Dirk Bogarde Moira Hodgson - Essay

Moira Hodgson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"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.