Isobel English

Isobel English (pen name of June Guesdon Braybrooke, née June Guesdon Jolliffe. 9 June 1920 – 30 May 1994) was an English author.

Born in London to a Welsh father and an Australian wife, English was sent to a convent in France when she was two years old, to recuperate from tuberculosis of the spine. From 1928 to 1936, she attended a Catholic boarding school for girls in Somerset. After graduating from high school, in 1936, English started a secretarial college in London. She dropped out after two terms, and started to be tutored in literature by poet Kenneth Allott.

In 1941, English married a civil servant, Ronald Dundas Orr-Ewing, whom she had met while living in a boarding house in Kensington. In 1942, the couple had a daughter. She divorced in 1951, but never never failed to see Orr-Ewing as a mentor, and always showed him her manuscripts. In 1953, English married the writer Neville Braybrooke. In December 1953, she converted to Catholicism.

In the following year, in 1954, she published her first novel, The Key that Rusts, and, two years later, in 1956, her most famous book, Every Eye. The BBC dramatized several scene from her last novel, Four Voices (1961). Her short-story collection Life after All (1973) won the Katherine Mansfield Prize.

English was friends with writers Muriel Spark, Stevie Smith, Olivia Manning, Beryl Bainbridge, Alice Thomas Ellis, among others. Her books were greatly admired by heavyweights like Elizabeth Bowen and Anita Brookner.

Among English’s favourite authors, were Katherine Mansfield, Denton Welch, Marcel Proust, E. M. Forster, St. Theresa of Avila, D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, as well as The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous book of Christian mysticism from the late 14th century.

On the last month of her life, when asked by a group of doctors what she saw from the window, English answered: “A dim light. But there is hope in the clouds.”

She died of leukemia on May 30th, 1994.

Books

  • The Key that Rusts (1954, novel)
  • Every Eye (1956, novel)
  • Four Voices (1961, novel)
  • The Gift Book (1964, illustrated by Barbara Jones)
  • Life after All (1973, short stories)
  • Meeting Point (1976, play published in The New Review, Vol. 3, No. 29)

About her

  • Friends & friendship, by Kay Dick (1974)
  • Curriculum Vitae, by Muriel Spark (1992)
  • “Introduction”, by Neville Braybrooke, in the 2000 reissue of Every Eye.

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