Day, Barry, editor. “The Letters of Noel Coward”, Knopf, 2007.
Noel Coward is a legend in theater history and now we get to look behind the scenes at one of the shakers and movers of modern times. “The Letters of Noel Coward” is richly funny, deeply sincere, and a wonderful read.
The letters, edited by Barry Day, include letters written by Coward as well as letters written to him. It is absolutely amazing to see that some of the most outstanding people in literature and show business are either writers or recipients of the correspondence included in the book. John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Alec Guiness, Irene Worth, David Niven, Marlene Dietrich, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Ian Fleming are all there right alongside many of the aristocrats of Great Britain, statesman and royalty. The editor not only gives us the letters but he amplifies and explains with great detail as well as provides biographical and background information and we not only get the letters but a biography of a man with one of the sharpest minds of modern times. And of course there is gossip and lots of it.
Noel Coward was many things but above all else, he was a genius. He was an actor, a playwright, a lyricist and a composer. He wrote novels, short stories and poet to a degree. He wrote his autobiography; he wrote about travel and he wrote great letters. He could make us laugh and he was a good friend to many. To his mother, who was his chief correspondent, he was the model son. Coward worshipped her and he wrote her a letter a week during her life. The letters between the two, mother and son, read like a love story.
Day divides the book into four sections with titles from the words of Noel Coward but interspersed throughout the book are sections entitles “Intermission” where Day looks at relationships in detail and gives the information to make everything crystal clear.
Coward’s sharp wit is there throughout as well as some very serious thoughts especially those reflecting his love for England. He loved the Queen and she loved him. But if one thing is to characterize Noel Coward it is his comedy. His humor never seemed planned and was often “off the cuff”.
Noel Coward was also very gay but he kept his private life very private. His letters break down a bit of that privacy and give us a true picture of the man. Barry Day has done quite a job and a service to us all by bringing Coward back to all of us and I feel like singing to the tune of “Hello Dolly, “Hello Noel, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong”.