Elizabeth Taylor

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Elizabeth Taylor

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Mar 26, 2007, 9:52 pm

This is slightly off topic, but I see that among the most commonly shared books of Persephone readers are a couple by Elizabeth Taylor. Slightly Foxed just had an essay about At Mrs Lippincote's in their spring issue and I'm intrigued. Most embarassingly I have never heard of her before. Any suggestions where to start?

Mar 29, 2007, 7:52 am

I have quite a number of her books, most (including At Mrs Lippincote's) still in my TBR pile. I really like her short stories best, so that might be a good starting place for you. I have two collections that are both wonderful - The Blush and Other Stories and The Devastating Boys. She's really a brilliant writer and a master at the art of the short story.

In terms of novels, I thoroughly enjoyed Angel and The Sleeping Beauty.

Mar 29, 2007, 7:59 am

P.S. Virago has published a lot of Elizabeth Taylor's books. If you find you like her, you might want to join the Virago LT group!


Mar 29, 2007, 8:13 am

I actually have her books ONLY in the Virago edition. I did not know Persephone publishes them too.
By the way, do you guys know about the Persephone tea in NY City on April 14?
So far, only bleuroses and I are going, but it would be lovely if more LThingers could join!

Editado: Mar 29, 2007, 9:01 am

I think rec was saying that the members of the Persephone group seem to own a lot of Elizabeth Taylor books - not that they're published by Persephone. (I did just check now to be sure, and Persephone hasn't published any of her books. Not yet, anyway!)

Mar 29, 2007, 9:02 am

They will, miss_read, they will....

Mar 31, 2007, 7:48 pm

Thank you miss_read, and aluvalibri, sorry for causing confusion and suggesting that Persephone has published Elizabeth Taylor. Now I wish that they would.

Thanks also for the recommendations. I'll add them to my list. Short stories would be good at the moment as I'm trying to keep away from novels.

I'm planning on going to the Persephone tea. I keep forgetting to pre-book my ticket, though.

Jul 18, 2007, 6:18 am

Please pardon the long-winded addition to a seemingly defunct thread:

Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) is one of my favorite English novelists. I discovered her in the mid-1990s, when I read her second novel, Palladian, about a young woman named Cassandra Dashwood who is engaged as governess to the daughter of a man named Marion Vanbrugh, an arid classicist who inhabits a crumbling Palladian mansion. I loved the novel for its literary echoes (especially of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot), and for how it blended and undercut this self-conscious literariness with straightforward realism. Cassandra is a palimpsest of Marianne Dashwood, Jane Eyre, and Dorothea Brooke; Vanbrugh is Colonel Brandon, Mr. Rochester, and Edward Casaubon. But the novel is much more than a literary pastiche. One theme that runs through most of Taylor’s novels is the tension between the life of the imagination and the life of ordinary dailiness in the real world. She’s interested in how we see life through what we read, and in how literature provides an inadequate substitute for life itself. Her novels are shaped by the female Great Tradition in literature and the day-to-day realities of women's lives. Her earliest novels are full of characters who are insulated from real life by literature, including an out-of-touch novelist significantly named Beth Cazabon, in her third novel, A View of the Harbour (1947).

Taylor was born in Reading, attended the Abbey School (as did, more than a century earlier, Jane Austen), and worked as a governess and librarian before marrying a business man and settling down for the rest of her life as a housewife in Penn, Buckinghamshire. Her father-in-law was at one time the mayor of nearby High Wycombe. In a rare interview, she confessed, “I dislike travel or change of environment, and prefer the days (each with its own domestic flavour) to come around almost the same, week after week…. I also very much like reading books in which practically nothing ever happens.” She raised two children, who must have been quite young when she wrote her first novel, and she seems to have enjoyed hanging out the laundry. Here’s a passage from Angel. The title character has become a successful romance novelist, writing novels that have very little relation to real life. Her poor mother, Mrs. Deverell, has been forced to leave behind her familiar cramped shop in town to live an idle life in Angel’s large suburban home:

