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So then October is just around the corner – where did September go? My month of hosting the Librarything Virago group’s reading of The Soul of Kindness is almost up. I have really enjoyed my hosting – and I also enjoyed the book – which unfortunately not everyone did I don’t think.

The Soul of Kindness is not Elizabeth Taylor’s best novel – but she was such a good writer and observer of people that it still has much to recommend it. Flora, who is the soul of kindness of the title, is a character who is terribly deluded – the reader wants her to come to some sort of realisation at the end, and the fact that she doesn’t is something some readers didn’t like. I have to admit I did like it – yes I said I liked it that Flora didn’t change. There was no eureka moment – aided by the people around her she continues in much the same way as she always has – with poor Mrs Lodge her housekeeper destined to remain with her, despite desperately wanting to live out in the country. I liked this ending because it is more interesting – and frankly more like life. There are too many books out there already – where everybody learns a valuable lesson and tearfully promise to mend their ways. Have you ever known someone who annoys or upsets people around them frequently without ever knowing they are doing it? Yes? And do they ever suddenly come to the terrible realisation of the truth and change their ways? – no never! Elizabeth Taylor understood people, and so that, I believe is why Flora doesn’t learn, because she is who she is and cannot change, just as all the people around her who have always allowed her to be that person, remain themselves and so things just carry on as they always have – just as in life.

So then, now is the time to pass the Elizabeth Taylor centenary baton to Harriet Devine who will be hosting our October reading of The Wedding Group. I haven’t read that one yet, and so I am looking forward to it.
I want to thank everyone who has posted comments and taken part in my first ever blog hosting. Maybe we can do it again sometime.

Here’s some links to reviews of The Soul of Kindness:

 

 

Kaggsy

Laura

Liz

Helen

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I’m not sure how many people are still reading or intending to read The Soul of Kindness, but if you haven’t finished reading it yet, maybe you could come back here and post your thoughts about the various relationships in the book when you have.
So then, what do we all think of the various relationships in The Soul of Kindness? I felt there were a lot of different dynamics which are interesting.
Flora and Richard are married at the start of the novel; she is the beautiful bride that her mother Mrs Secreten has been preparing her for, her whole life. With her goddess like beauty, she is sure to be the centre of attention. Right from the start the reader understands that this is exactly where Flora is used to being.

“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. “

Flora organises her life the way she likes it. Surrounds herself with people who indulge in what Richard at one time disloyally thinks of as “Flora worship.” She counts on Meg to never forget her birthday, Meg who always looked after her, protected her at school. Flora’s domestic like pet the novelist Patrick is on hand whenever she wants, and is adept at smoothing out any ruffled feathers. She doesn’t seem to give anything much in return to these people – except her lovely self. Meg’s brother Kit worships her, his adolescent like adoration is taken as simply her due by Flora, and when she buys him an expensive suit – everyone but Flora is acutely embarrassed by the connotations of such an extravagant gift. True she buys him a suit, and takes him food when he is ill, all while aiding his unrealistic expectations. All this allows Flora to think of herself as a good person, a ministering angel. Flora has now dispensed with her mother – who spent her life turning Flora into the woman she is now, and now must sit in the country with her housekeeper/companion awaiting rare visits.

“Miss Folley, I can smell spice cakes” said Flora, shaking hands with her. It was just that touch of homely graciousness one connects with the Royal ladies, Miss Folley thought”

Poor Mrs Secreten, one of several rather lonely characters, in mocking her friend Miss Folley to Flora in a letter she knows Miss Folley will read, she damages maybe the best relationship she has. While she fears for her health, she realises that should there be anything really the matter with her, she would not be able to count on Flora for help. Mrs Secreten is lonely after Flora’s marriage, she has spent years devoting to herself to Flora and then suddenly she is gone. Mrs Secreten is left with her housekeeper/companion Miss Folley. Miss Folley is yet another sad character; she has taken to reading out letters to Mrs Secreten – which she says were written to her by her various lovers many years ago. Mrs Secreten recognises the envelopes and the writing from her seat across the room; it is obvious that Miss Folley has written them herself with the sole intention of reading them out. In mocking Miss Folley to Flora, Mrs Secreten betrays her, it is quite a toe curling painful moment, and Mrs Secreten slowly comes to realise what she has done to Miss Folley and feels sorry for it.

