Elizabeth Taylor Stories (3)

Continued from https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/elizabeth-taylor-stories-2/


My previous reviews of older or classic fictions:  https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

When I review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

20 responses to “*

  1. Perhaps a Family Failing

This is little more than an episode from a comic soap opera that feels 1960s to me, as there are set pieces of a wedding, men drinking in pubs and after a farcical scene with a dog the bridegroom abandons his new wife and her trousseau for his mother in his hometown because his hand had been bitten, I think!
    Perhaps ET’s one failing, too.


    “The recklessness, the deceit which, in London, they suppressed, they had indulged here, as if a different sort of behaviour were allowed at the seaside.”

    I write most of my reviews here at the inhibition-less seaside! And I gulped this engaging work down without much thought other than the backstory and various POVs via osmotics as Peter breaks a promise to see Catherine again, a relationship once broken off with promised finality so that their love could not destroy her marriage to what Peter thought was her money- and baby-making bore of a husband. He comes today unannounced into a family beach party, his old relationship with Catherine (still a secretly lasting love) paralleling the budding relationship with a boy of her daughter. Some of the kids at the beach Peter once knew when they were younger, before he had gone to South Africa, or was it South America? The ending today remains unspoilt.

  3. For Thine is the Power

    This is possibly the most powerful ET story of all. With leitmotifs such as the smell of haddock and pink corsets. A teacher at home, ovaries sick, projecting her foul illness onto the doctor who examines her. Language to die for, descriptions to dye your soul black. Even her elbows resting on a tabloid newspaper. Hearsay, gossip and rumour.

    “Empty house, you could tell at once, by the smell and sound of it and the tick of the clock.”

    Hate both ways, with pretend love halfway….

    “There it was, as soon as she put her feet to the ground, the pain gathering itself together, like an animal that has lain in wait. That pounced on her as she stood on hot afternoons, the whistle round her neck on the teeming playground.”

    Her witnessing a new freedom of sex in the young, it was she in fact who had interfered with the doctor, not t’other way about?

    “The sweet, tasteless tea and the sweet, tasteless story.”


    “There are a lot of throats about.”

    At first simply a pen portrait of a lonely Governess, separate from the other servants’ comraderie in the house. But this ineluctably becomes — almost without our or even the author’s volition to to control it — a truly great ghost story. It is as if the author herself is bewitched. Or is it a ghost story at all? Is it sleep-walking, is it suggestion, omosis, a little 7 year old boy’s telepathy with the man he will become, as he bewitches — by flirtation and leaning against her as she checks his sums with the stain of red ink or rouge, or simple evil desires that smell like a scent — his Governess, Florence Chasty, or she unknowingly bewitches him? His mother as involuntary stooge to such shenanigans by thinking she senses them happening? The boy who has within himself the man he will become, a philanderer like his father, or is it his father who enters Florence’s room for canoodling, or is she already a ghost of someone else, i.e. possessed by a woman with green beads as necklace that break and are spilt on the floor of this story? Florence who naively thinks of her childhood home. Yes, a truly great story. The scent of evil infuses every word, innocence, too. Remarkable!

    “She leaned back against the chimney-piece and looped about her fingers a long necklace of glittering green beads. ‘Where did these come from?’ she wondered. She could not remember ever having seen them before, but she could not pursue her bewilderment, for the necklace felt familiar to her hands, much more familiar than the rest of the room.”


    An engaging story of a stately home by the harp lake, the Duke and reluctantly the Duchess now charging, during their own cost of living crisis, ordinary people a half-crown each to see into their privacy with special public lavatories and young Arthur’s tutor as guide to its intricacies, including a special wall that was once lifted as a whole upon compromised party guests behind it, as a joke!

    Arthur himself is scornful of such goings on and befriends a boy visitor in the grounds, a common-spoken boy who has got separated from his parents in Just William like escapades and a learning process for Arthur who is destined for Elton…
    Not sure what else to say about this story. it just is, plain and simple.

  6. You’ll Enjoy It When You Get There

    “In books and films, she thought, people who go on train journeys always get a corner seat.”

    Rhoda deputising for her dipso and currently jaundiced mother at an important business function with her father Mr Hobart, and her travelling there between two fat men on a train, terrified at such social duties, we have an amusing but cringing account of the main formal dinner sitting next to the mayor, while telling his bored ears, in an attempt at conversation, about a Burmese cat that travelled on its own to London in its box and then repeating the story when he danced with her later, not recognising him because he had now taken off his mayoral chain. About shyness and having sherries forced on her, and embarrassment, and I blushed for her. Became her. Even though I doubt how becoming she would become. I hereby toast her, in hope.

    “Mr Hobart put his hand under Rhoda’s elbow and brought her, lurching, as she could not help doing, to her feet again.”


    “The street was quite deserted and the two rows of houses facing one another were blank and silent as if waiting for a hearse to appear.”

