During 2012 I have read all twelve Elizabeth Taylor novels and two volumes of short stories, this was due to the Librarything Virago group’s readalong of all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels for her centenary year. This wonderful reading event was hosted overall by Laura, who did a fantastic job of enthusing and organising us all. As the end of the year approaches I have been reflecting on a wonderful reading event. Several of the novels were re-reads and I enjoyed reading those just as much as those books I was reading for the first time. Each month we read a different Elizabeth Taylor novel, reading in the order of publication, with each book hosted by a different blogger or guest blogger across a variety of wonderful book blogs.
In January we read At Mrs. Lippincote’s (1945) – although as I had only read it a year before – I didn’t re-read it until a few weeks ago. A very autobiographical novel, I found I liked Julia more on a second reading.
In February Palladian (1946) which Elizabeth Taylor pays homage to the works of the Brontes, Jane Austen and Daphne Du Maurier in her unusual story of Cassandra who goes to work for a reclusive widower in a peculiar household. This novel was particularly memorable for me, due to one particular scene, which is devastatingly dramatic but written with such brilliant subtlety, that it made me gasp.
In March it was A View of the Harbour (1947) I loved the setting of this novel, and some of the minor characters remain as memorable for me as the major ones. Particularly Mrs Bracey – (I thought her very Austenesque) who watches her narrow world from her window, judging everyone who passes by.
In April we read A Wreath of Roses (1949) another re-read for me, which contains my favourite opening sentence or two I think of all Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, it was just so beautifully atmospheric, and so wonderfully Elizabeth Taylor.
In May we read many people’s favourite Elizabeth Taylor novel A Game of Hide and Seek (1951) another very autobiographical novel, it is chiefly about adultery. However there are some wonderful child characters, and it is deeply moving. It certainly is now my favourite, and I am looking forward to re-reading it one day.
In June we read The Sleeping Beauty (1953) Another novel set in a seaside town which contains some marvellous self-righteous middle aged women, more evidence of how brilliantly Taylor writes her minor characters, making them as fully fleshed out and memorable as her central characters.
In July it was Angel (1957) considered by many her most brilliant novel, the second time I had read this one too, and though it will never be my favourite Taylor, it is a fascinating piece of writing. Elizabeth Taylor’s one historically set novel, her monstrous creation, Angellica Deverell is truly unforgettable, yet at the end despite her monstrosity she becomes almost sympathetic.
In August we read In a Summer Season (1961) another re-read for me, which had previously been my favourite before being eclipsed by A Game of Hide and Seek. It is a beautifully sensual work, it sizzles subtly with the scorching summer in which it is set, and is still one of my favourites.
In September, it was my turn to host with The Soul of Kindness (1964) I really enjoyed this novel, In Flora we have another monstrous creation, although she is a quieter monster her effect is still as devastating.
In October we read The Wedding Group (1968) which is probably my least favourite Taylor, though it is fascinating – and felt really quite Murdochian to me, it has an odd artistic community which is based upon a household Elizabeth Taylor herself spent time in.
In November we read Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971) A second reading of this for me again, and I had enjoyed it hugely the first time around, but this time, loved it even more, and was terribly moved by this honest portrayal of a woman growing old in a hotel where elderly people go to live – but “aren’t allowed to die there” – it has become another firm favourite.
In December we read Blaming (1976) another re-read for me. Blaming was in fact the first ever Elizabeth Taylor novel I read, and I enjoyed re-revisiting it, published after her death, it shows Elizabeth Taylor was still at her writing best when she wrote this novel, knowing full well that she was dying. It also contains some marvellous child characters.
Back in April my friend Liz and I went to Reading for the day, to attend a Elizabeth Taylor day at Reading Library. We met up with a few friends from the librarything Virago group, and indulged our love of Elizabeth Taylor fully. There were some wonderful speakers, and discussion groups and the day became one of the highlights of my year.
Elizabeth Taylor was in fact a wonderful short story writer too, and luckily for her fans published five volumes of short stories (four during her lifetime)
Hester Lilly (1954)
The Blush and Other Stories (1958)
A Dedicated Man and Other Stories (1965)
The Devastating Boys (1972)
Dangerous Calm (1995)
During 2012 I read The Blush and Hester Lilly and was delighted to be sent Virago’s latest edition of Elizabeth Taylor’s complete short stories in the summer. I would heartily recommend it to anyone; Elizabeth Taylor was in my opinion a masterly short story writer – which is why I have left some of the stories to read in 2013.
It has been a fantastic year for fans of Elizabeth Taylor and I am going to miss her terribly. We do have Barbara Pym to look forward to – and I hope she manages to fill the void left by Elizabeth – we will see.
I hope I (along with many other entusiasts) have encouraged other people to try Elizabeth Taylor – it is amazing to me that there are people who haven’t heard of Elizabeth Taylor – the Engish novelist.