To me Richard is a rather insipid character and very much feels like an also ran within the relationship with Flora. I think this must be why he turns to Elinor Pringle. He doesn’t seem to be sexually attracted to her, but Richard recognises in her, someone who like him, is rather alone within their marriage. This is a recurring theme; Elinor and her husband are mismatched, live fairly separate lives. The loyal Patrick is in love with the unsuitable Frankie, who has no feelings for Patrick. When Frankie turns up unexpectedly at Patrick’s flat on Christmas day, Patrick’s joy is heart-breaking, his delight in a recycled Christmas gift sadly pathetic. Meanwhile Meg is also in love with the wrong person, Patrick! She treasures the times she spends with Patrick – eking out the minutes till he leaves her again. Liz is very much her own woman, she has a brief fling with Kit, but doesn’t seem too bothered when he ends it after they row about Flora – or is she bothered? Paul Bailey in the introduction to my edition suggests that Liz is the sanest and most fulfilled character in the novel, – and although she seems a bit of an odd character, I think she is.
Two other peripheral characters are Percy and Ba – they are wonderful, at least I thought so. Flora doesn’t quite approve of Percy at first, but does approve of Ba. Percy wants to marry Ba, and Flora thinks it a good idea. Ba knows Percy needs her more than she does him, although Percy doesn’t recognise it in himself. He is quite lost when Ba goes to France without him for a week. They are a very old fashioned married couple, Ba knows how to manage her irascible husband, with her frequent “yes, honey” to placate him in his rages.
Then what about Richard and Elinor? Richard is married to the beautiful Flora – but he is unfulfilled I think. Elinor is older, unhappily married and apparently not attractive to Richard, but he enjoys her company, and he sees her behind Flora’s back. What is it that Elinor has that Flora doesn’t?
What did you all think about these relationships and various dynamics?

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I have heard it said on a number of occasions that Elizabeth Taylor was the Jane Austen of her generation. So was she? I do think there seems to be a number of similarities in their work – though there are differences too of course.

Born in 1775 Jane Austen died in 1817 – almost a hundred years before Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1912. Jane never married, and wrote only six novels, though they are some of the most perfect novels in the English language. Elizabeth Taylor published 11 novels in her life time, her twelfth novel was published posthumously, and she left us with four volumes of short stories. Elizabeth married, had an adulterous relationship with another man, and had two children. So where is it that we can see the influences that Jane Austen must have had on Elizabeth Taylor?
In The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman, the author tells us that Elizabeth acknowledged Jane Austen as being one of the writers who were “behind her” – along with people such as E M Forster. Elizabeth is said to have revered Jane, and that Elizabeth Taylor was well aware of the Jane Austen recipe for a ”nice novel” – that is “two or three families living near to one another in the country” Well Elizabeth Taylor’s novels are certainly not that far from that recipe. Most of them revolve around a small community often a village or small town: – a seaside town in “A view of the Harbour”, a large house filled with eccentrics, close to a village in “Palladian” another village in “A Wreath of Roses” the suburbia of an English town in A Game of Hide and seek, and so on. Just like Jane Austen’s beutiful novels, we have a host of minor characters in Elizabeth’s novels, each of them fully fleshed out and memorable in their own right.
So I have been thinking about Elizabeth Taylor’s novels, and playing spot the Austen influences, I am sure I have missed dozens. A few I thought of (probably the most obvious examples) as follows: In Palladian Elizabeth Taylor delivers a wonderful homage to the gothic and romantic novels of the Brontes, Jane Austen and Du Maurier. Her heroine is Cassandra which of course was Jane Austen’s sister’s name. In many of Elizabeth Taylor novels and short fiction we have stories that strongly feature mothers and daughters, making me think of the Bennetts and the Dashwoods. Remember how poor Mr Bennett is totally at a loss to understand his daughters? – particularly Elizabeth, well I think one or two of Elizabeth Taylor’s fathers are just as confounded, Charles in “In a Summer Season” struggles to understand Araminta and Robert in A View from the Harbour certainly doesn’t seem to understand his eldest daughter, while Percy in The Soul of Kindness had totally misjudged the pliability or lack of, of his daughter-in-law. In all of Elizabeth Taylor’s writing her stories are shot through with a wicked sense of humour, fantastically wry observations which are a testament to Elizabeth Taylor’s sense of the ridiculous. Jane Austen was also very funny – she plainly saw the ridiculous in so much of the society she lived in. Socially Elizabeth Taylor’s characters are from the middle class and upper middle class – the women seldom work, unless they write or paint, they have daily help, have tea by the fire and go up to town to get their hair done. Jane Austen’s characters similarly come from that section of society that Jane herself was from, they are from a gentler section of society, and are constrained by that.
Jane and Elizabeth went to the same school – well almost. Jane and her sister Cassandra attended the Abbey School in Reading that was housed in the old Abbey gatehouse. After this school closed a high school opened in another part of Reading, this school was later moved again and renamed Abbey school, which Elizabeth Taylor attended. So maybe not quite the same school – but it’s a nice nearly connection isn’t it.
Jane and Elizabeth were both highly committed to their families. Those of us who have read about Jane Austen’s life will know how Jane would write almost secretly – pushing aside her work when someone came into the room, jumping to attend to whatever household task she was needed for. Elizabeth wrote while her children were at school – making sure she was always available for them when they got home.
They may have been separated by many years, and the society’s they lived in were very different – and the lives they each lived were essentially very different, but I do think they were not so very far from one another as all that. What do you think?
There is a lovely reference incidentally to Isabella Thorpe from Northanger Abbey in The Soul of Kindness, did anyone spot it? There is even a Mrs Austen at the post officer too, which rather pleased me. Also it has been suggested that Flora in the ‘The Soul of Kindness’ is rather Emma like? What do you think? Emma at least learns some lessons – does Flora?
One final thought, would Jane and Elizabeth have liked or understood one another?

