Elizabeth Taylor

Born in Reading, Berkshire in 1912. Died in 1975.

(At the moment, I give the title, year of publication, publisher, ISBN, and the blurb that appears on the edition I have.


* At Mrs Lippincote's (1945, Peter Davies; 1988, Virago Press, with an autobiographical sketch [ISBN: 0 86068 538 1])
"`When he had married Julia, he had thought her woefully ignorant of the world; had looked forward, indeed, to assisting in her development. But she had been grown up all the time; or, at least, she had not changed'

"Mrs Lippincote's house, with its mahogany furniture and yellowing photographs, stands as a reminder of earlier securities. This is to be the temporary home of Julia, who has joined her husband Roddy at the RAF's behest; of their young son Oliver, and Eleanor, Roddy's cousin. Here Julia must be mother and above all, officer's wife, for Roddy, that `leader of men', requires that fulfil her role impeccably. Julia accepts the pomposities of service life, but her honesty and sense of humour prevent her from taking her role too seriously. And in her easy friendship with the Wing Commander and her allegiance with the raffish Mr Taylor, Julia expresses a sensitivity unknown to those closest to her. Others may chafe at Julia's behaviour, but it is they - not she - who practice hypocrisy."
* Palladian (1946, Peter Davies; Virago Press, with an introduction by Paul Bailey)
(I haven't read this yet, and don't have a copy.)
* A View of the Harbour (1947, Peter Davies; 1987, Virago Press, with an afterword by Robert Liddell [ISBN: 0 86068 543 8])
"`Are we to go on until we are old, with just these odd moments here and there and danger always so narrowly evaded? Love draining away our vitality, our hold on life, never adding anything to us'

"Passion intrudes into the dull, predictable world of a faded coastal resort when Tory, recently divorced, begins an affair with her neighbour Robert, the local doctor. His wife Beth, Tory's best friend, writes successful melodramatic novels, oblivious to household chores and the relationship developing next door. But their daughter Prudence is aware and is appalled by Robert and Tory's treachery. The resolution of these painful matters is conveyed with wit and compassion, as are the restricted lives of other characters: the refreshingly coarse Mrs Bracey, the young widow Lily Wilson, and the self-deceiving Bertram. In this enchanting and devastatingly well-observed novel, first published in 1947, Elizabeth Taylor again draws an unforgettable picture of love, loss, and the keeping up of appearances."
* A Wreath of Roses (1949, Peter Davies; 1994, Virago Press, with an introduction by Candia McWilliam [ISBN: 0 85381 684 1])
"`"We go on for years at a jog-trot," Frances said, "and then suddenly we are beset with doubts, the landscape darkens, we feel lost and alone"'

"Spending the holiday with friends, as she has for many years, Camilla finds that their private absorptions - Frances with he painting and Liz with her baby - seem to exclude her from the gossipy intimacies of previous summers. Anxious that she will remain encased in her solitary life as a school secretary, Camilla steps into an unlikely liaison with Richard Elton, a handsome, assured - and dangerous - liar. Replete with the subtle wit that is her hallmark, and a tender and perfectly evoked portrait of friendship between women, A Wreath of Roses is nonetheless Elizabeth Taylor's darkest novel: an astute exploration of the fear of loneliness and its emotional armour."
* A Game of Hide and Seek (1951, Peter Davies; 1986, Virago Press and Penguin Books, with an introduction by Elizabeth Jane Howard [ISBN: 0 14 016137 6])
"`"I see why you married him. It was sensible of you. It was the best thing you could do, after all. People do marry because they are frightened."'

"During those summer games of hide-and-seek Harriet falls in love with Vesey and his elusive, teasing ways. When he goes to Oxford she cherishes his photograph and waits for the letter which doesn't come. Then Charles enters her life, a solid and reliable solicitor, and Harriet stifles her imaginings. With Charles and their daughter, she excels at respectability: its crimson-papered walls, remembered birthdays, and jars of lilac. But when Vesey reappears, her marriage seems to melt into nothing. Harriet is older, it is much too late, but she is still in love with him. First published in 1958, this is Elizabeth Taylor's subtlest and finest work."
* The Sleeping Beauty (1953, Peter Davies; 1982, Virago Press, with an introduction by Susannah Clapp [ISBN: 0 86068 262 5])
"`To win Emily now appeared to be the great task, the meaning, of his life...'