This is where (Mus)Etta lives with her serious hard-working mother, but she spends summers with her school friend Sarah Lippmann where the area and house have more a lighty atmosphere, containing Sarah’s flighty mother, and flirtatious father, and a boy solemnly and gradually, without our at first noticing, falling in love with Etta, this being Sarah’s brother Roger who takes an artistic photo at the end of Etta foreshadowed by the books she reads, books like Austen, but also darker ones like Hardy and Brontë, a book world where Etta herself studies ‘love’ vicariously until she is subject to love herself. The contrast between the two mothers is finely, poignantly adumbrated, surely worthy of Etta’s own reading! — and the books she reads cast a shadow upon her face under the endless summer sun.
    Sherry mixed with eggs to give Etta rosy cheeks, says Sarah’s father. This is the book and its story about Etta, a story that Etta herself would simply have loved to read and learn with, without actually immersing herself in it … until she is, in the event, immersed for real by its perfect ending. Let me share its highlights with you, complete with spoilers…

    “‘Come in!’ Sarah would shout, hoisting herself up out of the bed clothes on one elbow, her face turned expectantly towards the door, ready for laughter –“

    “Having kissed Sarah, she [Sarah’s Mum) would bend over Etta to do the same. She smelt of scent and gin and cigarette smoke.”

    “While they were out on the river all the afternoon – Sarah rowing her in a dinghy along the reedy backwater – Etta’s head was full of love in books, even in those holiday set books Sarah never had time for – ‘Sense and Sensibility’ this summer.”

“Most of her [Etta’s] thoughts about her mother were deformed by guilt.”

    “Etta herself was too much absorbed by the idea of love to ever think of being loved.”

    “Nora [fiancée of Sarah’s other brother David] was simply a plump and genial girl with a large bust and a faint moustache.”

    “To Roger she [Etta] seemed to fall constantly into the same pose, as she sat on the river bank, bare feet tucked sideways, one arm cradling a book, the other outstretched to pluck – as if to aid her concentration – at blades of grass. Her face remained pale, for it was always in shadow, bent over her book. Beside her, glistening with oil, Sarah spread out her body to the sun.”

    “So the afternoons passed, and they would never have such long ones in their lives again.”

    “…but horrible though the drink [sherry mixed with egg] had been, it was also reassuring; their concern for her [Etta] was reassuring. She preferred it to the cold anxiety of her mother hovering with pills and thermometer.”

    Aptly, by authorial genius, Etta, when she gets home, finds a ‘love letter’ from Roger inside one of her books, not a spoiler nor beamed mote in the book’s eye, but a noted enhancement of the real love within the truth of fiction itself, as conjured by this story… “….pondering her mounting sense of power. It was as if the whole Lippmann family – Nora as well – had proposed to her.”

  8. The Prerogative of Love

    A socially sprawling wilting story of a childless couple in the heat of July or August just gone in our real-time today, Lillah barely able to lift her head in the heat but manages to turn up downstairs for a couple Helen and John who have grown up children somewhere, come for dinner managed by officious Mrs Hatton the cook and arranger of Lillah’s husband’s logistics, he being Richard, who having come home from work, hot all day, has foregone a cooling dip in the river, because of the dinner party. But attractive Arabella arrives, driving in bare feet in the heat, the niece of Lillah, in a tiny white dress, a young model who had just been modelling in a bogus pub in a chinchilla coat! She stays unexpectedly for dinner, the catalyst of what? whose the prerogative of love? Not sure we ever really know. And not exactly an Abigail’s Party, but something else that one can’t shake off, even though you want to do so, like the clinging heat. (And what about all those once youthful treasure hunts involving Richard’s river?)

  9. The Thames Spread Out

    “The church clock struck seven. The chimes had a different sound, coming across water instead of grassy meadows.”

The engaging story of middle-aged Rose (not sure she also has a middle-aged spread but she is later seen as bosomy and Aunt-like) and she is marooned upstairs in her house by the floods of a Thames-side Venice, with her intermittent thoughts about her married man friend who comes regularly to commit adultery, but currently kept away by the floods. But two quite young and friendly college men come round in a boat to see if she is OK…and I’ll let you imagine the rest.
    A swan came in her house, too, and she writes to her married sister, and she has a fur coat that is squirrel.

  10. In a Different Light

    “Dreams had come true, but merely to give birth to others.”

    Why paint a grey sky over a place where, in reality, it is mostly blue? A good question that I just asked myself, in this story that contains a similar germ of a thought, a story I found very sad, as my own wife happens to be away on a separate holiday and still is as I write this. A holiday we happily planned together for her, as I am too frail to go. Yet here, we find a story wherein absence and new places change moods there as well as here.

