C. A. Lejeune
She was born in Manchester, youngest of a large Victorian family. Her father was a Swiss cotton merchant who had come to England from Frankfurt, and her mother Louisa was the daughter of the non-conformist minister Dr Alexander Maclaren. The family home was at 10, Wilmslow Road, Withington; Caroline Herford, headmistress of Lady Barn House School was her godmother. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and Withington Girls' School, she turned down the opportunity to go to Oxford University and instead went to Manchester University to study English language and literature. Her mother was a friend of C. P. Scott and of Caroline Herford; they were three of the four founders of Withington Girls' School at which Caroline and four of her sisters (Franziska, Marion, Juliet and Hélène) were educated.
Journalism and other writing
Due mainly to her mother's friendship with C. P. Scott, she soon began writing for the Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) as a music critic. Her main interests at first were Gilbert and Sullivan, Verdi and Puccini, but she was increasingly excited by the new medium of the cinema, and began writing a weekly column for the paper called "The Week on the Screen" from 1922. She moved to London in 1921 and after marrying Edward Rolfe Thompson, who at one point was editor of John Bull, in 1925, she moved to Pinner Hill, Middlesex. She left the Manchester Guardian for The Observer in 1928, where she was to remain for the next 32 years, although she also contributed to journals as diverse as The New York Times and Farmers' Weekly. In the post-war years, she was also a television critic for a time, and she adapted books such as the Sherlock Holmes stories for the 1951 BBC Sherlock Holmes television series, Clementina and The Three Hostages as television serials.
Long compared to Dilys Powell, who wrote for The Sunday Times for much of the time that Lejeune wrote for The Observer, Lejeune's work has perhaps worn less well than Powell's. The writer and critic Brian McFarlane has gone so far as to say that "read now, [Lejeune] seems to have had no feeling for cinema at all" and that she "simply never seemed to take the cinema seriously, as if it were not an art form to compare with others". This is understandable for the time — it is very much in tune with the zeitgeist of an age when "les films d'art et d'essai" were very much a minority intellectual interest and "la politique des auteurs" was not as influential as it was to become.
In the post-war years, Lejeune became increasingly disillusioned by various trends in the cinema. Shortly after expressing her disgust at Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, she resigned from The Observer following the release of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in 1960. Subsequently, she completed Angela Thirkell's unfinished last novel, Three Score Years and Ten (1961) and wrote her autobiography Thank You For Having Me (1964). She also wrote an early book on the subject of Cinema (1931), and her film reviews are anthologised in Chestnuts in her Lap (1947) and posthumously in The C. A. Lejeune Film Reader, edited by her son Anthony Lejeune (1991).
C. A. Lejeune died at the age of 76 in 1973: a resident of Pinner, Middlesex for over forty years. Peter Sellers said of her that "her kindness, her complete integrity and her qualities as an observer and a commentator have gained her the unqualified admiration of my profession. She respects integrity in others and has no harsh word for anyone whose honest efforts end in failure. Everything she has written, I am sure, has come as much from her heart as her head, and the high quality of her writing, and the standard of film-making she encourages, have made her work a part of cinema history".
- Lejeune, C. A. (1964) Thank You for Having Me. London: Hutchinson (autobiography)