Procrastinating with Noel Coward


This is the best aid to procrastination I’ve read for some time.  Whatever dull task awaits, one can just find time to read a couple of letters before doing it – though ‘a couple’ tends to stretch to four … seven … the end of the chapter … page 752.

It’s a slightly unusual collection as it includes letters from the other side of a correspondence where possible, and has a detailed connecting narrative to place the letters in context.  Noel Coward knew everybody who was anybody, so as well as its biographical element, there is some implicit (if spasmodic) social history of theatre from 1920 to 1960.  There are plenty of illustrations too.

The letters are hugely entertaining, occasionally causing bursts of laughter which made the guinea pigs leap in panic, and then look at me reproachfully.  The selection is mostly from the professional side of his life, but there were a few moments when I thought of the old couplet

From lives of famous men we learn

Never to keep the letters we ought to burn.

However, I’m sure Coward was well aware of that rule, and chose to transgress it, along with many others, ensuring a final audience for his lifelong role as the Master.


9 responses »

  1. One f the most infuriating things I sometimes find as a historian is when people order alll their documents to be destoyed at their death. Sometimes this request is ignored, but I just want to hijack the tardis and go back and ask people, what were they thinking? Didn’t they know that one day someone would want to know who they were writing to, and what it all meant?

    • As a historian and reader, I know what you mean – but as an individual, I would be out there with a bonfire! I suspect, though, that there’s a lot of explosive content in the Coward archive which his administrators are sitting on until everyone concerned is well and truly dead!

      • It comes down to whether you feel your words are yours or if they belong to the world. I work within the limits of copyright laws for the works of others, but having tried to make a living from my words for so long there seems no point. I’ve spent a lot of time compiling this stuff, shame to waste it. Also, when writing I often have no idea where the words come from. Sometimes I look at what I’ve typed and they don’t seem to belong to me.

        • I’m guessing that people with public roles are actually in it partly because they like the publicity in some way, e.g. all those political diaries which you can see were written with one eye on the future and delivering belated slaps to the people they didn’t like at the time. And having the last word in an argument.

          • It is hard to argue with someone that’s dead. I have found a number of wills that have been used to control or take revenge on people. Again, you can’t argue. Leaving money to particular people or groups, omitting others. I love the one where a man left the contents of his wine cellar to his wife, then ordered it to be sold. Did he think she was a boozer or was going to become one at his death?

          • Shall we be charitable and hope that he knew she didn’t like wine, and as it was worth a lot he was realising the cash for her? Controlling from either side of the grave is, alas, far too common as an explanation.

  2. Sounds like an interesting read. Feeling like I might need a bit of non-fiction reading in my life. Thanks for this 🙂

    • Thanks for dropping in – the Coward letters are great fun if you don’t mind his very mannered style, which seems to have been obligatory in the theatrical world!

      • Sure, not a problem, and thanks for dropping by my blog as well. It will be interesting to read something with a style different than what I’m use to reading.

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