"At a time of her life when she needed the security of familiar things, these were put beyond her reach. It seemed to her that she had wasted her years acquiring a skill which in the end was of no use to her; her weather-eye for a good drying day; her careful ear for judging the gentle singing sound of meat roasting in the oven; her touch for the freshness of bacon; and how, by smelling a cake, she could tell if it were baked: arts, which had taken so long to perfect, now fell into disuse. She would never again, she grieved, gather up a great fragrant line of washing in her arms to carry indoors... The smell of ironing being done or the sound of eggs being whisked set up a restlessness which she could scarcely control."

In the background of this, I catch a glimpse of Taylor herself, the successful novelist, determinedly holding onto her ordinary life—the raising of her children, the drying of laundry, the middle-class anonymity of a Home County businessman’s wife. She kept herself rooted in what was real from day to day. All of this (the erudite literary references and the grounding in dailiness) had an immense appeal for me in the mid-1990s when I was making the sometimes difficult transition from college professor to stay-at-home father. Elizabeth Taylor seemed like a kindred spirit: someone who had read and appreciated Middlemarch, but who also knew what it was like to rinse out diapers in the toilet.

Jul 18, 2007, 9:40 am

>8 rbhardy3rd:
Thank you for posting this wonderful appreciation of Taylor and her work! I have only The Blush and haven't yet read it yet, but I will and now intend to look for her other books, especially Angel.

Jul 19, 2007, 4:51 am

rbhardy3rd, that was fascinating and quite eloquent (not to mention persuasive). You make me want to rush right out and find a copy of Palladian immediately!

Jul 19, 2007, 9:40 pm

rbhardy3rd, now I will definitely follow up with Elizabeth Taylor. Thank you so much for that post.

Jul 26, 2007, 9:16 am

For some reason, I find myself with two copies of Palladian! My extra one is a VMC edition from 1985 and is in decent condition (some creasing to one corner of the cover). If anyone wants it, I'd be happy to pass it on free of charge. Just email me your name and address and it's yours! (UK only, please.)

Jul 26, 2007, 1:28 pm

Ooo! Yes please (assuming someone else hasn't taken you up on your generous offer). I've sent you an email.

Editado: Jul 26, 2007, 1:35 pm

Artymiss, you're first so it's yours! But ... I didn't get an email from you! Can you try again? I even checked my spam folder and it's not in there.

Or else you can send me a private notice here on LT. That would definitely work! :)


Ago 1, 2007, 9:47 am

Someone made a gift of A View of the Harbour about 10 years ago and I loved it, so I kept picking up her works and dropping them in the pile, til I had ten. Last year I re-read the first I had, and loved it even more, so worked my way through the others, almost all of which I have loved. I have 2 left to read this summer, and I can see several I still haven't got. I especially liked Mrs Palfrey at the Clairmont and Angel, as ghastly as she was in many respects. I haven't read Palladian mentioned above..>>> heading towards Amazon!

Ago 8, 2007, 9:17 am

I just ordered At Mrs Lippincote's from Amazon - am very much looking forward to it, and heartened to hear that if I like it there are plenty more books by the same author.

Set 3, 2007, 1:43 pm

I just posted (in the Virago Group) the Observer article on the 50 most underrated novels that listed 3 titles by Elizabeth Taylor. Here's the link....(you'll have to cut and paste)


Set 3, 2007, 3:07 pm

Thanks so much for that, bleruroses! :)

Set 3, 2007, 3:26 pm

The latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly just had an article on Elizabeth Taylor. Very interesting. I think it may be available online.

Editado: Set 3, 2007, 11:30 pm

Thank you fannyprice! Here's the article...


Edited to say..DARN! You have to be a subscriber to read the entire article!

Well, I'm off to the bookshop tomorrow for the September issue!