James Sexton, editor
The Letters of Noël Coward.
Knopf, 800 pages, $37.50

In the very first of The Letters of Noël Coward, the eponymous epistler writes:

Darling Mother
I hope you are well. Girlie has taught me to row with two oars and I row her along. I had some little boys over yesterday afternoon to tea and I dressed up in a short dress and danced to them and sung to them and we all went round the lake and on it.
XXXXXOOOOOXO

I am writing this in the kitchen with love from Noël Coward.
He was seven and already inventing himself. The letters got longer in the years ahead but the subject matter didn’t change much: tea, dressing up, singing and dancing, though not as many boys as you might think. The snobbery was in place a mere half-decade or so later: Of some blameless lady in Wolverhampton who gave him tea and indeed the tuppenny bus...