LAURIE LEE: The Well-Loved Stranger

Valerie Grove, Author . Penguin $14.95 (576p) ISBN 978-0-14-027688-6

English author Lee (1914–1997) began his writing career as a poet, but was best known for his autobiographical works. With the cooperation of Lee's widow as well as access to Lee's papers, Grove (Dear Dodie), a columnist for the London Times, has produced a well-researched though conflicted account. Born into a poor Gloucestershire family, Lee, who suffered from epilepsy, was raised by an eccentric but loving mother who instilled in him an appreciation of books, music and nature. He left home before age 20 and wandered through Europe playing the fiddle, composing poetry and briefly participating in the Spanish Civil War. Good-looking and charming, Lee was financed by several women who encouraged his writing. According to Grove, the great love of his life was Lorna Wishart, an unconventional married woman. The two had a lengthy, passionate affair that resulted in the birth of a daughter. Some years after Lorna broke off the relationship, Lee married her niece, Kathy. During their long marriage (which produced a second daughter), Kathy put up with her husband's relentless womanizing and increasing alcoholism. After he published Cider with Rose (1959), a well-received memoir of his childhood in the village of Slad, Lee became a celebrated literary figure. Apparently, Grove was posthumously charmed by Lee, since her sympathy for him interferes with objective assessment of his work. For instance, she gives the benefit of the doubt to Lee's version of his participation in the Spanish Civil War (A Moment of War, 1991), which sparked serious questions about his veracity. B&w photos. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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