"Vinny Tumulty is a quiet, sensible man. When he goes to stay at a small English seaside resort his task is to comfort a bereaved friend, Isabella. A past master at sympathy, Vinny looks forward to a solemn few days of tears and consolation. Then, on the evening of his arrival, he looks out of the window at sunset and catches sight of a mysterious, romantic figure: a beautiful woman walking by the seashore. Before the week is over Vinny has fallen in love, completely and utterly, for the first time in his middle-aged life. But Emily is a sleeping beauty, her secluded life hiding bitter secrets from the past. How can this unlikely Prince Charming break the spell and rouse her from her dreams? First published in 1953, this is one of Elizabeth Taylor's most romantic novels, a love story, and typical too of her great talents in its quiet observation and delicate, ironic perception."
* Angel (1957, Peter Davies; 1987, Virago Press, with an introduction by Paul Bailey [ISBN: 0 86068 355 9])
"`"I am writing a novel." Under the bedclothes her fists were clenched and pressed against he thighs. She felt ferocity towards him, as if he had already laughed at her. "I am going to be a novelist," she said'

"Angelica Deverell is fifteen years old at the turn of the century. She is the daughter of a widow who keeps a grocery shop in a dreary provincial backstreet, working hard to pay for Angel's education so she can `better herself'. But Angel rejects the drabness of her daily life and, retreating into a world of romantic dreams, she begins to write stories remarkable for their extravagance and fantasy. To those around her it is simply folie de grandeur, but Angel knows better... She knows she is different, that she will grow up to be a feted authoress, owner of great riches and of the mysterious Paradise House...

"First published in 1957, this is Elizabeth Taylor's tour de force, a novel quite different from her other work. An extraordinary tale of the rise and fall of a popular, eccentric novelist it brilliantly evokes the life of that most famous writer of romances, Marie Corelli."
* In a Summer Season (1961, Peter Davies; 1983, Virago Press, with an introduction by Susannah Clapp [ISBN: 0 86068 350 8])
"`"You taste of rain," he said, kissing her. "People say I married her for her money," he thought contentedly, and for the moment was full of the self- respect that loving her had given him'

"Kate Heron is a wealthy charming widow who marries a man ten years her junior: the attractive, feckless Dermot. They live in commuter country, an hour from London. Theirs is an unconventional marriage, but a happy one. Their special love arms them against the disapproval of conservative friends and neighbours -- until the return of Kate's old friend Charles, intelligent, kind, now widowed with a beautiful daughter. Happily, she watches as their two families are drawn together, finding his presence reassuringly familiar. But then one night she dreams a strange and sensual dream: a dream that disturbs the calm surface of their friendship -- foreshadowing dramas fate holds in store for them all.

"First published in 1961, this is one of Elizabeth Taylor's finest novels in which, in a moving and powerful climax, she reveals human loving to be the thing it is: beautiful, tragic, and often piercingly funny."
* The Soul of Kindness (1964, Chatto & Windus; 1983, Virago Press, with an introduction by Paul Bailey [ISBN: 0 86068 345 1])
"`"Here I am!" Flora called to Richard as she went downstairs. For a second, Meg felt disloyalty. It occurred to her of a sudden that Flora was always saying that, and that it was in the tone of one giving a lovely present. She was bestowing herself.'

"The soul of kindness is what Flora believes herself to be. Tall, blonde, and as beautiful as a Botticelli painting, she appears to have everything under control -- her comfortable St John's Wood home, her baby, her husband Richard, her all-too-loyal friend Meg, Meg's brother Kit who has always adored Flora, and Patrick the novelist and domestic pet. Only the bohemian painter Liz refuses to become a worshipper at the shrine. Flora entrances them all, dangling visions of happiness and success before their spellbound eyes. All are bewitched by this golden tyrant, all conspire to protect her from what she really is. All, that is, except the clear-eyed Liz: it is left to her to show them that Flora's kindness is the sweetest poison of them all.

"In this novel, first published in 1964, with wit and gentle malice Elizabeth Taylor skilfully and subtly demonstrates the terrible danger of self-love, most deadly to those who live within its shadow."
* The Wedding Group (1968, Chatto & Windus; 1985, Virago Press, with an introduction by Elizabeth Jane Howard [ISBN: 0 86068 551 9])
"`"You know," Midge began, and paused. She was rather taken aback, and could not at once think of anything to say. "Perhaps there's nothing so dangerous as having led a sheltered life."'

