In this quarter’s literary podcast, coinciding with the revival of her play Dear Octopus at the National Theatre in London, Dodie’s biographer Valerie Grove joins the Slightly Foxed Editors and new presenter Rosie Goldsmith at the kitchen table to talk about the life and work of ‘little Dodie Smith’ as she always thought of herself, who started writing a journal at the age of 8 and continued every day until she was 90.
Dodie’s father died when she was a baby, and she grew up among her mother’s family – an experience she brilliantly recalled in Look Back with Love. The Furbers doted on Dodie and were the jolliest family imaginable. Above all they loved the theatre, and it was through her uncles’ involvement in amateur dramatics that Dodie conceived her passion for the stage, leading her to RADA in 1914 where she began her actor training. After years of struggle to make a name for herself in bleak suburban theatres, in 1923 she took a job at Heals, the furniture emporium, where she had a lengthy affair with its director, Ambrose Heal. There she met Alec Beesley, who became her devoted husband and manager, and sold her first play, Autumn Crocus, which launched her career as a playwright. Success followed, along with a charming cottage in Essex, fur coats, first nights, glittering friends, a Rolls-Royce and the arrival of Dodie’s first Dalmatian.
Then it was off to America where she and Alec, a conscientious objector, spent the Second World War, joining a literary circle that included Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley. But Dodie was terribly homesick, and when they returned it was to a different England where her drawing-room comedies were seen as out of date. Yet it was Dodie’s exile that produced her best loved work. Her nostalgia for England permeates I Capture the Castle, and the book brought late success to the writer who said of herself: ‘I think I’m an oddity really, but I do my very best to write well’ – which she certainly did.
We end with a round-up of New Year reading recommendations, including a recent biography of the poet John Donne, Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell, and The Last English King by Julian Rathbone, a historical novel set in the years before the Battle of Hastings.
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Please find links to books, articles, and further reading listed below. The digits in brackets following each listing refer to the minute and second they are mentioned. (Episode duration: 58 minutes; 27 seconds)
Slightly Foxed, Issue 81 (1:50)
Joanna Rakoff, My Salinger Year (2:01)
Adrian Bell, A Countryman’s Summer Notebook (2:44)
Dodie Smith, Dear Octopus is out of print (4:50)
Valerie Grove, Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith is out of print (7:26)
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (7:30)
Dodie Smith, The Hundred and One Dalmatians (7:34)
Dodie Smith, Look Back with Love (10:59)
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (28:43)
Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite (49:21)
Julian Rathbone, Kings of Albion is out of print (52:08)
Julian Rathbone, The Last English King (52:33)
Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major by Bach
Hosted by Rosie Goldsmith
Produced by Philippa Goodrich
Dodie Smith with her husband, Alec, and their Dalmatians
Dodie Smith: Quaint Clothes for Queer Customers
Julian Rathbone, author of Gail’s reading recommendation, The Last English King.
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