An acute and socially aware novel about relationships through good times and bad, A Bonfire was Pamela Hansford Johnson's final -- and possibly most personal -- book, written in 1981, the year of her death. It tells the story of Emma, from her naive teenage years through her more reflective twenties, as she grows up in the 1920s and 1930s in London, and the characters that surround her: Emma's well-meaning, overbearing mother, the interminably gloomy Miss Plimsoll and the charismatic Stephen, with whom she falls deeply in love at the age of fifteen. A Bonfire is a warm, poignant and at times heartbreaking novel, and at its centre a coming of age story told with humour and insight.
Pamela Hansford Johnson was born in 1912 and gained recognition with her first novel, This Bed Thy Centre, published in 1935. She wrote 27 novels. Her themes centred on the moral responsibility of the individual in their personal and social relations. The fictional genres she used ranged from romantic comedy (Night and Silence, Who Is Here) and high comedy (The Unspeakable Skipton) to tragedy (The Holiday Friend) and the psychological study of cruelty (An Error of Judgement). Her last novel, A Bonfire, was published in the year of her death, 1981. She was a critic as well as a novelist and wrote books on Thomas Wolfe and Ivy Compton-Burnett; Six Proust Reconstructions (1958) confirmed her reputation as a leading Proustian scholar. She also wrote a play, Corinth House (1954), a work of social criticism arising out of the Moors Trial, On Iniquity (1967), and a book of essays, Important to Me (1974). She received honorary degrees from six universities and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was awarded the C.B.E. in 1975. Pamela Hansford Johnson, who had two children by her first marriage with journalist Gordon Neil Stewart, later married C. P. Snow. Their son Philip was born in 1952.
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