Bitter Sweet: A Biography of Noel Coward

Philip Hoare, Author Simon & Schuster $30 (0p) ISBN 978-0-684-80937-3
Like his life of Stephen Tennant, Serious Pleasures (1990), Hoare's substantial biography of Coward is fastidiously researched and documented. The author traces Coward's colorful family history back to the early 17th century and shows how his middle-class upbringing only fueled his passion for success, a yearning that remained with Coward throughout his life. In painstaking detail, Hoare chronicles Coward's devotion to his mother, his homosexual affairs and his travels within the beau monde. Particularly insightful are the accounts of how, in bursts of creativity, Coward translated real-life encounters and experiences into written art, though often to the extreme displeasure of the friends he wrote about, like Edith Sitwell. While Hoare pays homage to Coward's numerous plays, revues, songs and stories, he doesn't ignore the failures. Nor does Hoare hide Coward's personal shortcomings--his financial mismanagement, temper and quarrels with England--which show the ring around his Eton-collared image. The author's prose can be stilted, and his prolix plot summaries of Coward's plays could be tighter. Nonetheless, Hoare has profiled vividly and in depth a complex legend who had a talent for creating and re-creating both himself and his works. Photograph not seen by PW. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/29/1996
Release date: 08/01/1996
Genre: Nonfiction
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