Julian Maclaren-Ross, well known in his own lifetime and unfairly neglected after it, is now getting the attention he deserves. None of his letters have ever been published, and this collection comes out of extensive research and selection by Paul Willetts, Maclaren-Ross’s biographer, the authority on the writer.
Despite his rackety and chaotic life, his literary admirers – attracted by his beguiling, original and wryly amusing novels, memoirs, short stories and criticism – included Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Now a new generation has recognised him as a leading twentieth-century British writer. Selected Letters presents a revealing portrait of Maclaren-Ross’s bizarre and dramatic life: a stint as a door-to-door salesman, desertion from the army, imprisonment, homelessness, even a dangerous obsession with George Orwell’s glamorous widow. Drawing on Maclaren-Ross’s correspondence with Anthony Powell, John Lehmann and other prominent figures, this collection also offers a vivid evocation of the vanished literary world he inhabited, the world of rationing, basement drinking clubs and evenings punctuated by the melancholy wail of air-raid sirens. Best known as the most flamboyant and dissolute of all the bohemians who flocked to 1940s and ’50s Soho, Julian Maclaren-Ross was also an inimitably stylish writer. He had the rare ability to distil the detail of everyday life into vibrant stories, a skill he refined as a raconteur in pubs and clubs, and used to great effect in his letters. These range from gleeful accounts of his love life to glowering despair at his frequent poverty. All give a vivid sense of the life of a writer living at once on the margins of society and at the heart of London’s artistic and literary bohemia; always with his distinctive narrative voice, whether effervescently or bleakly humorous, unconsciously poignant, bad-tempered or desperate.