Sunday, November 05, 2006

the other elizabeth taylor


is a writer, born Elizabeth Coles, British, died in 1975. I just finished reading my third book of hers, Palladian (1946), which was her 2nd novel, and I loved it as much as the others (At Mrs. Lippincote's, 1945, and In a Summer Season, 1961). This one was a little more melancholy than either of those, but still drily and mordantly funny in an understated way, with beautiful and elegant prose. It's presented as a sort of romance--Cassandra Dashwood (an echo of Austen?) has been left alone in the world, both parents having died, and in the 1st chapter she is being packed off to be governess to a child at a house in the country. The child has a father, and the father is a widower with a secret sorrow (shades of Bronte!). Cassandra herself can't help seeing her situation in terms of the books she's read, and she's afraid she doesn't measure up:
She knew that Jane Eyre had answered better than that to her Mr. Rochester. She looked into her empty coffee cup in panic and then, fearing lest he might take it as a hint, jerked up her head and tried to glance at him.
She expects to fall in love with him before she sees him, and she does. But it's not a romantic tale--almost anti-romantic in the way it overturns every sentimental expectation. The secret sorrow turns out to be untrue, both sordid and pitiful. The real love story is in the past, dead and unretrievable. Cassandra is saved, or is she?
There are wonderful characters. Tom, who is in love with a dead woman, a doctor who drinks instead of practicing, and who makes intricate drawings that are part portrait, part medical illustration. Margaret, who has come to live with her cousin during her pregnancy, and is a secret eater, sneaking down to the kitchen when Nanny is out. The pub owner's wife, who is in love with Tom, and who can't keep a secret even though the telling of it hurts her. Sophy, the child, who keeps a diary where she gives herself points for her behavior during the day:
Goodness. Fair....
Industry. Made bed. Learnt vocab. Did the Pliny. Forgot to turn the mattress though.
Bravery. Not.
Honesty. O.K.
N.B. Must not be morebid any more.
The end is masterly, although I won't tell it--you have to read it for yourself.

4 Comments:

Blogger erieblue said...

Uh-oh. I immediately thought "I could do something like that" in response to Sophie's diary. I must have a need for revision of self.

11/06/2006 11:45 AM  
Blogger lucette said...

You definitely don't want to do that.

11/06/2006 8:33 PM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

Secret eating, loving dead guys, drinking. Much here to like!

AND my middle name is Elizabeth.

11/09/2006 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just been reading Elizabeth Taylor books myself. I love them. I heard about them on a British knitting blog. I read At Mrs. Lippincote's and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (which I highly recommend), and started a book of her short stories which are also remarkably good.

I just discovered your blog. Thanks!

11/12/2006 7:24 AM  

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