The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller
'A joy to read and re-read - the perfect match of author and subject' Hugh Massingberd, 'Books of the Year', Spectator
John Betjeman was by far the most popular poet of the twentieth century. His collected poems sold over two million copies. Television audiences loved his quirky evocations of landscape and architecture.
As Poet Laureate, he became a national icon, but behind the public man were doubts and demons. For much of his fifty year marriage to Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of a Field Marshal, Betjeman had a relationship with Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and Lady in Waiting to Princess Margaret. Betjeman, a devout Anglican, was tormented by guilt about the storms this emotional triangle caused.
This book is the first to use fully the vast archive of personal material relating to Betjeman's private life, including literally hundreds of letters written by his wife about their life together and apart. It is a celebration of a much-loved poet, a brave campaigner for architecture at risk, and a highly popular public performer.
“Wilson's forte is the character and he brilliantly conveys Betjeman's odd mixture of introspection and sociability, gaiety and melancholia, exhibition and self-disgust ... Betjeman is a poet who badly needs saving from his soppier fans, and this Wilson has done”
Lynn Barber, Daily Telegraph
“Funny, poignant and unusually well written, Wilson's biography does the old boy proud”
Jeremy Lewis, Mail on Sunday
“An A-grade demonstration of the point of Betjeman, the vast constituencies to which he appealed and the area of English life that he made his own ”
D.J. Taylor, Independent
“Terrific... [Wilson's] book zeroes in on Betjeman's struggles with his faith, which he places dead centre of the life and work, and on his family difficulties, and does so with extraordinary imaginative sympathy... Essential”
“A joy to read and re-read - the perfect match of author and subject”
Hugh Massingberd, Spectator
“I've always wanted to reach the human being behind John Betjeman's charming but evasive verse autobiography Summoned by Bells. Now, thanks to A. N. Wilson's Betjeman, I can”
Francis Beckett, New Statesman
“Beautiful, inspiring and brilliantly perceptive… The masterpiece that A.N. Wilson was born to write.”