Nigel Dennis; Satirist, Playwright and Novelist
Nigel Dennis, the dramatically satiric playwright and novelist whose book “Cards of Identity” with its fantasy and black humor won cult status among disenchanted young Britons in the 1950s, has died at the age of 77.
The award-winning novelist, playwright and reviewer, who specialized in dehumanized comedy, died Wednesday after what his family described only as a long illness.
During the early 1930s, Dennis sold clothes door to door and contributed articles to weekly periodicals. In 1934, he left Britain for the United States, where he remained until 1949. While in America he worked as secretary to the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures in New York City and as assistant editor and book review editor of the New Republic.
First Novel a Satire
His first novel, the comic satire “Boys and Girls Come Out to Play,” appeared in 1949. It was praised by reviewers but had little commercial success.
He was drama critic for the British magazine Encounter from 1960 to 1963, was joint editor of Encounter from 1967 to 1970 and meanwhile was chief book reviewer for the Sunday Telegraph of London from 1961 to 1982.
He established a reputation as one of Britain’s most incisive and amusing reviewers, once describing D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” as “that mournful, squawking, tedious little book.” He also was noted for his criticisms of “two-volume biographies of one-volume persons.”
“Cards of Identity” appeared in 1955. Satirizing high-minded pretensions and people’s craving for security, it describes a conference of the Identity Club whose aim is to rule the world by manipulating people’s personalities.
Dennis turned “Cards of Identity” into a play the following year and it was staged at London’s Royal Court Theater. His play “The Making of Moo” was staged at the Royal Court in 1957. The satire on religion drew some protests.
In 1962, the organizers of the Edinburgh Festival, the prestigious arts festival held annually in the Scottish capital, commissioned a play from him, “August for the People,” in which Rex Harrison starred. It was staged the same year at the Royal Court Theater and shown on television.
Dennis’ biography of the 18th-Century Irish satirist Jonathan Swift appeared in 1964 and won a Royal Society of Literature award.
His last novel, “A House in Order,” set during a third world war, appeared in 1966 when he won the Heinemann Award for Fiction.