"Cressy has grown up in an artistic community, presided over by her eccentric Grandfather, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Augustus John. Rebelling against this existence she leaves home, taking a job in an antique shop. Here she meets David, a self-satisfied journalist, and they marry. But as Cressy cannot fend for herself, and David is securely tied to his mother's apron strings, this act of escape for both of them proves a powerful form of bondage. First published in 1968, this quietly ironic exploration of the ways in which the parental mould is not easily broken, is one of Elizabeth Taylor's most ambitious novels. Combining fresh observation with disinterested understanding, it is `a beautifully telling comedy by one of our foremost novelists' - Angus Wilson."
* Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971, Chatto & Windus; 1982, Virago Press, with an introduction by Paul Bailey [ISBN: 0 86068 263 3])
"`Ludo thought of the man, her husband, who had had to woo her in those far-off days, and wondered at his courage. The spirit of the Empire-builders. He'd gone battling on, undaunted, and got someone brave and staunch'

"One rainy Sunday in January Mrs Palfrey, recently widowed, arrives at the Claremont Hotel in the Cromwell Road. Here she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are a magnificently eccentric group who live off crumbs of affection, obsessive interest in the relentless round of hotel meals, and undying curiosity. There is Mrs Burton with her mauve-rinsed hair, her costume jewellery, and her drinking; Mrs Arbuthnot, bossy and arthritic; Mr Osmond with his risque stories, his endless stream of letters to the press. Together, upper lips stiffened, teeth gritted, they fight off their twin enemies: boredom and the grim Reaper. And then one day Mrs Palfrey encounters the handsome young writer, Ludo, and we learn that even the old can fall in love...

"Elizabeth Taylor [...] is the Jane Austen of this century: her canvas small but wonderfully observed, witty, and profound. Published to great acclaim in 1971, shortlisted for the Booker McConnell Prize of that year, Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is a precise, sympathetic, and moving novel which takes a humorous yet compassionate look at the small world of those for whom there is a long past but little future."

(I'm not sure but that this isn't my favourite of E.T.'s novels.)
* Blaming (1976, Chatto & Windus; 1992, Virago Press, with an introduction by her daughter, Joanna Kingham [ISBN: 0 86068 777 5])
"`What a stifling little world it was, of a love affair gone wrong, of sleeping pills and contraceptives, tars, immolation; a woman on her own'

"In this, her last novel, published a year after her death, Elizabeth Taylor, with a scrutiny that is at once compassionate and devastating, examines blaming -- of oneself, of circumstance, of others.

"When Amy's husband dies on holiday, she is supported by Martha, a young American novelist whose acquaintance Amy is ungratefully reluctant to maintain on their return to England. But the skeins of their existence seem inextricably linked, as grief gives way to resilience and again to tragedy. Reversals of fortune and a compelling cast of characters, including Ernie, ex-sailor turned housekeeper, and Amy's wonderfully precocious granddaughters, add spice to a novel that delights even as it unveils uncomfortable emotions."

One of my favourite passages:
To the children, first thing next morning, Maggie said, "I'm afraid dear Grandpa has died."
"And gone to heaven," Isobel said, as if her mother had left something out.
Maggie slightly inclined her head, not to be caught telling a lie by the God she didn't believe in.
"And-Gone-To-Heaven." Isobel shouted, standing up, outraged, in her little bed.
"Yes, of course."
"Not everyone goes to heaven," Dora, who was older, said. "Egyptian mummies didn't go. Or stuffed fishes."
"No, fishes never go," Isobel agreed. "Sometimes I eat them. Chickens can't go, nor."
"I don't really know about heaven," Dora said in her considering way. "We haven't done that in school yet. But I know they must go somewhere, or we'd be too full up here. People coming and going all the time."
"Being born," said Isobel.
"Well I'm afraid you won't see Grandpa again," Maggie said, thinking that her message was being lost in vague conjecture.

