Well, there it is ! We knew that one day we would have to close the cover of the last volume of this English family saga. And say goodbye to Rachel, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, to Louise, Polly and Clary and to all this Cazalet family which the French reader had met in the spring of 2020. It was then the first sanitary confinement, a time which seems far away where all good and copious reading was twice blessed…
“Years ago, an author and then a literary agent told me about Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923-2014, editor’s note)but I did not follow up., remembers Alice Déon, director of the Quai Voltaire editions and informed promoter of Anglo-Saxon literature. It was then necessary that a friend “brings a faded volume from the Penguin collection so that love at first sight [la] hit ! It was aboutA season in Hydra, which we immediately translated and published. »
A success beyond commercial forecasts
Another trustworthy person, the translator Cécile Arnaud, will in turn knock on Alice Déon’s door: “After barely more than thirty pages ofenglish summersI no longer had any doubt: the Cazalet saga was a treasure not to be left dormant”, says the editor. What did she particularly like? “The unprecedented precision and brilliance of the opening scene. Elizabeth Jane Howard recounts the rise of two servants one morning like any other, depicts the decor of their room, examines their little daily worries. It is in the minds of its characters and invites us to do so. »
The success ofenglish summers is dazzling, beyond commercial forecasts. After an initial print run of 5,000 copies, the book will ultimately sell for 160,000, to which should be added 120,000 of the Folio pocket version and 10,000 copies in digital form. “And, even if, as is the rule, the sales of the following opuses were more modest – from 90,000 to 55,000 -, it remains an astonishing success: 160,000 copies for a title of foreign literature whose writing is holding and abundant structure, it’s a huge score »rejoices Alice Déon.
Modest, the director of Quai Voltaire imputes “a very important part of luck” and recalls the current favor enjoyed by English historical frescoes, such as the series Downton Abbey Where The Crown. If the Cazalet saga had not already been adapted for British television in the early 2000s, the small screen or the platforms would undoubtedly seize it today with relish!
The end of an era, between nostalgia and the need to see further
The characters and themes tackled by Elizabeth Jane Howard in the 1990s – the fifth volume was published later, in 2013 – resonate with razor-sharp sagacity and relevance for the reader of the 2020s. a lot of clairvoyance and contained emotion, serious subjects such as the temptation of incest or the repression of homosexuality are embodied in complex characters, both troubled and luminous. “Not to mention this pre- and post-war atmosphere that the author knows so well how to revive, continues Alice Déon. Whether it evokes a makeshift meal prepared when deprivation was still the rule long after 1945 or the prehistoric sanitary facilities of a graciously dilapidated holiday home, Elizabeth Jane Howard says more than many scholarly works on the Second World War and its consequences. »
But it is above all the romantic force, the choral unfolding of the plot, the terribly endearing personality of both adults and children (which she makes play, talk, think, laugh and cry with a confusing naturalness) which confer her incomparable flavor to the world of Cazalet. “Even a rather unpleasant character like Edward, unfaithful, selfish, concerned about appearances, suddenly seems sympathetic to us as soon as he is a little lost or the victim of his bad choices”, assures Alice Déon. And to also insist on the vibrant and fragile figure of the young Clary or that of the very beautiful Louise, whose whims and errors of judgment allow the author to settle a few scores… with herself.
In the final volume, composed of short chapters (from the pen of a 90-year-old woman still very alert), the novelist depicts the end of an era, between nostalgia and the need to see further, wider. For the reader, it is the culmination of a journey that he now dreams of sharing with those who have not yet crossed the door of Home Place, the family country house.