Julian Maclaren-Ross, Selected Letters

Edited by Paul Willetts

Best known as the most flamboyant and dissolute of all the bohemians who flocked to 1940s and ‘50s Soho, Julian Maclaren-Ross was also an inimitably stylish writer. He had the rare ability to distil the detail of everyday life into vibrant stories, a skill he refined as a raconteur in pubs and clubs, and used to great effect in his letters. These range from gleeful accounts of his love life to glowering despair at his frequent poverty. 

All give a vivid sense of the life of a writer living at once on the margins of society and at the heart of London’s artistic and literary bohemia; always with his distinctive narrative voice, whether effervescently or bleakly humorous, unconsciously poignant, bad-tempered or desperate. 

Despite his rackety and chaotic life, his literary admirers – attracted by his beguiling, original and wryly amusing novels, memoirs, short stories and criticism—included Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Now a new generation has recognised him as a leading twentieth-century British writer. Selected Letters presents a revealing portrait of Maclaren-Ross’s bizarre and dramatic life: a stint as a door-to-door salesman, desertion from the army, imprisonment, homelessness, even a dangerous obsession with George Orwell’s glamorous widow. Drawing on Maclaren-Ross’s correspondence with Anthony Powell, John Lehmann and other prominent figures, this collection also offers an atmospheric evocation of the vanished literary world he inhabited, the world of rationing, basement drinking clubs and evenings punctuated by the melancholy wail of air-raid sirens.

Praise for this book

“A neglected giant of post-war literary journalism comes alive in this correspondence…”The Observer

“Far more so than many of the Attlee-era scamps and hangers-on with whom he is occasionally compared, Maclaren-Ross is literature’s solitary, embattled conscience, the man for whom the compulsion to put words on paper dwarfs all other interests and whose absorption in his craft eventually leads him to destroy himself. Symbolism aside, Selected Letters is also a work of stark historical significance.”The Guardian

“A splendid collection.”The Independent

“This handsome volume is a welcome addition to those of the collected fiction and memoirs that have already done so much to revive Maclaren-Ross’s reputation.”The Daily Telegraph

“The wreck of Maclaren-Ross’s life is everywhere in the pages of Selected Letters, presented and edited with critical zest by Paul Willetts, who seems to have single-handedly and single-mindedly recovered from the dust of oblivion the actual achievement of this haunted, troubled and self-destructive man… If you want to know the real inside story of the roots of contemporary culture… then Selected Letters takes you there.”The Daily Telegraph

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