Patrick O'Connor

The Strange Charisma of Stardom

Gielgud's Letters


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 564pp £20 order from our bookshop

IF JOHN GIELGUD had not made his career as an actor J and director, he might have been a writer, for his eye and ear took in everything so clearly that when he describes plays, people and events the reader is immediately there with him. The earliest letter here is a note to his mother in 1912, before he was eight, telling her that ‘Aunt Nell’ (Ellen Terry) is coming to Brighton to lecture on Shakespeare’s Women. The last – written when he was ninety-five, dying, and rather sad – is to one of his closest friends, the American academic George Pitcher; in it he affirms, ‘I think of the past with nostalgia and, as ever, much affection.’ In between, Gielgud became one of the greatest figures in twentieth-century theatre, and enjoyed life with a zest that came from remarkable energy and an unswerving belief in the theatre, not just as a profession or art, but as an essential part of humanity. Maybe that sounds pretentious, but Gielgud never is.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,