Margaret Kennedy

Margaret Moore Kennedy (23 April 1896 – 31 July 1967) was an English novelist and playwright. Her most successful work, as a novel and as a play, was The Constant Nymph. She was a productive writer and several of her works were made into films. Three of her novels were reprinted in 2011.

Margaret Kennedy
Born(1896-04-23)23 April 1896
Hyde Park Gate, London, England, United Kingdom
Died31 July 1967(1967-07-31) (aged 71)
United Kingdom

Family and education

Margaret Kennedy was born in Hyde Park Gate, London, the eldest of the four children of Charles Moore Kennedy (1857–1934), a barrister, and his wife Ellinor Edith Marwood (1861–1928). The novelist Joyce Cary was a cousin on her father's side.

She attended Cheltenham Ladies' College, where she began writing, and then went up to Somerville College, Oxford in 1915 to read history. Other literary contemporaries at Somerville College included Winifred Holtby, Vera Brittain, Hilda Reid, Naomi Mitchison and Sylvia Thompson. Her first publication was a history book, A Century of Revolution (1922). Margaret Kennedy was married on 20 June 1925 to the barrister David Davies (1889–1964), who later became a county-court judge and a national insurance commissioner. He was knighted in 1952. They had a son and two daughters, one of whom was the novelist Julia Birley,[1] born 13 May 1928 and the author of at least 13 novels published between 1968 and 1985. The novelist Serena Mackesy is her granddaughter. Margaret Kennedy died at a friend's house at Adderbury, Oxfordshire on 31 July 1967.

Novels and plays

Margaret Kennedy is best appreciated today for her second novel, The Constant Nymph, which she adapted into a highly successful West End play that opened at the New Theatre, with Noël Coward and Edna Best in September 1926. Coward was replaced by John Gielgud during the run.[2] It was also successfully filmed in 1928 by Adrian Brunel and Alma Reville, directed by Brunel and Basil Dean, and starring Ivor Novello, Mabel Poulton and Benita Hume,[3] and again in 1933,[4] 1938 (for television),[5] and 1943.[6]

Kennedy's first novel had been The Ladies of Lyndon (1923). Among her later successes were The Fool of the Family (1930), a sequel to The Constant Nymph, and the psychological novel A Long Time Ago (1932). The Midas Touch (1938) was a Daily Mail book of the month, The Feast (1950) a Literary Guild choice in the United States, and Troy Chimneys (1953) the winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The darkly humorous The Heroes of Clone (1957) drew on Kennedy's experience as a screenplay writer. She also published a biography of Jane Austen and a study of the art of fiction, Outlaws on Parnassus.

Kennedy followed the stage success of The Constant Nymph (adapted in conjunction with Basil Dean) with three more co-written plays. The most successful was Escape Me Never (1934), adapting The Fool of the Family, which was also filmed twice.[7]

Of her postwar novels, The Feast (1950) introduces the disaster first and the characters who may or may not have perished in it afterwards, as in Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey. The seaside hotel annihilated by the collapse of the cliff is replete with dysfunctional characters of all ages and sizes, so providing a fine balance of suspense, sympathy and even humour. Still, it works on other levels too. Her novelist granddaughter Serena Mackesy has called it "one of the cleverest bits of metaphor-working ever."[8] It was recently reprinted, as were Lucy Carmichael (1951) and The Midas Touch.[9] Her final novel, Not in the Calendar: The Story of a Friendship, involves a friendship between a daughter of a wealthy family and the deaf daughter of one of their servants.

Kennedy's family donated her papers and correspondence to Somerville College Library.[10]

Partial bibliography


  • A Century of Revolution 1789–1920 ([London]: Methuen, 1922), history.
  • The Ladies of Lyndon (London: Heinemann, 1923), novel.
  • The Constant Nymph (London: Heinemann, 1924; Leipzig), novel.
  • With Basil Dean: The Constant Nymph - from the novel (London: Heinemann, 1926), play.
  • A Long Week-End (London: Heinemann, 1927), limited e. of short magazine story.[12]
  • Red Sky at Morning (London: Heinemann, 1927), novel.
  • With Basil Dean: Come with Me (London: Heinemann, 1928), play.
  • Dewdrops (London: Heinemann, 1928), limited e. of short girls' school story.[13]
  • The Game and the Candle (London: Heinemann, 1928), limited e. of short magazine story.[14]
  • The Fool of the Family (London: Heinemann, 1930), novel, sequel to The Constant Nymph.
  • Return I Dare Not (London: Heinemann, 1931), novel
  • A Long Time Ago (London: Heinemann, 1932), novel.
  • Escape Me Never! A play in three acts (London: Heinemann, 1934), dramatization of The Fool of the Family.
  • Together and Apart (London: Cassell, 1936), novel.
  • With Gregory Ratoff: Autumn (1937), play.
  • The Midas Touch (London: Cassell, 1938), novel.
  • Happy with Either (1948), play.
  • The Mechanized Muse. P. E. N. series (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1942), on the cinema.
  • The Feast (London: Cassell, 1950), novel.
  • Lucy Carmichael (London: Macmillan, 1951), novel.
  • Jane Austen. Novelists Series No. 1 (London: Barker, 1950), biography/criticism.
  • Troy Chimneys (London: Macmillan, 1953), novel.
  • The Oracles (London: Macmillan, 1955), novel.
  • The Heroes of Clone (London: Macmillan, 1957), novel.
  • The Outlaws on Parnassus. On the art of the novel (London: Cresset Press, 1958), criticism.
  • A Night in Cold Harbour (London: Macmillan, 1960), novel.
  • The Forgotten Smile (London: Macmillan, 1961), novel.
  • Not in the Calendar: The Story of a Friendship (London: Macmillan, 1964), novel.
  • Women at Work (London: Macmillan, 1966), two novellas.

Selected filmography


  1. ODNB entry. Retrieved 23 March 2011. Subscription required. A Julia Birley bibliography: Retrieved 24 March 2011.
  2. ODNB entry. A French translation entitled Tessa by Jean Giraudoux appeared in 1924: Retrieved 24 March 2011l.
  3. "The Constant Nymph (1928)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  4. "The Constant Nymph (1933)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  5. "The Constant Nymph (1938)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  6. "The Constant Nymph (1943)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
  7. ODNB entry. IMDB: (1935); Retrieved 24 March 2011. (1947).
  8. Mackesy's website: Retrieved 2 April 2011. Archived 27 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  9. As The Feast (London: Faber, 2011). ISBN 978-0-571-27810-7; Lucy Carmichael (London: Faber, 2011) ISBN 978-0-571-27799-5; The Midas Touch (London: Faber, 2011). ISBN 978-0-571-27526-7.
  10. "Special Collections". Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  11. Details mainly from the British Library Integrated Catalogue: Retrieved 9 April 2011. The list includes works published as by Mrs. David Davies Kennedy. Other information: Retrieved 9 April 2011. The source is referenced.
  12. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  13. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
  14. Retrieved 9 April 2011.
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