The inspiring life of Jane Howard

Jane Howard

At 90, british author Elizabeth Jane Howard completed the popular series, The Cazalet chronicles — a masterwork finished at the end of a tumultuous life.

Jane continued to build up a life of her own, through trial and error. In 1950 her first novel, The beautiful visit, became an immediate success. She lived in a modest apartment; she wrote novels, articles and film scripts; and had jobs at publishing houses and a series of affairs with married men. Beautiful Jane came across as arrogant, but in fact she was extremely shy and insecure.

It often seemed that, as soon as a man paid attention to her, she was putty in his hands and did everything she could to please the gentleman in question. She longed for an all-consuming love but was only given crumbs. Because, contrary to the men’s promises, wives were not left for Jane, even when she became pregnant (and therefore decided to have an abortion).

Jane hated her status as a divorcée. In 1959 she married again, to Australian writer and broadcaster James Douglas-Henry, who was five years her senior, because, ‘I became exhausted by people wanting to go to bed with me after half an hour,’ she said. During the honeymoon James told her that he didn’t love her. The marriage was a mistake.

Third marriage

Things took a positive turn when she met Kingsley Amis, the 40-year-old British author of the bestseller Lucky Jim, at a literary festival for a panel discussion about sex in literature. Afterward they had a few drinks — Kingsley’s wife was already in bed — and stayed up talking until 4 a.m. When he kissed her, Jane wrote, she felt like she could fly.

This affair was different from all the others: Kingsley did leave his wife to marry Jane in 1965. When you look at their wedding photos, it is easy to see how happy the pair were. ‘Amis & Howard’ became hot property as the British literary couple of their day. They traveled together and read what they had written that day to each other in the evening; they even tried to have another child. Kingsley already had three, who were regularly dumped on the lovebirds’ doorstep by their embittered mother.

This led to conflicts, because Kingsley paid no or hardly any attention to his teenage children, or to anything other than writing and drinking in fact. Thanks to Jane his life ran along smoothly. They lived in a large house outside London from 1968 to 1976, often having guests over for the weekend. She took care of the housekeeping, the shopping, the garden, the bookkeeping and the fresh flowers next to the bed of every guest. She did the laundry and embroidered throw pillows for the couch.

Because Kingsley couldn’t drive, she drove him everywhere. She prepared lavish lunches and dinners of several courses, seemingly choosing the most elaborate version of every recipe she made. Her domestic masochism was in direct alignment with his alcoholic egoism. In these years, Kingsley wrote book after book; Jane produced, understandably, much less.

Their love ran out by the 1970s. Kingsley started disliking his ‘posh’ wife; she complained about their non-existent sex life. Thanks to therapy Jane had now gained a little more confidence. In 1980 she plucked up all her courage and left Kingsley, who never forgave her for it.

  • The complete story can be found in Issue 34.

Text Liddie Austin  Photography Getty Images