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Noël Coward

He was a master of the flimsy trifle, but 100 years after his birth the best of them still flourish

By Paul Bailey   45

“He is the Congreve of our day,” Arnold Bennett remarked of Noël Coward after seeing the first production of Private Lives in 1930. Coward, who was never really at ease with either Elizabethan or Restoration comedy, may not have welcomed this judgement-yet it seems, now, to be the right one. The reviews Bennett contributed to the New Age and the London Evening Standard testify to his skill as a predictor of literary survival; his valuations of Swinburne and Chekhov being particularly farsighted. Bennett treated Private Lives with respect, unlike most of the critics, who complained of its “brittleness” and “thinness.”…

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