Obituary: E. J. Oliver

Edward James Oliver, writer, born London 1911, married 1934 Betty Cowen (died 1981; two daughters), died Southampton 7 December 1992.

E. J. OLIVER, the novelist, essayist and journalist, was born in 1911 into a solid middle-class family whom he loved but from whose values he spent much of his life escaping.

Jimmy Oliver became a Roman Catholic while an undergraduate at Oxford and then became a writer instead of entering the professions - though he did put in a short stint at the publishers Sheed & Ward, and on the staff of the Catholic weekly the Tablet, both situated in Paternoster Row in the City of London. It was in this Thirties period that I first met him. I see him walking down Ludgate Hill to have lunch under the arches at Shirreffs, his handsome looks adorned by a bowler and a cane, having risen from a desk where Cervantes or Racine, Baudelaire or Eugenio d'Ors would have been his reading matter.

His novels reflect a duality in his nature. His first, Honeymoonshine (1936), tells the story of an Englishman in Paris falling in love with a beautiful woman of French- English extraction, who, on their honeymoon, reveals Europe to him (significantly, his name is James). Whether in Marseilles, Barcelona, Rome, on a Greek island, on the Danube, in Transylvania, or back in England, she incarnates the spririt of the place in fantastic ways for his instruction. Yet in Not Long to Wait (1949) we are centred firmly in London where an innocent boy from the Welsh dales is trying to make his way as a waiter in shady Soho. Oliver's third and last novel, The Clown (1951), begins with Tommy, aged 10, being taken, spellbound, to his first pantomime, Aladdin, in 1921, and ends 30 years later with Tommy playing Widow Twankey in the same pantomime. For, in the meantime, and to his conventional family's dismay, he has become a music-hall artist.

During the war Oliver served in Field Security, the Intelligence Corps, from 1940 to 1942, had a motorcycle accident and was hospitalised in 1943, then worked for the BBC European Service from 1944 to 1948. He used to tell the story of how, in applying for this job and still reeling from the breakdown following his accident, he said, 'The trouble is, I'm rather mad,' to which his interviewer replied, 'That's fine, you can go into our Yugoslav section.'

In the late Fifties Oliver wrote three biographical studies: one of Coventry Patmore (1956) with especial reference to The Angel in the House, Patmore's marriages and his conversion to Catholicism; the next of Gibbon (1958), with special reference to his attitude to Rome; and the third of Balzac (1959), for whom his admiration knew no bounds.

Jimmy Oliver also wrote reviews and articles, mostly, latterly, for the Tablet and the Chesterton Review. I pick out the title of an article of his in the second of these publications: 'Paradise in Chesterton, Giraudoux and Ramon Gomez de la Serna'. There you have him.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there