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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most