The Magazine

Mum's the Word

John Osborne's rebellion began in the cradle.

May 7, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 32 • By EDWARD SHORT
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So what can be said about this impossible, gifted, unhappy man? Heilpern sums up matters rather lamely in an otherwise insightful biography by saying that "his cause was always the triumphant domain of the English language where words alone are certain good and man grapples with defeat and sadness." Osborne himself was nearer the mark when he said: "At least a man who hates his mother has a standard of excellence in mind." Like Archie Rice, the down-at-the-heels vaudevillian played so brilliantly by Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer, John Osborne could never resist seeing his life as a bad Music Hall gag.

Edward Short's forthcoming book on John Henry Newman and his contemporaries will be published by Continuum.