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October 2018



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The Cazalet Chronicles

I’ve been spending a few days with the Cazalet family in the four books about them by Elizabeth Jane Howard: The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion and Casting Off. I’d read the books before but this was the first time I’d read the whole lot straight through. I recommend it as a treat for anyone who enjoys a family saga. It covers the years 1937 - 1947. The Cazalet family, timber merchants, live in various London houses and in the holidays at Home Place, a converted farmhouse in Sussex.

Head of the family is The Brig, or The Old Man, as his sons call him, married to the Duchy. There are three married sons, one self-sacrificing unmarried daughter and hordes of grandchildren, cousins and other relations. Mrs Cripps, the cook, is sometimes preparing food for at least twenty people and the descriptions of this are fascinating. The Light Years is probably the most enjoyable, because the happiest of the books. How carefree those pre-war years seem in retrospect by the time we reach Casting Off. The shopping! The women all buy wonderful clothes and huge amounts of stores have to be bought for Home Place. It’s also the book in which we see the cousins as children, see how much their characters are defined by their shared yet different childhoods. The books can’t be faulted for continuity; everything which happens later develops logically from the basic set-up. There’s a huge cast of characters, each clearly defined and each of whose stories one wants to know. As a story about a middle class family comfortable before the War, getting through it better than most and then facing a changed post-war world, it’s a useful social guide. It certainly tells you as much about that class at that time as Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga does about similar people in an earlier era.

When I read Slipstream, Elizabeth Jane Howard's autobiography, I realized how much of the Cazalet story was based on her own life and experiences. Louise’s marriage to Michael, for instance, seems very like EJH’s to Peter Scott. His awful mother! Louise is not a very likable character (ruthless honesty on the author’s part?) and it’s the cousins Polly and Clary who provide most of the interest. The nicest people tend to be observers who are not really part of the family, like Archie, Miss Milliment and Louise’s friend Stella. I was sorry when I came to the end of the last book.

The beautiful & elegant author



I picked up an EJH recently, only to find it was the second book of this series. So I'm waiting to get hold of the first one. Your review made me decide that I definitely want to read them! In the meantime, I'm reading (amongst several other things, of course!) The Beautiful/Lovely/Wonderful? Visit by EJH. (Sorry... It's not to hand and my memory's appalling!)
I'd hold out for reading them in order. Glad you now want to read them all!
It's The Beautiful Visit. ISTR her saying once it was influenced by reading Rosamond Lehmann.


Oops! Forgot I'm anonymous here... That was Penny, the Scottish Vegan Homemaker!


Oh, I love the Cazelets too! Had never heard of them till I watched the BBC series (I love anything with Hugh Bonneville!) and do wish they had done the whole series.

Another Hugh Bonneville fan here! Funnily enough, on my re-read I could 'see' Hugh as HB all the time, but couldn't remember any of the other characters. I was disappointed when the BBC wouldn't recommission the series.
They've been on TV? That must have been during the years when I hadn't a set. I wonder if the programmes are on DVD?
It was in 2001. See here.
The DVD seems to be one of those only available in the American version.

Yes, I was without TV then - from 1994 until 2004 (as well as all through the 1970s). I sometimes saw it at work
Hmmm - it's telling me to "reload" - whatever that means
My dear deceased father loved the first volume, but refused to read the rest, on the grounds that he'd discovered that EJH was "a bit of a Bolter". (NB that I don't myself measure my reading by the personal life of its author, and I have a huge collection of her work.)
Yes, it seems that she had a rough time at the hands of her first mother in law, Kathleen Scott, but i wonder if we would have had such marvellous reading if she hadn't bolted from three husbands?
Can't imagine why I've never read these - but your review certainly persuades me to. Something else to look forward to.
Something to lose yourself in for a while.
I've read the first two in the series, and I loved them. The last two, along with the autobiography, are languishing in the TBR stack, but I might have to move them up a bit.
How can you resist?
They are the kind of books that I like to hoard as a treat -- it makes me feel good just knowing that they are waiting for me.