The English-Speaking Union

Evelyn Wrench Speaker Program

MASQUERADE: the Lives of Noël Coward by Oliver Soden

MASQUERADE: the Lives of Noël Coward
by Oliver Soden

Evelyn Wrench Lecture

In Partnership with the Noël Coward Foundation

Date: March 26, 2024

VIP reception: 5:30PM

Event: 7:00PM - 8:00PM

Place: ESU National Headquarters, 144 East 39th Street

Member Ticket: $25

Non-member Ticket: $30

Register Here

Purchase book on Amazon

About the Book

The voice, the dressing-gown, the cigarette in its holder, remain unmistakeable. These were props and costumes for a series of parts that Noël Coward performed to perfection: idiosyncratic actor, wealthy playboy, wartime patriot, and national treasure. Above all he was a writer and composer, of immortal comedies and classic songs. Rarely a week passes when Private Lives, Hay Fever, or Blithe Spirit is not in production; phrases from his lyrics – "Mad About the Boy", "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" – are in the public consciousness.

Oliver Soden's sparkling and inventive biography digs beneath the legend, revealing a man both witty and grave, passionate and disenchanted. Granted exclusive and unrestricted access to Coward's unpublished diaries and correspondence, Soden has delved into private and governmental archives to narrate in more detail than ever before Coward's hair-raising espionage career – and his tumultuous, necessarily secret, love affairs. Equally at home in words and music, and with a wit and style worthy of his subject, Soden offers fresh readings of plays both familiar and forgotten, proving that Coward was not simply a "talent to amuse" but a daring and radical figure, who unveiled painful, paradoxical, truths about love, class, and sexuality. As T.S. Eliot wrote in 1954: "there are things you can learn from Noël Coward that you won't learn from Shakespeare".

Soden's unflinchingly forthright and unsparing portrait is the first serious biography of Noël Coward in a quarter of a century. Filled with archival revelations, including a multitude of lost plays, MASQUERADE gives the fullest picture yet of Coward's complex personal life.

The publication of MASQUERADE by Oliver Soden coincides with the Coward125 anniversary celebrations in March 2023 and 2024

The Evelyn Wrench Speaker Series, named for ESU founder Evelyn Wrench, provides speakers to ESU Branches throughout the United States. Wrench Speakers have been renowned historians, politicians, and authors, presenting their work for ESU members and the general public. Lectures cover a wide range of topics, including but not limited to: current events; history; language and literature; art and architecture; and travel.