The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold (1951)

The loved and envied by Enid Bagnold

It’s widely believed that Lady Ruby MacLean, the protagonist of The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold was based on real-life Lady Diana Cooper, a famous socialite of the early 20th century. Bagnold’s fellow British writer Nancy Mitford also drew inspiration from Lady Cooper for Don’t Tell Alfred.

Though the book doesn’t much resonate with contemporary readers,  it was apparently enjoyed by a previous generation, and stands firmly in Bagnold’s modest canon. 

Lady Maclean is the character through which the theme of aging is explored, in particular, how it affects a beauty who is, as the title implies, loved and envied.  

Following is an enthusiastic review from its time; for contrast, see this contemporary review in Girl Walks into a Bookstore.


A 1951 review of The Loved and the Envied

From the original Brooklyn Daily Eagle review, February, 1951: Enid Bagnold’s The Loved and Envied was an emotional experience for me.

I felt the same charged excitement as when I read Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March, saw South Pacific soon after its opening, saw Death of a Salesman. There is the satisfaction of a thing well done — in this case, a good story, an unusual story, well told.

I have read three of the four books Miss Bagnold has written — National Velvet, probably her most popular; Door of Life, an unusual description of the experiences of pregnancy; and the book discussed here, The Loved and Envied. They are all enormously different but extremely fine. Needless to say, I intend to read the fourth, Serena Blandish.

The story of a high society beauty

The Loved and Envied is primarily the story of Lady Ruby Maclean, a fabulous beauty in high society, and her circle of admirers, which includes surprisingly even her husband and daughter. I

t’s quite difficult to write of high society — titled people with estates and the people talented enough to be sought out by them — and have the emphasis remain on the people as individuals and their emotions, not their exterior facades.

It’s difficult, too, to write of a woman whose beauty attracts so that at fifty-three, with a grown daughter, she is still the only woman in the room. Her beauty and power, moreover, are a matter of indifference to her. It’s a major undertaking to make such a spectacular, complex woman likable and understandable.

Complexity of relationships

Miss Bagnold does achieve individuality for Ruby and all the others: her aging lovers, the immediate circle about her, and the envious (often combining some love with the envy), a larger group further removed from Ruby, the center.

This individuality makes for the richness of a medieval tapestry where each person and detail on closer examination stand out, but all blend into one impressive whole as one gets perspective.

The complexity of the relationships of the individuals, as well as their initial complexity as individuals, is enriched further by Miss Bagnold’s perceptive eye and aptness of expression. (reviewed by Roslyn G. Richeck)

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More about The Loved and Envied  by Enid Bagnold

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National velvet by Enid bagnold

See  also: National Velvet by Enid Bagnold (1935)

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