When I first quit working full-time, I carried an image of myself in my head. Of wearing a dressing gown all day long, smoking a cigarette in a holder and trilling into the phone, “But how wonderful darling!”
It was an image I had carried through many years of horrendous service to the greedy god of commerce and it was born from what I had read of Noel Coward and what I thought would be my life of literature & leisure.
“Why”, asked Coward, “am I always expected to wear a dressing-gown, smoke cigarettes in a long holder and say ‘Darling, how wonderful’?” He first wore a dressing gown onstage in The Vortex and used the fashion in several of his other famous plays, including Private Lives and Present Laughter. In connection with the National Theatre’s 2008 exhibition, The Independent commented, “His famous silk, polka-dot dressing gown and elegant cigarette holder both seem to belong to another era.”
I so badly wanted to belong to another era. But that is not why Pomp and Circumstance is this volume’s recommended title which I read every now and again especially when I am suffering from a bad bout of Byronic melancholy. [Note how we always find some noteworthy soul to ascribe our everyday moods to].
‘First published in 1960, reissued in paperback in 1982, now out of print but not at all difficult to find in used copies, Noël Coward‘s first and only novel is a small gem. It must have caught everyone by surprise when it appeared. Coward was in his early 60s and really didn’t need to go to the trouble. He was one of the world’s most famous and beloved entertainers, the author of dozens of plays and hundreds of songs, an actor of surprisingly broad range and a hugely popular cabaret performer. That he actually wanted to write a novel at this stage of his life is remarkable; that he found the time and energy to do it is even more so.
But write it he did. It is called “Pomp and Circumstance” and it is Coward to the core: a deliciously witty and ingenious entertainment that puts on full display his “talent to amuse” (his own phrase, from the song “If Love Were All”) and his deep affection for distant, exotic and preferably sun-drenched parts of the world. It was received with considerable enthusiasm when it appeared, and — this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows Coward’s work — holds up very well indeed after half a century.
Read Jonathan Yardley on this rather splendid novel at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/22/AR2009102204449.html