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There have been several times when someone asked me what I was reading this year I have said “oh such and such by Elizabeth Taylor.” Once or twice I have seen a look come over them – that plainly says – “well I didn’t know she wrote books.” Now I realise many of the people that regularly read my blog already know Elizabeth Taylor – the English novelist. This short post is particularly for those people who don’t.
So if you don’t know Elizabeth Taylor the writer then let me introduce you. Elizabeth Taylor was born Dorothy Betty Coles in July 1912, and upon her marriage in 1936 became Elizabeth Taylor. Her mother’s death had a huge impact on her when she was in her early twenties, soon after this she married John Taylor. She then had a relationship with another man, who she met through her membership to the communist party, and continued to correspond with him for many years. She had two children, and chose her family life with them over this man. This story is told by Nicola Beauman in the excellent biography The Other Elizabeth Taylor. I can’t possibly do justice to her writing in just a few lines, so how to describe her writing? Elizabeth Taylor’s novels are quite domestic, with fantastic wry observation and a wonderful sense of humour she brilliantly exposes the intricate relationships of people in middle class families living usually in small communities. They concern mainly the minutia of everyday life, her characters are exceptionally well rounded and fully explored, and her child characters some of the best to be found in English fiction.
Her first novel At Mrs Lippincote’s was published in 1945, her last novel Blaming was published posthumously, in 1976. During her lifetime Elizabeth Taylor didn’t win any awards, though her novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont was short listed for the booker prize in 1972. Elizabeth Taylor died of cancer in 1975 aged just 63.

Her novels are: 
At Mrs Lippincote’s (1945)
Palladian (1946)
A View of the Harbour (1947)
A Wreath of Roses (1949)
A Game of Hide and Seek (1951)
The Sleeping Beauty (1953)
Angel (1957)
In a Summer Season (1961)
The Soul of Kindness (1964)
The Wedding Group (1968)
              Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (1971)
Blaming (1976)

Her collections of Short stories:
Hester Lily and other stories (1954)
The Blush and other stories (1958)
A Dedicated man and other stories (1965)
The Devastating boys and other stories (1972)

all of which are now available in one beautiful big book – The Collected short stories which contains some previously unpublished.

And a children’s story – Mossy Trotter (1967)

So then let’s get this blog hosting off to a good start – with a giveaway. This is open to those in Europe only this time I’m afraid. I will draw a name randomly on Monday evening and send the book out next week. Hopefully the recipient will get the book in time to read it and post their thoughts towards the end of the month or soon after. I don’t get sent things for free very often – so I have bought a copy of The Soul of Kindness for this giveaway – as I wanted to share my love of Elizabeth Taylor. I am aware that this might not be the best book with which to start reading Elizabeth Taylor – but hopefully the winner if they haven’t read Elizabeth Taylor before, will be inspired enough to read more.

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The Librarything Virago group have been reading the novels of Elizabeth Taylor during 2012 – in recognition of her centenary the project was started by Laura  it has proved to be a wonderful celebration. Each month a different blogger has hosted that month’s read on their blog. Everyone has done such a marvellous job; I have felt a bit nervous when it came to my turn. I was unsure about how to approach this month’s discussions – and never have done anything like this before. Below is my suggested schedule (subject to change). So this month we will be reading and talking about Elizabeth Taylor’s 1964 novel The Soul of Kindness. So if you would like to join in and don’t yet have a copy of the book (and live in Europe) come back later today – as I will be doing a giveaway of the book.

Schedule
September 1st -7th (1st) Introducing Elizabeth Taylor, a giveaway (5th) my review –spoiler free
September 8th – 14th Elizabeth & Jane – thinking about Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Austen.
September 15th – 21st The Soul of Kindness: discussion of relationships in ‘The soul of Kindness.’
September 22nd – 31st The Soul of Kindness -brief roundup – final thoughts. 

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In September I will be hosting the Librarything  read a long of Elizabeth Taylor’s The Soul of Kindness. Each month during this year of Elizabeth Taylor’s centenary there has been a different blog host, they have all been so brilliant, insightful and enthusiastic that I am feeling a little nervous now that it is coming to my turn.
As The Soul of Kindness is a novel which I haven’t read before I am going to read it next week to give myself time to properly think about it. I may even revisit the Elizabeth Taylor biography The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman. Until I have read The Soul of Kindness I don’t know exactly what form each post will take – but I welcome ideas. I am very interested in the autobiographical side of Elizabeth Taylor’s writing, and I love her child characters- so maybe these are things I can explore. I also feel a giveaway coming on – details later.
What I would love though is to encourage others to read The Soul of Kindness too. So I’m giving you fair warning to run to your local bookshop or library and acquire a copy to read a long with us.

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I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Elizabeth Taylor’s complete short stories recently by the publisher. I have read a few of them already and I have to say Elizabeth Taylor was wonderful short story writer too. This is a really fabulous collection.

 

 

I am looking forward to my first blog host and hope that a lot of you will join in.

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