    And is it always a disappointment to come home in this story to Blighty, as it now is so aptly named, from a supposedly idyllic Greek Island, whereby even the photos brought home have too much light exposed in them by cameras of the era in question. A story of two halves. A woman visiting on holiday her recently widowed sister who had based herself permanently on the island with her now late husband, and would continue to so. The visiting woman meeting a man from Hampstead who has come on holiday on his own with the permission of his wife, a wife back home with the kids. Not a holiday romance as such, but perhaps it could have been. But when each had returned to Blighty and they met each other again with their respective somewhat off-putting families, this story’s own poltergeist of an ill-begotten child was the germ of an idea, the idea of how memories change in a different light from the light where they were born. The widowed sister back on the island we also learn is tellingly saddened by end of her sister’s visit… “She had come too soon and her departure added the second loss to the earlier one, a second kind of silence to grow used to.” That made me almost weep.

  11. The Benefactress

    “Grapes were for the dying, she had always believed, and ‘deathbed grapes’ she called the purple kind. She would rather have had a quarter of a pound of tea.”

    This is the bittersweetly rolling story of old Mrs Swan benefiting from living in a benefactor’s Alms House (we see his statue), herself benefactress clumsily sewing unwanted khaki from the war into blankets, and benefiting herself from the visits of a reluctant benefactress, her young Grand Niece Evie who makes small talk by describing someone’s bridesmaids’ dresses and she gains some sort of self-glory from such visits, until she herself gets marries. And Mrs Butcher from the pub also visits, and we gradually get to know her better as Phyllis, someone who perhaps becomes the central character instead of Mrs Swan and she hides things from her husband Eric, and is made to feel guilty about her own mother’s death and the lack of connection she feels at the funeral, until she flirts with a customer, a lonely man in the pub, but all these shuttling benefactresses are upstaged, I feel, by Mrs Swan’s ginger cat and more…

    “The cat lay asleep by the fender, moving his ears and beating the end of his tail rhythmically against the rug, as if he were in the midst of a dream that bored and angered him. Above the fireplace hung a strip of sticky paper, black with flies, some dead and some dying a wretched death. Others had evaded it, and circled the room slowly and warily.”

  12. A Dedicated Man

    “Silcox, Edith realised with respect, was so snobbish that he looked down upon himself.”

    This is utterly prime Taylor, sad, stoical, objectively class-ridden days, Silcox a proud, stern waiter, Edith a sensibly dressed woman, she driven to imagine things by having to pretend to be married to Silcox in the eyes of a posh hotel where they obtained a job together as a married couple, in order to escape a down-trodden seaside ‘boarding-house’ hotel. Two strictly partitioned lives in one room, but they plant a picture, in this room, of a boy in school jacket to show the son of their loins, for other staff to see, such as co-waitress Carrie Hurt. They eventually decide not to be so tidy, as putting things away in drawers did not seem very marital.
    Until the photo of the boy developed, in fantasy as well as truth.
    Fantasy is a theft from truth, I guess. But in fiction, that also needs to be truth thieving from fantasy for it to work as well as this fiction? Table napkins as fancy cones set for riff raff, silver spoons, too?


    …who is attached to her dirty teddy bear, much to her own posh mother’s chagrin. ELizabeth BOWen wrote a novel called ‘The Little Girls’ and Elizabeth Taylor wrote in this brief story one of the elbow-triggers that beats any of Bowen’s! …
    “‘I have never been so insulted,’ the woman shouted, too angry to see the absurdity of the phrase. ‘How dare you!’ She flourished the glove again and the man raised an elbow.”
    After much business — about the little girl’s anti-social behaviour at parties and her fear of the chop, chop, chop in the Oranges & Lemons game, and her consternation at the mother’s trying dancing shoes on her little feet in a large department store, and the girl’s continued attachment to the teddy come what may — that elbow moment triggered a thought of sexual pests and of Krafft-Ebing! … but a thought in whose mind? And by what innocent means of petulance by child or child’s mother or the shouting woman or the author herself?

  14. As if I Should Care

    “– ‘It started with those dancing-lessons.’”

    “‘I hate slow-moving people,’ she thought. ‘My real mother and me, we walk fast.’ She pictured her clicking along a Canadian pavement on high, thin heels.”

    It’s not one of my favourite Taylor stories, although it has many of their ingredients, but they are too formulaic here, the feisty Rita, knowing all along that her mother wasn’t her mother, and a surly Grandmother, a downbeat town, spiritual entropy, and her job at the hairdressers, and the dying father, the suede jacket, the familial blackmail, rivalries between friends, secrets that were never secrets, pointlessness, but there wasn’t anything to clinch it, for me to clutch at, except perhaps…

    “Rita often day-dreamed of laying hands on a head of thick, straight, brilliant hair, imagined the weight of it and the way in which it would fan out in the water as she washed it; young hair, with no scalp showing through.”

    As if I should care.

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