Short Stories

* Hester Lilly (1954, Peter Davies; 1990, Virago Press, with an introduction by A.L. Barker [ISBN: 0 86068 612 4])
  • Hester Lilly
  • "Taking Mother Out"
  • Spry Old Character
  • First Death of Her Life
  • Gravement Endommage
  • The Idea of Age
  • Nods & Becks & Wreathed Smiles
  • A Sad Garden
  • Shadows of the World
  • The Light of Day
  • Swan-Moving
  • A Red-Letter Day
  • The Beginning of a Story
  • Oasis of Gaiety
  • Plenty Good Fiesta
  • Simone
  • I Live in a World of Make-Believe
"The title story shows a headmaster's elegant wife suffering torments of jealousy when his gawky young cousin comes to live with them. Why is it that her sophistication seems unable to compete with Hester's naivety? Elsewhere we see the mute agonies of a long marriage; the emotional deserts lurking in the English countryside; an old ruffian's sense of suffocation in a genteel community for the blind; or the freshness and oddity of children's perceptions. In this, her first collection of short stories, Elizabeth Taylor charts the territory she so triumphantly claimed as her own."
* The Blush and Other Stories (1958, Peter Davies; 1986, Virago Press, with an introduction by Paul Bailey [ISBN: 0 86068 672 8])
  1. The Ambush
  2. The Blush
  3. The Letter-Writers
  4. A Troubled State of Mind
  5. The True Primitive
  6. The Rose, the Mauve, the White
  7. Summer Schools
  8. Perhaps a Family Failing
  9. Good-Bye, Good-Bye
  10. Poor Girl
  11. Hare Park
  12. You'll Enjoy It When You Get There
(3, 4, 5, & 11 previously appeared in Cornhill Magazine, 10 in Lady Cynthia Asquith's Third Ghost Book, 2, 3, 7, 8, & 12 in New Yorker, 4 in Vogue New York, 9 in Woman and Beauty, 1 & 6 in Woman's Own.)

"`"Will you do my back and under my arms?" asked Katie, handing to Frances the tin of Rose & Geranium. "And then I will do yours."
"`"What a lovely smell. It's so much nicer than mine," said Frances, dredging Katie as thoroughly as if she were a fillet of fish being prepared for the frying pan.'

"In these short stories, first published in 1958, Elizabeth Taylor pursues the nuances of ordinary life with her usual dexterity. There's the upright Mrs Allen who unwittingly provides an alibi for Mrs Lacey, her `slackly corsetted' home help; Emily who has written fluent and amusing letters to a distinguished novelist for ten years but descends into small talk when they meet; Katie, Natalie, and Frances, preparing for their first dance amidst a cloud of talcum powder and bathroom giggles; and the strained conversation between ex-lovers Peter and Catherine at her children's seaside barbecue."
* A Dedicated Man and Other Stories (1965, Chatto & Windus; 1993, Virago Press, with an introduction by Joanna Kingham [ISBN: 0 86068 607 8])
"In the title story of this seductive collection, Silcox and Edith, ambitious writer and waitress, seize the vacancy in a Home Counties hotel as a merciful release from vulgar seaside diners who cannot pronounce crepes de volailles. Their claim to be husband and wife seems a small price to pay, yet the embellishment it requires has painful and unanticipated consequences...
"Unsettled by by her return from Greece, Barbara invites a fellow traveller to lunch, hoping to recapture her holiday spirit. But he has reclaimed his English self and arrives with a wife (to whom Barbara's children take an instant dislike), an evil-looking chow, and a set of blurred photographs.
"These and other tales reveal Elizabeth Taylor's supreme gift for underpinning even the most poignant, troubling narrative with an ironic wit that makes it sparkle."
* The Devastating Boys (1972, Chatto & Windus; 1984, Virago Press and Penguin Books, with an introduction by Paul Bailey [ISBN: 0 14016 106 6])
  • The Devastating Boys
  • The Excursion to the Source
  • Tall Boy
  • Praises
  • In and Out of the Houses
  • Flesh
  • Sisters
  • Hotel du Commerce
  • Miss A. and Miss M.
  • The Fly-Paper
  • Crepes Flambees
"`When later and secretly, Laura telephoned Helena, Helena said, "Aren't they simply devastating boys?"'

"Lonely in middle age, a well-meaning Oxford professor and his anxious wife, Laura, decide to take in two unknown black boys from London's East End for a summer holiday. What happens when Benny and Sep actually arrive surpasses all imagination: difficult, funny, touching, they are like two small tornados, shattering the rural peace, upsetting forever the settled order of their home -- and lives.

"This moving and hilarious tale leads this collection of Elizabeth Taylor's greatest short stories. Varied in their settings and characters - from the lonely, ascetic immigrant in `Tall Boy', to brassy, good-natured Phyl of `Flesh' - they are nevertheless the quintessence of all that is most distinguished, and witty, in her art. We meet women, children, and men, often ostensibly ordinary, who follow their paths of ruthlessness and ambition, each in pursuit of happiness, love, or power -- each a classic creation."

Children's Books

* Mossy Trotter (1967)
(I don't have a copy of this.)

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