1980, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The...

(The entire section is 118 words.)