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Cult Novelist Nigel Dennis Dies

July 21, 1989

LONDON (AP) _ Nigel Dennis, 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 died Wednesday after what his family described only as a long illness.

Born in 1912, Dennis went with his family to live in what was then Southern Rhodesia when his father, a lieutenant-colonel in the British Army, who died in 1918. He completed his education at Odenwaldschule, a progressive establishment in Germany, where he showed early literary talent.

During the early 1930s, he sold clothes from door to door and contributed articles to weekly periodicals. In 1934, he left Britain for the United States, where he remained until 1949.

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.

While in New York, Dennis helped translate the works of Austrian psychologist Alfred Adler, worked as a movie censor, and became an assistant editor of the leftist magazine New Republic.

From 1940 to 1958, he was staff book reviewer for Time magazine, working in the magazine’s London office from 1949 to 1958.

He was dramatic 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. He once described D.H. Lawrence’s famous 1928 novel ″Lady Chatterley’s Lover″ as ″that mournful, squawking, tedious little book″ and was critical 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, then at the height of its reputation for staging audacious, thought-provoking plays.

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.

In 1971, Dennis published a short ″Essay on Malta,″ the Mediterranean island where he went to live soon after giving up the joint editorship of Encounter.

Twice married, he is survived by his second wife and their two daughters. A funeral will be held Monday.

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