Pamela Hansford Johnson Centenary

17 August 2012

 

In all, Pamela Hansford Johnson wrote 27 novels, and our sister imprint Bello is republishing eighteen of them. Her first novel, This Bed Thy Centre, was published in 1935 when she was only 23. It received mixed reviews, was, according to one source, banned from her local library but ultimately it sold well and Pamela received warm encouragement from the influential literary critic, Cyril Connolly.

Her writing ranged across most fictional genres, from romantic comedy to high comedy, tragedy, literary satire and powerful studies of psychological cruelty. Her themes often centred on the moral responsibility of the individual in their personal and social relations.

Paul Bailey, novelist and critic, writes:

 

At her best - in The Last Resort (1956) and The Humbler Creation (1959) - she writes of desperate, unfulfilled lives with a painful insight that is invariably expressed with casual wit. Yet there is a madder, more carefree side to her talent, which comes to the fore in the rich comedy of  The Unspeakable Skipton (1959). Its central character is based on Frederick William Rolfe, the deeply eccentric author of Hadrian V11, who renamed himself Baron Corvo after being expelled from the Scots College in Rome, where he had been training for the priesthood. Rolfe is a 'gift' for an imaginative novelist, and it is one that Pamela Hansford Johnson accepted happily. The fictional poet Dorothy Merlin, who likes to move in what might be called louche circles, is caught up in the adventures. She re-appears in Night and Silence! Who is Here? (1963) and Cork Street, Next to the Hatter's (1965), the other two jeux d'esprit she produced in her mellow and confident maturity.  

 

Pamela Hansford Johnson was born in London to a theatrical family.  Her father died when she was eleven; Pamela left school at the age of sixteen, took a secretarial course and worked at the Central Hanover Bank and Trust Company. Her poems were first published by Victor Neuburg and in 1933 she came into contact with Dylan Thomas, to whom, some people have suggested, she was briefly engaged. You can read about their friendship in her own words in Important to Me.

In 1936 she married the journalist Gordon Neil Stewart, with whom she had two children.   In 1950 she married the novelist CP SnowThey had one son, Philip, together. She was awarded the CBE for her services to literature in 1975.

Her last novel, A Bonfire, was published in 1981, the year of her death.  It is perhaps her most personal and socially aware novel about relationships through good times and bad.     

Bello is Pan Macmillan's digital only imprint, established to revive classic and out of print titles as ebooks and in print-on-demand paperback.

Why Bello? Because Bello is an African footballer, Spanish intellectual, Venezuelan poet and American bass guitarist as well as a big and beautiful modern font, and the way an Italian expresses admiration: Bello is hidden talent discovered - and admired!

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2012 marks the centenary of the prolific novelist, poet, playwright and literary critic, Pamela Hansford Johnson.