A busy week with not very much time for blogging but I wanted to quickly to highlight an author who I am currently reading – a book I will have finished by the time this post is scheduled to appear. Although I know many of you will already be familiar with Pamela Hansford Johnson, some of you might not. With Bello books having made so many of her novels available again, I am surprised I have seen so few of her books being reviewed. The book I’m reading is Too Dear for My Possessing, (1940) the first book in PHJ’s famous Helena Trilogy – I am enjoying it so much I have acquired the next two books in the trilogy along with a couple of others. This is not the first PHJ I have read, but I seem to keep forgetting about her.
Pamela Hansford Johnson was a novelist, playwright, poet, literary and social critic. Upon her second marriage to author C P Snow she became one half a very famous literary duo – with whom she collaborated on several plays. In their later years, making themselves appear rather ridiculous to the British public, Baron and Lady Snow became fodder for the satirists at Private Eye. Pamela Hansford Johnson was a hugely prolific writer, producing twenty-seven novels as well as works of criticism, plays and poetry. As a young woman she knew Dylan Thomas, they were even briefly engaged.During her lifetime she was awarded several honorary degrees, held visiting academic positions at North American universities and in 1975 was awarded the CBE.
Weirdly, it was the divine Elizabeth Taylor who introduced me to PHJ. When I was first reading the biography of Elizabeth Taylor by Persephone books founder Nicola Beauman (I’ve read it twice) I discovered that PHJ was one of a little group of well-known literary figures who took against Elizabeth Taylor and said bad things about her books. There’s a famous photograph of the two women meeting at some literary event. It oozes polite, British dislike. I love Elizabeth Taylor so much I have been saving some of her short stories for years as I like having them to look forward to (yes I am that illogical). So I immediately decided I wouldn’t read PHJ – I probably wouldn’t like her that much anyway (I’m nothing if not loyal). At that time, PHJ novels (unlike Taylor’s) were out of print, so not reading them was easy. When Bello re-issued her books via their print on demand and ebook service I couldn’t help but be a bit intrigued. I decided to read one (The Impossible Marriage 1954) – I liked it – a lot.
Several months after reading that novel I was offered a review copy of a biography of Pamela Hansford Johnson by Wendy Pollard. A hugely fascinating book – it is a must for PHJ fans. In that book I learned a lot of PHJ that convinced me that although I wouldn’t have liked the woman very much, there were things I had to admire about her. I donated my lovely hardback copy of that book to my local library – as I thought it would probably be a book they might not have – and at the time Birmingham libraries were appealing for newly published books to be donated as they couldn’t afford to buy them (don’t get me started on that one).
For the record – I’m still on team Elizabeth Taylor – but I have to admit PHJ is definitely worth reading.