Elizabeth Jane Howard Howard, Elizabeth Jane (Vol. 7) - Essay

Howard, Elizabeth Jane (Vol. 7)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Howard, Elizabeth Jane 1923–

Ms Howard is a British author of popular novels and short stories. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

[Odd Girl Out] strikes me as being wildly enjoyable and in this important respect [Miss Howard's] best novel yet. I enjoyed almost every minute of it until the very end—artistic integrity demands an unhappy ending, and novel-readers must just get used to this as cinema-goers must get used to the person in the next seat eating toffees or groping them or whatever. My only sadness is that her book will give pleasure to fewer people than it otherwise might because buyers will have been frightened off by the thought that it might be bleakly schematic or try to enlarge their potential for total awareness. For what it is worth, I can give an assurance that my potential for total awareness is very much the same….

A novel is idle entertainment or it is nothing. If it can entertain and stimulate a large number of people, it is a successful novel. If it can entertain and stimulate persons of high intelligence and cultivation, it is a good novel. Miss Howard may not jump in and out of the first person singular, backwards and forwards between the past historic and present tense, she may not relapse into prose poetry; she may not have written a highbrow novel, to be approved of by the tiny and extraordinarily unintelligent untalented circle of people in London who like to think of themselves as highbrow, but she has written a thunderingly good novel and I hope as many people as possible read it. (p. 549)

Auberon Waugh, in The Spectator (© 1972 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), April 8, 1972.

Most of the stories [in Mr Wrong] centre in some way on the link between children and their parents. Two—the long title story and 'Three Miles Up'—are excursions (one by car and the other by boat) into the supernatural which just failed to convince me. Miss Howard writes most confidently and touchingly at very close range, about momentary doubts, unspoken anxieties, fleeting perceptions, intense good moments and equally intense bad ones, all inextricably bound up with a natural or domestic setting. In broader narrative patterns her voice seems less certain and less individual, and relies on twist-endings or 'happenings' to carry things through. An exception to this is 'Toutes Directions', about a girl who is plunged into someone else's drama and unexpectedly exposed to the passionate and primitive elements in others and in herself. It is not such a neat story as some of the others; but it seems to be written with that vital unselfconsciousness that transcends mere 'insight'. (p. 60)

Victoria Glendinning, in New Statesman (© 1975 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 11, 1975.

[As] Elizabeth Jane Howard employs the language [in Mr Wrong] …, it becomes a careful, controlled instrument for checking and verifying certain states of unease, a prose which never knowingly means more than it says. Mr Wrong is a volume of nine short stories, and not one of them fails to achieve its purpose. The title story is an exercise in 'horror' but there is something so unsympathetic about Miss Howard's exact observations that she manages to avoid all of the extraneous, gothic sentimentality. But her prose can change direction very subtly…. Elizabeth Jane Howard is an intelligent and perceptive writer and it is good to see her apply herself to marginal, wayward and spooky situations. They are revived in the process. (p. 113)

Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1975 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 26, 1975.

Someone or something is always wrong for Elizabeth Jane Howard's people. Marriages limp along under the weight of infidelity, cowardice and habit. Children and parents hurt each other—the children claiming the privileges of youth and high expectations, the parents those of middle age and disappointment. Friendships falter, either because one friend dominates and subtly intimidates the other or because two equals cannot resist comparing faults and virtues. Howard's stories are sad but also pleasing, because her sense of humor is as keen as her perceptions….

"Mr. Wrong" is a well-crafted collection of small-scale, absorbing dramas that range from bittersweet to chilling. The title story, about a young working woman whose seemingly undramatic miseries and mishaps end in violent tragedy, is the most skillful; all are worth reading. (p. 56)

Margo Jefferson, in Newsweek (copyright 1975 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), December 29, 1975.

Delineating the little corrosions of tight family structures—the bickering of husbands and wives, the cruel, secretive world of children in a country house, the territorial squabbles of mothers and daughters, the bonds of jealousy between a beautiful girl and her grandmother—is Elizabeth Jane Howard's special grace.

The author of six novels, Miss Howard brings powerful judgments and tools to her first collection of stories ["Mr. Wrong"]. In "The Devoted," she traps three generations in one house waiting for "Father Christmas" to arrive. Miss Howard moves swiftly from generation to generation as she orchestrates the lives of a grandmother, her two sons and daughters-in-law and a host of grandchildren. Without dwelling on the consciousness of individual characters, she reveals the tragedy of a profligate son, whose eerie presence dominates the story. Russell, after he dies, manages to creep into the house like Father Christmas, bestowing the gift of his own death upon a rigid, self-centered family.

There are few pronouncements. Miss Howard shapes her story with a series of stunning details….

Most of the other stories are spun with the same sense of fabric and design….

Unfortunately, the long title story is the weakest of the lot. "Mr. Wrong" lacks the crisp narration of Miss Howard's best stories. (p. 36)

Jerome Charyn, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 22, 1976.